A Wing and a Prayer
On your mark…get set…pray. Some 2000 participants in Sunday’s New York City Marathon will spend part of their early-morning prerun warm-up searching for inspiration from above: about 100 runners will take part in a Jewish service set up for the race, with the rest participating in an ecumenical Christian prayer. Both services will take place in the shadow of the Verrazzano bridge, near the start of the race.
Peter Berkowsky, founder of the Jewish service (which dates back to 1983), claims to be responsible for changing the date of the race from the last Sunday in October to the first Sunday in November. In 1985, Berkowsky noted that the following year’s race would fall on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah. He wrote to the since-deceased race creator (and Holocaust survivor) Fred Lebow, arguing that much ill will would be generated by having thousands of runners tromping through the streets of Chasidic Williamsburg as men in the neighborhood danced to celebrate the completion of the reading of the Torah. The date was changed.
Both services tailor themselves to their worshipers. The Jewish runners chant a prayer together thanking God for giving strength to the weary. The more-participatory-than-usual Christian service, which this year is scheduled to include 12 ministers from nine states, goes even further, using one prayer, “He Watches Over Me With Love,” as an opportunity for runners to stretch their limbs. As Berkowsky puts it, “Before a marathon, people just do their own thing. Some people read the Sunday newspaper, some people go to sleep. Some people just want to pray.”
Of course, no one knows if divine intervention actually helps anybody’s time, but the Reverend Donald Paine, organizer of the Christian service and a marathon runner with a best time of 4:06, remembers one year when the sky was cloudy during the service. The worshipers prayed for the clouds to leave, and during the race, he says, the sun came out. “Someone came up to me during the race and said, ‘Way to go.”‘
Rock ‘n’ Roll Leo
In the aftermath of Atlanta’s fourth World Series loss of the ’90s, one critical question lingers over the National League organization: What’s up with that Braves coach who keeps rocking back and forth?
Leo Mazzone, Atlanta’s longtime pitching coach, has been rocking away ever since he was a kid—apparently he broke his mom’s couch doing it and pissed off the nuns at his school. He says he doesn’t know he does it, he just can’t stop. Since he didn’t know, Jockbeat went to the experts for an explanation.
“It’s all based on heavy-duty thinking called conditioning theory,” says Thomas Tutko, a recently retired psychology professor at San Jose State University, who’s worked extensively with pro athletes. “Basically, it’s having behaviors tied to success, and the more successful we become, the more there is a tendency to reproduce them on a level that is not conscious.” In that case, considering the success of Mazzone’s pitching corps, he should have somersaulted out of the dugout years ago.
Leonard Zaichkowsky, a professor of sports psychology at Boston University, agrees the movements are unconscious. But he says they’re nothing more than a way to relax. “Maybe he just gets some kind of satisfaction out of rocking, and typically when he’s at home he’s in a rocking chair. In the absence of a rocking chair, he learned to rock while in a sitting position. It’s become a habit that has nothing to do with anything else.”
Jeff Kelsey, assistant professor and director of the mood and anxiety disorders clinical-trials program at Emory University in Atlanta, agrees with Zaichkowsky. “Rocking behavior might just be an indication that he’s really into the game, really focused on what’s going on,” says Kelsey, an admitted Braves fan. “[It] isn’t quite the same as saying, ‘Okay, I’m having a really good season, so I’m not going to wash my hat.”‘
One thing upon which everyone agrees is that Mazzone’s dugout behavior, if quite out of the ordinary, is completely harmless. “Clinically, we don’t get people who come in and say they’re rocking back and forth while they’re watching their team play baseball,” says Kelsey. Tutko agrees, adding: “My feeling is that as long as it’s successful, continue to use it.”
No explanations were forthcoming regarding how Bobby Cox (mis)uses Mazzone’s pitchers.
As if long-suffering Red Sox fans didn’t have enough to contend with, a new insult has been hurled their way by General Mills Millenios, a new Y2K-themed cereal that’s basically just Cheerios with a few “2”-shaped pieces tossed in. The product’s box includes a list of fill-in-the-blank predictions for kids to consider, such as “A permanent space colony will be established in ___” and “A woman will be elected president in ___.” Amidst all these lofty scientific and cultural speculations, however, one stands out: “The Red Sox will win the World Series in ___.” Ouch!
Interestingly, Millenios first hit grocery shelves in early October, when the Sox were still very much alive. Were the General Mills folks sweating out this year’s playoffs, worried that they’d look silly if Boston came out on top? “I don’t have that sort of information,” said a rep at the company’s consumer info line. “Those decisions are made by marketers.” Marketers who, presumably, thought it was a pretty safe bet that the Sox won’t be breaking the Curse of the Bambino until sometime around the turn of the next millennium.
Contributors: Peter Ephross, Jon Cooper, Paul Lukas, Mark Winopol, Paula Hunt
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 2, 1999