by Abie Rotenberg. Feldheim, 2015, $22.99 hardcover; $14.99 paperback; $9.99 Kindle.
If I get excited when a new Jewish Major Leaguer pops up on the scene, imagine how I feel when there’s a new book with a Jewish baseball theme.
So when I saw this novel by Rotenberg in one of my Amazon searches for upcoming baseball titles, I knew it was a must-read.
In this debut novel, Rotenberg — an accomplished composer and lyricist in the world of Jewish music — tells the story of a young phenom who happens to be Jewish (think Bryce Harper without the attitude and drama). Through a series of believable and understandable events, our 18-year-old hero — considered the “savior” of a long-dormant New York Yankees franchise — comes to an appreciation for Judaism to the point where he puts his career and success of his team in jeopardy as he adopts an observant lifestyle that precludes playing on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.
Every fall, Jewish fans wonder what “their guys” will do when it comes to “the Yom Kippur dilemma” (see, Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg). But what about playing on the Sabbath, which actually takes priority over the Day of Atonement? No Jewish player has ever not played from Sundown Friday through the end of the Sabbath for religious reasons. (In fact, there was one player — Ed Correa, a pitcher with the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers for three seasons — who would not play from sundown on Friday through sundown the next day, but he was a Seventh-Day Adventist.)
The topic is quite thought-provoking, but it falls short of the rest of the rules of observance. How does Meyers deal with keeping kosher? What about daily prayers, which have to be done in the company of at least nine other Jewish males? How does he fit all this in to the lifestyle of a professional athlete?
There are a few other small problems with the novel, beginning with the narration. The story is told in first person by an unidentified outside observer. Who is he? A sportswriter, as is so often the case in sports fiction? Someone else? Such clarification is important to justify the story-teller’s rationale. Once the main story is told, things wrap up rather quickly “I’m not going to bore you with the details,” says the narrator, which stuck me as a bit lazy, as if the author thought the details were no longer necessary and/or just wanted to be finished with the book.
Meyers is set in the near future of 2040, but there doesn’t seem to be a compelling reason for that unless it’s to include the use of “Auto-Umpire,” a new video technology that occasionally overrules the call on the field (tennis has been using such mechanisms for a few years now).
There are also a couple of factual errors: a character seemingly in two locations at once, a mistake on important statistic or two. Each chapter begins with a quote attributed to the late Yogi Berra, which is cool, although one — “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” — should be credited to Dizzy Dean.
All this can present a problem when doing a review: According to their website, Feldheim Press specializes in “Jewish books for the entire family.” So should books like this — written for a very specific readership and often without the nuance of a more experienced author — be subject to the same standards as mainstream material? Sports novels usually have to go into a bit of exposition that are unnecessary to real fans, yet is needed to make the story accessible to readers who lack such specific knowledge but are still interested in the overarching theme of the book.
Regardless of these little nits, The Season of Pepsi Meyers is an enjoyable offering and worth a look.