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!


Celia Yeary said...

Excellent, LK. I like the statement "mandated thinking time," aka "benched." That's what I should be doing right now, I think. Sit down and do some thinking.
I'm not a big fan of any sport, although I enjoy basketball, football, and golf. However, I do root for the home team.
Your thought are well worth reading and studying. We can learn from those lesson, too.

Maggie Toussaint said...

What a great blog, LK. It certainly made me think. Baseball is a great metaphor for the game of life. Well done!