By Ariella Stone –
Is It a Baseball Book or a Torah Book?
I just finished reading a most unusual and groundbreaking novel titled “The Season of Pepsi Meyers.” As an avid fan of our national pastime, as well as a student of the game (yes, even as a woman), I can tell you without hesitation that Abie Rotenberg—one of Jewish music’s most accomplished and well-known songwriters—knows baseball! His futuristic novel contains riveting in-game Major League action, historical anecdotes, innovative rule applications, draft-day intrigue and more. With that in mind, it seems that the answer to the question in this paragraph’s subtitle is that “The Season of Pepsi Meyers” is unequivocally a baseball book. At the same time, I must confess that when I put aside the book after finishing its last page, I sensed that it was something more. I had the feeling that I had been elevated. I was experiencing a strong sense of pride in my Jewishness and that my faith in G-d and His Torah had been strengthened.
Jews Love Baseball:
No sport is more beloved to us American Jews than baseball. This is likely so for several reasons. 1. Baseball, not being a violent, concussion-inducing or teeth-shattering activity like football and hockey, is actually a sport played by Jewish kids in the playground. 2. As a spectator sport, the pace of the game allows for endless strategy. A good manager needs to be cerebral, and will likely only have success if he knows what he intends to do, 10 moves in advance. Jews are good at doing that. 3. Jews, however, are not known for being elite athletes. Nevertheless, Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg are counted among Major League Baseball’s all-time greats and we’re so very filled with pride by their achievements (and that they both refused to play on Yom Kippur). So, it comes as no surprise that Abie chose baseball as the sport around which to weave his tale.
“You’re absolutely right,” Abie says. “Baseball is truly part of the fabric of American life and one which American Jews—of virtually all affiliations—have fallen in love with. Case in point, the recent World Baseball Classic had a team from Israel that did quite well. Everyone was so excited by their success.”
If you’re certain that you will be purchasing “The Season of Pepsi Meyers” and don’t want to know anything about the plot line before doing so, you should immediately skip to the next section.
In brief: It is the year 2040 and Pepsi Meyers—an 18-year-old baseball phenom from Binghamton, New York—is ranked number one in the nation. He possesses remarkable, unprecedented skills, and the worst team in the league, the New York Yankees, has the good fortune to draft him and add him to their ranks. Pepsi also happens to be Jewish… though his knowledge of Judaism is negligible.
Spring training only confirmed to the Yankees how talented he is, and Pepsi is asked to join the team in New York for the season opener. Needing a place to stay in the City, Pepsi’s parents move down from Upstate New York and rent a home in Riverdale for themselves and their only child. They soon discover that their next-door neighbor is the personable rabbi of a local Torah center. Pepsi’s parents are curious to learn more about Judaism, and being retired have the time to attend some classes. Over time, Pepsi notices a change in his parents and is troubled by it. When his father experiences a medical crisis, Pepsi’s life is turned upside down and he revisits his attitude toward the Jewish faith. What follows is the inner struggle he undergoes while simultaneously doing his best to lead the New York Yankees into the postseason for the first time in over a decade.
Anything more would be depriving the reader of the joy of discovery. Suffice it to say that the challenges facing Pepsi both on the field and in his heart are edge-of-the-seat reading.
Your Teenager Will Read It!
The reading of books among all segments of the population is down significantly. While it is true that smartphones have us all reading and writing snippets of information, perhaps more than ever, spending a few hours or more lost and engrossed deep within the pages of a book is an activity in decline. Shabbos observance certainly enhances reading, but even so, magazines and newspapers with their short articles and eye-catching graphics have, for the most part, replaced the traditional book. When it comes to our teenage children, especially boys, serious reading outside of learning or mandatory school assignments is particularly rare.
In conversation with Abie, he beamed about the response to “The Season of Pepsi Meyers” in this regard. “This past Purim, a group of young men came to my door collecting for their yeshivah high school. One of them said to me, ‘I want you to know, Mr. Rotenberg, I’ve read Pepsi Meyers eight times and everyone in my dormitory has read it at least once!’” Abie related a further anecdote. “My son gave a copy of Pepsi Meyers to his landlord, who has a son who was recently bar mitzvah. A week later he told my son, ‘Tell your father that this has been the first time in three years that my son has read a book! And don’t forget to add that not only did my son love it…I did too.”
“What about girls?” I asked him. “If they are familiar with the fundamentals of baseball, girls will enjoy the book as well,” he responded. “There are many elements to the story outside the realm of sport. Pepsi’s relationship with his parents, their connection to their neighbor Rabbi Elias and his wife Rachel, who is a strong and central character in the novel. In addition, the struggle Pepsi undergoes and the courage to stand up for his convictions are all themes that girls will find engaging.”
These comments ring true. Within a few pages I found myself drawn toward the character of Pepsi Meyers and was interested in his future. Sure, as a baseball fan, I found his on-the-field exploits as a nascent Major Leaguer to be captivating, but it is only after he and his parents move from Upstate New York to Riverdale and encounter the vibrancy of Jewish life does the novel soar. And despite the subtitle of this section, the book is not only for teenagers or young adults; all ages can and will find much to enjoy and much to learn from “The Season of Pepsi Meyers.”
An Easy Way to Participate in Outreach:
There was a time when it was almost unheard of for most of us to attempt to reach out to the unaffiliated and draw them closer to Yiddishkeit. This was the sole domain of outreach professionals such as Aish Hatorah, Chabad and others. Perhaps occasionally we would hear of a particularly charismatic and devoted person who would do so, but it remained a rare occurrence. During the past decade, this has changed. Project Inspire, the Shabbat Project and other organizations have made the case that we all can participate and impact our less involved and mostly uninformed Jewish brethren. Many have responded by opening their homes and hosting students or neighbors, with encouraging results.
“I would venture to say that most people, however, are still hesitant to do so,” Abie says. “They are afraid they may not have the right answer to a question, or are uncomfortable imposing their value system on others. Regretfully, I’m not sure that there’s much we can do to change people’s nature in that regard.” After pausing for a moment, Abie continues. “But if you have a Jewish acquaintance, neighbor or co-worker who enjoys baseball, my book makes it virtually effortless to introduce them, or members of their family, to Judaism.”
I ask him if he would recommend forewarning the recipient that the book presents a Torah viewpoint.
“I would think so,” he responded. “Give them the basic outline of the plotline and that Pepsi’s exposure to and interest in Judaism comes about through his relationship with the rabbi of a Torah center. But make sure they emphasize that it’s a great baseball yarn with a nail-biting pennant race that they’ll thoroughly enjoy. I truly believe once engaged in the story they will read it through from cover to cover, including the Torah parts.”
I ask Abie if he’s confident in “The Season of Pepsi Meyers’” ability to be a tool for kiruv. His answer surprises me.
“If the definition of kiruv is to make someone Torah observant, then no,” he responded. “It would be both presumptuous and arrogant of me to think that my book could effect that sort of change in a person’s life. But if kiruv means—as it is meant to be translated— “to bring closer,” then yes, my book can do that. Even one millimeter closer to G-d and Torah is a major achievement! There are so very many Jewish neshamos that have absolutely no idea what Torah is about. They don’t think about our Creator, have never heard of Matan Torah and have virtually no inkling as to what Shabbat means and how it can enhance one’s life. If a futuristic, nail-biting pennant race in the Bronx somehow gets a Jewish kid or adult to think—even if only momentarily—about Hashem and the purpose of life, I will be immensely gratified… as should the person who gifted them the book because of this article. All the more so if we are somehow fortunate enough to merit that the impact upon the reader turns out to be even more meaningful.”
Where and How to Buy ‘The Season of Pepsi Meyers’
The hardcover version of the book is distributed by Feldheim and is available in Judaica shops across the country for $22.99. Both the hardcover as well as a softcover version can be purchased through Amazon. The softcover sells for only $14.99. I urge the reader to take a quick look at the Amazon website where numerous interesting and enthusiastic testimonials about the book can be found. An electronic Kindle version is also available through Amazon and sells for $9.99. Anyone interested in purchasing multiple copies of either the hardcover or softcover (five or more) can do so for a substantial discount by visiting the website pepsimeyers.com.