Monday, May 21, 2012

Lessons from Baseball

7635lkhI love baseball.

Every summer I can remember as a pre-teen and maybe earlier, I was out there on the field, ignoring the heat and humidity and my pollen allergies, doing warm-up calisthenics (hated those at the time) and rotating positions (usually right field but now and then left field or third base – loved third base) and hoping like heck I’d actually connect with that softball when it was pitched. When I connected, I hit well. Very well. The problem was connecting. It flustered me to no end that I didn’t connect every time I went up to bat. My average … well, I have no idea what it was, but it wasn’t great. My energy level, physically, has always been on the low side. My stress/nerve level made up for it and was always on the high side.

7611-lkhAs I got older, the stress of the game interfered. I wasn’t hitting well enough. I got to play less often although my field play was pretty decent as I remember. When it came time to switch to high school league instead of summer league, I switched modes and became team ‘manager’ instead. Basically, I was scorekeeper. Hey, I was still involved, I told myself.

My older sister and I used to sit in our shared bedroom and watch the Cardinals and the Dodgers (back when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn) on our tiny black and white TV that we were thrilled to have. A TV in a bedroom! That was really cool to us. (Those of you who grew up with a color TV, a computer, and a game system in your bedrooms just can’t understand, sadly.)

7697lkhThese days, hubby and I watch the Pirates on our flat screen color TV that’s not horribly big (or as big as hubby would like) but big enough I have to keep a certain distance away so it doesn’t hurt my eyes. I don’t know if it’s because the game is easier to see that way or if my focus has simply changed, but I notice things these days I didn’t before.

1) No matter how well a player does in the field, if he isn’t batting well, he gets benched. This even applies to those with .250 averages (which is a good batting average). If they run into a string of bad luck, they receive mandated thinking time or regrouping time in the form of watching his fellow players succeeding better. Lesson: We all have bad days/times. Watching others doing well can be terribly helpful.

2) If this bad luck string runs too long, they’re sent back to 7723lkhthe minors to relearn how to bat, presumably, or maybe to regain their focus on a smaller stage. They’re always welcomed, and encouraged, to work their way back up to deserving field space, or even coveted bench space. Lesson: well, this one is too obvious to need explanation.

3) If they mess up a game with a simple error, they better expect fans to jump all over them and even suggest they shouldn’t be playing. I guess some people do expect perfection, after all. Of course, fans can ramble online all they want. It won’t change the manager’s course. At the end of the day, it’s his decision. Lesson: never mind the naysayers; they don’t make your choices if you don’t let them. Your boss does, but in the end none of us are perfect and good bosses see the good in us even when we mess up.

7675cp-lkh4) A .250 batting average means the player gets one hit in every four times he’s up to bat. And as I said, that’s a good average and that player will get plenty of play time. Take it up to .300 or above and that’s a darn rockin’ average! I wish I’d realized that back when I was playing. Heck, even the pros don’t expect a hit every time they’re at bat. They don’t even expect it half the time. I’ve yet to see a .500 batting average. Lesson: Maybe I should have gone easier on myself and let myself keep playing instead of voluntarily jumping to the side.

5) A .500 season average is a good team average. My Pittsburgh Pirates have been struggling to reach and maintain a .500 season average for … oh, about 19 years now. They are close at the moment. This gives fans great hope they’ll actually hit that and end with that. We all know it’s possible to jump from a 19 year losing streak to a sudden winning streak. We believe they can do it. We want to see it. Lesson: We should believe we can do it, as well. And others will root for us to do so!  (Hats off to the Orioles who seem to have learned that well this year!)

6) A 19 year losing streak isn’t truly a losing battle. They keep moving things around, trying new strategies, rotating the lineup, and keep in mind that yes, they can break it and this could be the year. Lesson: If something isn’t working, change things around. Keep trying.

7) Some of us will support the home team regardless of their record. I’ve only been in the area less than five years. Once I moved here, I jumped onto supporting the home team. Their record isn’t what matters. Even the fact that Garrett Jones,7655cp-lkh my personal fave player, is on the team, isn’t what matters. They’re the home team. That’s the way I’m geared. I do get annoyed when they have a game that looks more like a junior high school team than a pro team, but the next day I’m still back hoping for a better game. (When the Yankees tried to grab Jones over the winter, I did watch that and was terribly relieved when Hurdle said it wouldn’t happen. Guess if it did, I’d have to watch parts of Yankees games at times, but I’d still be rooting for the Pirates.) Lesson: Supporting the home team matters! Not only to them, but also to you, whether or not you realize it.

7652cp-lkh8) At the beginning of every game, all players on both teams stand and salute the flag during the National Anthem. Lesson: always acknowledge there is something bigger than yourself and your own activity.

9) The players I enjoy and support the most are not the ones with the best average or the most skill. They are the ones with the best attitudes. If I had a choice, I would put those guys in over anyone else any day. Even when they’re having bad streaks, I root for them. When those with bad attitudes, however, have bad streaks, I’ll gladly wish for them to be sent back to the minors to regroup. Of course the game doesn’t work that way. If they want to stay in, they better work hard and keep themselves on the top. Lesson: Attitude Matters! (not that we don’t all know that already) but so does hard work.

10) The players who succeed long term are the ones that keep themselves in the game. They don’t let the stress of competition overwhelm them. They don’t let the fact that someone else is doing better throw them into despair. And when they do reach the top or close to the top, they don’t give into the fame and derail themselves. They keep their heads in the game. Lesson: also too obvious to expand upon.

These days, when I get a chance to play again (which is quite rare), I do it. A few years back when I played with my son’s little league team in a sons vs. parents game, I managed to shock the heck out of my son with a very nice hit and a nice catch. I shocked myself a bit, as well. Yes, it made me nervous to jump in at my age and given it has been so darn long since I tried, but you can’t connect if you don’t swing the bat.

And by the way, team players are more likely to be supported, respected, and given play time than those who are all about themselves.

11) I nearly forgot.. the starting pitcher is always tagged for the game’s win or loss, regardless of how well or badly the rest of the team performs. This always struck me as unfair until I stopped to realize that pitchers know this going in. They get the limelight of being the pitcher, but they also risk the fall due to others’ errors. A good, loyal team will help a pitcher have a winning season, which works out well for all of them. Lesson: This is exactly the same in the business world. Think about it. 


All above photos are my own from a September 2011 game where the Pirates took on the Cardinals. Okay, the Cardinals won, but I still root for them, also, so it was a no-lose situation. ;-)  Feel free to pin any of my blog photos if you’re on Pinterest. And look me up there!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Finding the Light through our Tunnel Vision

May2012-onthebike1“Who’s Paul McCartney?”

Yes, this was a real question that was passed around Twitter during and after one of the recent award shows. I literally gaped. Who’s Paul McCartney? Are they kidding?

Even more recently I saw a conversation where a dance teacher wanted to do an American Bandstand theme for their next show, in honor of Dick Clark, I would guess. Very cool idea, I thought. Eh-hem. Most of the students had no idea what American Bandstand is/was. *sigh*

Okay, so it ended in 1989. Still, some things never truly end. They are part of our ingrained cultural heritage, like Elvis. There are things kids should just know … just because they should know them.

In talking with (complaining to) my family about this, they made valid points as to how long ago it was and that even if they didn’t recognize Paul McCartney, they would know who the Beatles are. Let’s hope that’s true. Granted. I get it. Time passes. New musicians come out at a rate of about an idol and a bunch of wannabe idols a year. TV is all fake reality now instead of the more simple music and entertainment shows of the past. I get it.

Still, I look back at when I was a teen and remember how hard I tried to find information on my favorite bands. It wasn’t easy when you were in the middle of a flyover state in the middle of cornfields. We were terribly grateful for Teen Magazine and Tiger Beat that would give us glimpsesRollersVisitHospital and info (as “factual” as they may have been) of our teen idols. Now and then The Weekender that came in the Sunday paper had a nice black and white photo of Donny Osmond or Erik Estrada or The Bay City Rollers visiting a children’s hospital (yep, I still have that tiny little b/w article). But it was no easy task for some of us to learn about music. One of the best resources was American Bandstand, originated and hosted by Dick Clark. Everyday American kids could go dance to the most current music on the show and in between, we’d get the top ten lists of the week, plus, and this was the big pull, each show featured a live performance by one of the top bands!

I know, I can hear young people today say, “So what? We get that through Youtube and VH1 and artist websites and iPods and… wherever else any time we want it.”  Yeah, yeah, I get it. But back then, we had American Bandstand and Midnight Special (if our parents let us stay up that late, which was a long shot in most cases) and a couple of other variety shows, once a week at best. Before the late 70s we didn’t even have VCRs in case we weren’t home to see it. We managed, though. We found out info and shared it with each other. We had pen pals to compare notes. We developed deep friendships simply based on sharing info about a favorite band. (And in doing so, we learned valuable communication skills!)

Why is it, then, that in this day and age of the internet and the very simple way of finding oh, so much more than you really want (or need) to know about your fave celebs (and then some), that kids seem to know less about older celebs than we did about older celebs?

In the late 70s, we all knew the names Marty Robbins, Frank Sinatra, Dale Evans, Roy Rogers, and so on, even though they were “far” before our time. We knew Peter, Paul, and Mary. We knew Jimi Hendrix. Even if it wasn’t our style or interest, we knew their names.

So yes, it still stymies me as to how on earth any teen these days wouldn’t know the name Paul McCartney or what American Bandstand is! Youtube it, for Pete’s Sake!

My guess is (and I come up with this with the help of the family discussion) that just like we now have a whole long shelf full of cereal from which to choose instead of a few varieties where the best toys got the buy, kids are under a huge onslaught of info. It’s so much and so easy to get to and so everywhere on every device under the sun that they have to tune it out and beeline for what they want specifically. They develop tunnel vision to prevent overload.

But at the same time, they miss so much that we leeched right onto because we could actually find it, at times, if we tried. We stayed thirsty for knowledge because we had to make an effort to find it. No effort involved these days. Stick it in Google and within seconds, there it is. What’s the joy in that? What’s the challenge? Without challenge, how valued is the info?

So, a challenge: Dig a hole up from the tunnel’s easy to find light at the end and shovel into the dark. Put the toys (electronics) away for a day and find info about something that pulls your interest.

A hint… listen to your elders. We learned an incredible amount because we didn’t have much else to do but to listen when our elders conversed about things we didn’t know yet.

When they mention such gems as … well, Paul McCartney (he was the bassist for the Beatles, by the way), don’t go to Twitter and ask who it is. Look it up! If you’re really up for a challenge, try doing that in a library instead of on the internet. It’s good for your brain. Honestly.

Or… just YouTube it:

The Jacksons on American Bandstand

So… this whole conversation made me acutely aware that I’d yet mentioned American Bandstand in my Rehearsal series. That will be promptly corrected!

Rest in Peace, Dick Clark.