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Another Season In The Books/A Remarkable Brother-In-Law

Baseball's postseason provided an economical boost for downtown Detroit.

Baseball's postseason provided an economical boost for downtown Detroit.

What an unusual postseason it was.

The Yankees looked inept against the ferocious Tigers and the Tigers in turn looked toothless against the San Francisco Giants as they were swept in the World Series.

Until the World Series, it was a very successful year for Detroit. The team drew over three million fans during the regular season and downtown was humming before and after Tigers games.

On the last Sunday of October, when the Tigers went down to defeat in Game Four of the World Series, I attended the World Series of dinners.

I dodged the football traffic as the Detroit Lions were playing at home in Ford Field, only about 30 feet beyond the left field scoreboard at the Tigers’ Comerica Park home.

The afternoon football traffic was just leaving and the evening baseball traffic was just arriving as I went a few blocks further to Detroit’s largest hotel (adjoining the General Motors headquarters) for the annual dinner of Yeshiva Beth Yehudah. It’s the school I attended, the school my daughter graduated from, the school all my grandchildren went or go to.

I had harbored thoughts of leaving the dinner early in order to be parked in my favorite chair in time for the first pitch. But it wouldn’t have been fair to the guest speaker, former first lady Laura Bush. After all, I stayed last year for Vice President Joe Biden.

Mrs. Bush was a big hit and told of her three trips to Israel with her husband – two while he was president and one when he was governor of Texas. She also told of her father being in one of the military units that liberated a concentration camp and the effect it on him. He had photos he saved for the rest of his life.

As a former teacher and librarian, she bonded with the audience of over 2,000 (the largest Orthodox dinner of its kind) and I was glad I stayed to the end. The dinner ended at 8:07 p.m. – about the same time Game Four started. I made it home for the second inning and got to see nine innings as the game went 10 innings before Detroit’s great baseball season ended too early.

It will be a most interesting off-season, though. Especially in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. While the Tigers just need a bit of tweaking here and there, the Red Sox, Dodgers and Yankees need major overhauls. You can expect all the aforementioned teams to go after free agent Josh Hamilton, who hit 43 homers for the Texas Rangers.

But pitching stops good hitting, as San Francisco Giants fans know.

* * * * *

My brother-in-law was the most talented man I ever knew.

Rabbi Samuel Kunda, z”l, passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 67. Illness robbed him of much of his unique creativity during his 60s, but his jovial personality, terrific smile and ever-present chuckle remained part of his DNA.

He was – if you’ll pardon the comparison – the closest thing to a Jewish Santa Claus there was.

Rabbi Kunda’s relationship with youngsters made him a popular yeshiva rebbe before he became an internationally known producer of Jewish educational materials for children and their parents.

Shum, as my sister, Naomi, a”h, called him when others were out of earshot, left us with numerous tapes, books and pictures and songs. His artistic talent adorned the walls in my home and sukkah for decades, but he never got around to the project I wanted him to tackle – “Boruch Goes to Ebbets Field.”

Samuel had his own memories of going to the fabled ballpark of the Brooklyn Dodgers and seeing his favorite player, Duke Snider, hit a home run.

With his talent and imagination and Dodgers players with names of Duke, Pee Wee (Reese), Campy (Roy Campanella) and Preacher (Roe), “Boruch goes to Ebbets Field” would have been a big hit.

Shmuel also experienced Tiger Stadium in an unusual way. On one of the family visits here in the 1980s, I took them to the Tigers’ old ballpark when the team was on the road and we had a picnic and ballgame.

Casey Kunda managed all of the kids and even hit an inside-the-park home run and circled the bases twice before allowing one of the kids to tag him out. He made sure the kids always won.

Shul kids would always ask me when he would be coming to town, and when he did they would be rewarded with conversation and a personal story. One youngster asked if he could write him and they began a long correspondence.

My favorite piece of Shmuel Kunda memorabilia is the one-of-a-kind supper plate we have on top of the other plates in the kitchen. The face of the plate, which my brother-in-law drew some 35-years ago, shows our young daughter wearing a baseball uniform, her cap tilted off-center, holding a large baseball bat and an oversized fielder’s glove while standing in front of a ballpark.

I’ve been staring at the plate a lot lately. It’s a reminder of the good times we had and the joy he brought into people’s lives.

Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years before moving
to a big league front office position where he earned a World Series ring. The author, a columnist, lecturer and president emeritus of one of Detroit’s leading shuls, can be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net. His column appears the second week of each month.

About the Author: The author of 10 books, Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and interviewed the legendary Hank Greenberg. He went on to work for a major league team and became the first Orthodox Jew to earn a World Series ring. He can be reached in his Detroit area dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.


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