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September 08, 1989 - Image 61

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-09-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

You Needn't Live Alone.

Indeed, only a fateful deci-
sion by his parents, Harry
and Muriel Aft, kept him
from having a shot at being
the next Sandy Koufax.
rIb many American Jews,
Koufax in the early 60s was
what Israel would be after the .
1967 Six-Day War: seemingly
invincible. And when the
Dodgers' great left-hander
refused to pitch on Yom Kip-
pur during the 1965 World
Series — well, what more
could one ask?
The youngest of four
brothers had a fair amount of
baseball potential. The way
Aft's father saw it, the major
leagues weren't exactly being
overwhelmed by top-notch
Jewish southpaw pitchers, so
he bought his right-handed
youngster a left-hander's
glove.
Young Bruce learned to
throw left-handed. He was
never much of a hard thrower,
but he always had good con-
trol. He learned to add spin to
the ball during sessions at a
Chicago White Sox sports
camp.
But, he says, baseball was
never taught at the expense
of Judaism in the Conser-
vative Aft family.
His father worked the 11
p.m.-7 a.m. shift on Friday
nights, the rabbi recalls.
Earlier on those evenings,
around 7 — 30 or 8 p.m., "I
would lay down on the bed
with my dad and he would
take down the Golden Bible
and read to me from it," says
the rabbi.
A green clock radio stood
nearby "and, in the summer,
when he was finished reading
the Bible, he would turn on
the radio in the darkened
room and we'd listen to the
White Sox game. If I was a
good kid, I got to stay up and
watch the game on TV.
"I didn't know it then, but
I was building up a strong
identity both as a Jew and as
a baseball fan. It was our Fri-
day night ritual — light the
candles, lay down, read the
Bible and listen to the White
Sox!'
Rabbi Aft was only a .500
pitcher in high school, but he
did much better academical-
ly. He was student council
president, graduating 14th
out of 500 students and win-
ning a B'nai B'rith college
scholarship.
When he enrolled at the
University of Illinois, he not
onlywanted to play baseball,
he wanted to do thin _ gs for
people.
He thought he'd become a
lawyer and enter politics,
where he believed he could do
the most for peoples' lives.
But Richard Nixon and
Watergate dashed that bit of

idealism, and his parents'
desire that he finish college
turned him away from a
baseball career.
By the time he reached col-
lege, Aft had a fastball, a
change-up and a curve that
dropped,. He could get a lot of
ground balls and, pitching in
a semi-pro league in Chicago
after his freshman year, his
strikeouts-to-walks ratio was
5-to-1.
He was 10-1 that first sum-
mer, en route to a 23-4 record
over three seasons. A scout
from the White Sox' Ap-
pleton, Wisc., Class A farm
team wanted to give him a
tryout.
The scout wanted Aft to
drop out _of school but his
parents balked. "My parents
wanted us to have a good
education, first and
foremost!'
So Aft stayed in college and
a humanities course in
Judaism rekindled his in-
terest in his heritage. It
helped him realize rabbis are
role models and can have im-
pact on peoples' lives, he says.
He was ordained by the
Reconstructionist Rabbinical
College in Philadelphia in
1981.
But Rabbi Aft never gave
*up baseball. He continued
playing in the Philadelphia
area, becoming best friends
with another major-league
hopeful who also became a
clergyman: Father Joe
Gleason, a Catholic priest
and third-baseman. "He hit
.300, but it wasn't good
enough to make the majors,"
Rabbi Mt recalls.
Rabbi Aft also remembers a
base-hit he got in one softball
game. It put Father Gleason
on third base, moved another
priest to second and put Rab-
bi Aft on first. The bases were
loaded with clergymen and
the other players stopped the
contest, awestruck.
What was said when all
three then scored is lost to
history, but the friendship
between the rabbi and the
priest wasn't.
Father Gleason reminded
Rabbi Aft of the common
lessons of baseball when the
Afts' youngest son, Adam,
about three years old, was
diagnosed in Tucson, Ariz. as
t
having a cancerous ches
tumor. He is now in
remission.
"You have to be ready for
the line drives in life," the
priest wrote in a letter. "You
have to take it one pitch, one
batter, one inning at a time.
You have to accept the good
bounces and the bad bounces;
keep trying to reach back,
give it your best shot, dig
deep and concentrate."
Those words helped Rabbi

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

61

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