A few weeks back, I was caught up in following our national pastime as my young neighbors from Bellaire, Texas captivated our hearts at the Little League World Series. As I watched their youthful enthusiasm, gritty effort, and love of the game, I couldn’t help but take a little stroll down memory lane, back to the carefree summer of 1975. It seems like just yesterday that my Braes Bayou Little League All Star team found ourselves in the district final game against a scrappy squad from the small community of Katy, just west of Houston. Down by one run, we loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth against a husky fastball hurler, known to his teammates only as “the Rocket.” I stood in the on-deck circle as I watched my teammate, a tall lanky fellow named Zip, take a called third strike and walk back to the dugout in tears. (A common occurrence for Zip.) There were now two outs.
“Batting for Braes Bayou, first baseman, number 10, Roland Browns.” (That pronunciation was about as close as they ever got.) Before I walked to the plate, I rubbed my Norm Miller autographed Astro Buddy card for good luck and totally zoned out the loud chatter of the crowd. (Those Katy fans were not known for their sportsmanship.) I didn’t have an official “At Bat” yet that day; the Rocket had intentionally walked me on both of my earlier plate appearances. This time he had no choice but to pitch to me. I’m not sure who was more nervous; we are both well aware of each other’s reputation. I worked the count full and then waited for his fastball. Earlier that night it had been clocked at 103 mph. (Actually, we had no radar guns back then, but that’s what I had estimated.) And then he brought it…and I connected. The ball shot off the bat and appeared to be soaring farther than I can ever remember hitting one before. I merely stood in the batter’s box and watched as it sailed toward the fence. (I was not trying to show up my opponent, especially Rocket who had that reputation for throwing at batters’ heads.) Going, going, going…
In actuality, in my old age my memory is not what it used to be. I don’t think I ever really hit a dinger against the Katy Rocket to win the big All Star game. In fact, I never even made the All Star team (a huge snafu that led to the Braes Bayou team’s early tournament exit that year). I was a weak hitting first baseman with a batting average hovering around the “Mendoza Line” but with a glove like a vacuum cleaner. (Well, maybe just a dustbuster.) But watching those kids from Bellaire play their hearts out took me back in time, if just for a fleeting moment, and allowed me to fondly remember the innocent days of my youth.
I was able to forget about all that is bad with sports these days. There were no multi-millionaire babies merely playing for that next high priced contract. (A snow cone after the game was payment enough.) No player was badmouthing his manager in the press and claiming disrespect after being pulled from the ballgame earlier than he would have liked. There was no mention on ESPN 2 of drunken driving, substance abuse, paternity suits, date rape, or hiring hitmen to knock off spouses. (OK, these boys were just 12.) No overly-emotional kid took out his frustrations by spitting on a fan in the stands (or even headbutting an umpire).
Instead these athletes were models of gamesmanship and sportsmanship. They each gave 110% at all times. (An overused cliché if ever there was one.) They ran out ground balls, hustled on the base paths, and chattered in the dugout. They mobbed their teammates after a big hit and consoled each other after a tough error. When the final out was made in the World Championship game, many shed a tear or two for a brief minute, but then they remembered what they had accomplished and moved on to high fives, hugs from their parents, and frito pies from the concession stand. In the end, they made the city of Bellaire (and Houston) as well as the rest of the country very proud of their efforts and were welcomed home to a large celebration and a downtown parade (without the looting and turned over cars so prevalent in professional sports). In the end, Coach McConn acknowledged that his players were not the greatest athletes in the tournament. They were not the fastest nor the strongest. But they played together as a team and maintained a positive attitude, a silent confidence that took them all the way to that final game. They embodied another overused cliché, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Individually, they are all fine players; together they are the U.S. Little League Champions.
CHILDREN KNOW BEST
We can all learn valuable lessons from watching these boys of summer. We can learn about the importance of teamwork, how we can accomplish so much more by working together for the greater cause. So often in the workplace, we let our sense of ego (and even insecurity) get in the way of seeking advice or aid from co-workers. We want to make sure that we get credit for a successful project, even if that means limiting its success so others cannot join in the accolades. While a competitive spirit often leads to hard work and an inspired work ethic, it should never get in the way of achieving the longer-term business goals and objectives. In order to promote this inner-office team effort, bonuses and other incentives should be structured based on overall group (not individual) results with employees encouraged to take advantage of each other’s knowledge and skills. Remember, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (not again).
The Bellaire ballplayers also taught us a lot about attitude and keeping things in perspective. Despite the pressures of the situation, they never forgot to enjoy every moment and just have fun. Photos in the newspaper showed the kids sliding down a hill adjacent to the park; articles spoke of them heading out for pizza after the big game. Granted they were all just 12 years old, but folks in Bellaire and Houston soon caught on to the excitement. Neighborhood restaurants and community centers hosted outings where supporters could gather and cheer together for their hometown heroes. Business people forgot about those important projects at the office and left shop early in order to cheer along with neighbors and friends. For a few short weeks, nothing seemed more important. Those youthful, enthusiastic attitudes do not have to end with the final out of the Little League World Series. We work hard to pay our bills and afford those necessities and luxuries that allow us to live life to its fullest. Yet, we should never lose sight that the “living” is more important than the “working.” Sometimes, it takes a child to teach us what is really important and allow us to relive those innocent days of our youth (even if our memories are not what they once were).