When Baseball Was Too American for Jews

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Extra Innings , Directed by Albert Dabah

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Extra Innings

Released September 22, 2020

1 hour 57 minutes

Directed by Albert Dabah

Ocean Parkway Productions 

Drama

“God, I love playing baseball more than anything else, why can’t I have both?” David Sabah says to himself as he prepares to leave for shul on the day of his bar mitzvah.

Albert Dabah, the writer and director of the truly wonderful drama Extra Innings, has delivered a heartrendingly personal portrayal based on his own life story.

David, the character based on Albert Dabah, is the youngest of four children.  Growing up in 1960s Brooklyn he is a standout baseball talent at school, but his conventional, emotionally cold, Syrian Jewish parents, Eli (played by Dabah himself) and Ester, share not a shred of interest in his passion. Daily life is overwhelming for them—in particular, dealing with an older son, Morris, who is shut away upstairs in his bedroom, struggling with schizophrenia and severe depression, listening to classical music and reading great classical literature. Meanwhile, their erratic, wacky, volatile daughter Vivian, far away in California, finds her world rapidly unravelling to the point that she shows up begging her father to fund a dating business venture. The Sabahs put all their remaining energies into attempting to shape their other daughter Rita’s future and force David to conform to their high expectations: studying at a college close to home and, like his father, becoming an upright member of the Jewish business community.

With the constant backdrop of familial mental instability permeating the narrative, the Sabah household is a tense, unhappy place. As he matures, David has to cope with the attendant incessant trauma and, while he remains fervent in his wish to adhere to his Jewish heritage, he is equally desperate to pursue his heart’s desire: to play baseball.

And herein lies Dabah’s storytelling skill: guiding the mounting tension between David’s need to balance the twin pulls of honoring his parents’ blinkered traditional lifestyle against the opportunity to find his own self-fulfillment and realize his ambitions. A romantic entanglement with the local non-Jewish beauty, Natalie, further complicates life for David, who, on returning home late one night, implores his parents, “Why don’t you come see me play? Like on a weekday, it doesn’t have to be on Shabbat.” But Eli is having none of it. “You’re with the wrong kind of people,” he retorts.

For his parents, baseball is “too American,” but, as David eloquently explains to Natalie, “I love baseball. When I’m playing, it’s like the ultimate escape, there’s nothing else going on in the world. It’s just me, a ball, a bat, the club. Even if you mess up, you’re gonna get another chance, it’s all just kinda fair, you know what I mean?”

When the head coach at Vista University in California sees David play in high school and offers him a scholarship for a four-year degree course enabling him to play baseball all year round, he is forced to make a critical choice. Will he rise to the challenge and break free from Brooklyn, where the parameters of his future are already locked in place? Or will he forego his dreams and obey his father, who tells him, in no uncertain terms, “You’re Jewish, David, you need to keep Shabbat, you need to get married, have a family, baseball is not for you.”

Speaking to Moment, Dabah says that his parents’ aspiration to mold their younger daughter (the Rita character) in their conformist image was successful. Extremely Orthodox, she married at 18, had seven children and today has 61 grandchildren. Dabah, on the other hand, says he never felt any support from his parents and had to plow his own furrow, going to college, gaining qualifications in social work and therapy, while also pursuing acting and film production. His difficult upbringing, he says, made him determined to be “the best father ever” to his son and two daughters. (He did, he confided, marry a Jewish girl).

No spoilers here, but suffice it to say that there are several wholly unexpected twists and turns, both shocking and endearing, with one particularly redemptive, not-to-be-missed surprise in the closing minutes.

Extra Innings has already received four richly deserved awards, and more must surely be in the pipeline. Dabah works with SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and NASW (National Association of Social Workers) trying to lessen the stigma surrounding mental illness. His sensitive film is a public service in itself.

Dabah wants audiences to appreciate that “listening to people when you can see they’re hurt, especially now with COVID, and being a friend to someone, is most important.” His parting message, he says, is “there’s always hope for change—that’s where the title comes from—in baseball there is no time limit.”

Watch Extra Innings here

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