If Society Were Like Baseball: A Commentary
I had planned this blog post even before the news of the past week that involved Eduard Pinto, his fiancée Maria and their now-late son Gael. For me, that news and the response by the Crawdads-Rangers affiliated community makes this post even more necessary to write.
Since I began my tenure with the Hickory Crawdads as an employee, and then after that ended, a current stint as an official scorer/ newspaper beatwriter, I have understood more and more over the past 12 seasons that baseball folk are really and truly a special breed. The outpouing of support for the Pintos is just the latest example of kindness, caring, family-like – or what should be family-like – love and brotherhood (and sisterhood) that happens in the game.
Indeed, if the rest of society were to mimic the actions that play out every day around the baseball diamond, our world would be a better place to live. What are those actions? Here are a few I see constantly:
Learn a stranger’s name and remember it. You might need it later:
Unknowingly, I got my first taste of this on Labor Day 2004, the final day of the Hickory Crawdads regular season. My family and I got comp tickets in the section behind home plate and we sat in an area near some scouts. As the game progressed, I looked over the shoulder of an older gentleman – he appeared to be in his 70s – and the work he was doing, and I happened to see him wearing a very large ring.
During a half-inning break, I asked the gentleman about the ring and it was then I saw the interlocking letters “STL” on the stone. He took it off and let me hold it to have a better look. It was a 1985 National League Championship ring. (Sadly, it should’ve been a World Series ring, but lest I digress…) The gentleman couldn’t have been kinder to me and we talked the remainder of the game.
Flash forward some eight months later: I’m now an employee of the Crawdads and I’m walking from the parking lot to a gate on the first-base side of the stadium. Suddenly across the parking lot, I hear, “Mark! Mark!” I turned and saw an older gentleman – he appeared to be in his 70s – that knew who I was, but for the life of me I didn’t know why. He then showed me his ring with the interlocking STL lettering on the stone. The proverbial scales then dripped from my eyes and I remembered who he was.
Here was a man that traveled the country to see ballgame after ballgame, seeing and encountering name and face after name and face. Yet, he remembered MY name.
It may sound mushy and overly sentimental, but it always feels special when a Rangers rover comes through and calls me by name when I see them each season.They see and meet so many people in their line of work, but every time I see them in the clubhouse, they call me by name and ask me how things are.
What if we took the time to pay enough attention to the people that we encounter to actively learn and later remember their name?
Keep the past in the past:
It happens prior to every game: the meeting at home plate. While the purpose is to exchange lineup cards and go over ground rules, for me there’s something that plays out here that very few people see.
The previous game may have had intense competition. The night before may have had heated words exchanged between mangers, or more so, between managers and umpires. Words that call into question the other’s parentage, or words that requests the other person do things anatomically impossible, or comments about various forms of animal excrement, etc. etc. Baseball is a slow, intensely personal, steam-building kind of game that leads to a climax of decisive action that determines wins and losses. It lends itself to moments that take people into realms of different personas than is normal for a particular person. Many times, the events of the day go home with you and eat at you.
But then, the next day arrives and a new game is played. The managers meet each other anew and shake hands and acknowledge the umpires and their role in keeping the competition fair. Jokes are told, smiles are exchanged and then a good-luck handshake and we begin again anew. It’s as if nothing happened at all before and we’re all friends again.
What if our encounters each day were such that we didn’t carry the baggage from previous days into them?
Secrets are meant to be secret:
Several things come to mind of which I will share two.
- a) After the Travis Demeritte suspension in 2015, I asked his teammate Jose Trevino how the team reacted to the news of their teammate. Trevino’s response, “I’m not getting into any of that.” My follow-up question: “Are you guys mad, upset? How are the guys handling it?” Trevino: “I’m not going to say.”
- b) I happened upon what was to be a closed-door “kangaroo court” in 2013. When manager Corey Ragsdale saw me, his only words were, “This stays here.” There were some juicy things, funny things, but it was between teammates and coaches and to this day they’ve stayed there.
The details of every encounter need not be spread publicly like in a schoolyard playground setting. In fact, the best way to be ostracized is to share secrets.
Everyone pulls tarp:
You know how you find out what kind of fellow employees you have? Watch how they approach tarp duty. Are they the first out there, or are they the last one’s slinking down the seating area toward the field – or worse yet, not even bother to show up until the thing is almost rolled away.Or even worse? They’ve gone to lunch during a threat of rain and aren’t at the park at all.
In a minor league baseball front office, everyone from the GM to the intern pulls tarp. It’s the one task that is the staff equalizer, but in doing it, you know whether or not your workmates have your back.
Yes, the grounds guy is in charge, and yes there are times a GM or sales person really does need to be in that sales call. But the tarp pull is the one task in which everyone gets dirty and nasty and wet and likely contracts every disease known to may from that thing. During a heavy thunderstorm, it’s the one task in which people are doing everything in their power to keep that large, flying-kite of a plastic parachute from soaring away; all the while praying their lives don’t end at that moment from a lightning strike.
Everyone should pull a tarp just once in a heavy rainstorm, and you’ll understand.
Baseball family is really a family:
You know what I’ll remember about the final game of the 2015 Sally League Championship series? People cared about me personally. Let me explain:
Two weeks prior to the start of the playoffs, I lost my full-time job unexpectedly. On what turned out to be the final game at Asheville that clinched the title for Hickory, I had an interview for a job that night. I went through the interview, then drove 90 minutes to Asheville in hopes of catching the final few outs. But I missed. So I show up and through the champagne-drenched celebrations, several players and coaches asked how my interview went. I didn’t think they even knew I had an interview. Though their joy in the accomplishment of a season-long goal, they gave enough of a damn to ask me about my life.
Baseball family is baseball family, not “family” family.
During the season, teammates with teammates and front office staff members spend much more time with each other than with their own families. You work out together, or make sales calls together, pull tarp or shag flies, eat meals or play cards in the clubhouse, listen to your boss rail about not making enough sales or listen to your manager about how much more you need to hustle.
Your baseball family requires a lot of you… but they expect you to be there for your family and go to great lengths to make sure you do. They want you to be at the birth of children, to say good bye to a grandparent, to attend weddings, to play with your kid on the field, etc. etc. Because a good baseball team or a great front office staff are ones that insist that their members take care of life at home. In doing so, they have better teammates and front office staff members.
As fun as baseball is, there’s an off day for a reason and there’s an offseason for one, too – to take care of the people that sacrifice your presence during the season.
Wonder what would happen if other lines of work did this, too?
Baseball people take care of their own:
Folks gave nearly 20K to the Pintos in just under 24 hours, but as shocking as that was, it really wasn’t a shock at all. As the saying goes, “That’s the way baseball go.”
The story about Eduard, Maria and Gael is that latest example about how the baseball community steps up to help a person in need. I’m guessing very few of the 335 people that donated to help the family had never even heard of Eduard or Maria, or Gael prior to Monday. All they heard was a baseball family member needed help and they gave. Because in baseball there are no strangers, just a friend you don’t know yet.
Would that society at large live this way.