I recently attended my first Atlanta Braves baseball game, my second favorite team in baseball, right behind the Cincinnati Reds, who I’ve followed since the days of the Big Red Machine.
There’s something mesmerizing about sitting in a ball park, hotdog in hand, amidst tens of thousands of fans singing the National Anthem, most like me, out of tune.
The first pitch. The smack of the catcher’s glove. The crack of the bat. It’s just so good.
Baseball takes me back to my humble beginnings on Northern Road where I was the middle of five brothers and sisters in a 1950’s three-bedroom Cape Cod home conveniently located next door to our grandparents’ two-family house. Only six houses dotted the maple-lined street, often used as a cut-through to the adjacent playground, elementary school, public pool, and local church that laid kitty corner to the ‘big field’ up the street.
On any given day, the local boys played ball up in the big field which had tennis courts, basketball courts, and about five baseball fields. When I wasn’t grounded, or babysitting, I’d walk up to the field and watch the teams play for hours, often gravitating to the last field on the far left, which butted up to the cemetery where my dad, a respected MUNY league pitcher, rested, after losing a six-week battle with melanoma when I was ten.
I spent three enchanting summers after his death, patiently waiting for grampa to summon me over to the enclosed screened front porch next door, where we’d sway on the 1960’s green floral print glider, in floor-lamp light, sipping lemonade, while listening to play-by-play on the transistor radio equipped with bunny ears bandaged in crumpled aluminum. His white hair and rosy cheeks were as comforting as his squishy robust belly, a perfect landing to scrunch my way back in the glider to get situated, as my feet were a foot short for the porch floor.
Oh, how I loved that screened porch.
Gramma served large pink-iced animal cookies and lemonade before retreating back in the house. I’d smile at him. He’d smile back at me for about three glider-creaks long. We owned Northern Road on those warm summer nights…as zippy road traffic and chirping summer crickets competed with the crack of the bat through the radio static.
We didn’t speak much during the games, except for a few times where he said I’d make a good catcher. “Up and down. Up and down,” he’d mumble nodding his head, knowing my inquisitive nature propelled me to check in on what gramma was doing, only to have the cheers lure me back to a glider crawl. Grampa liked Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson, and Johnny Bench. Me too.
Silence can speak louder than words.
I learned the art of listening on that porch.
And patience. Baseball takes patience.
It’s where I learned to be instinctive.
Learned to love sports.
Learned to visualize an image in my head.
Back to the Turner Stadium… where the slow moving game with the Nationals gave my former colleagues and me a chance to catch up on life, sports, news, sports, family, work, and sports. Keith was on assignment in Atlanta, and this was the first time he, John and I were together since our television days four years ago. As Keith, a former catcher himself, and John, (both hockey players) chatted up the Syracuse Crunch Calder Cup bid, my eyes fell on the catchers as tucked away memories of grampa and me surfaced. Sitting behind home plate, I couldn’t help but think how he’d love this moment.
As I watched closely, it struck me.
Catchers do get up and down. A lot. But really… they do so much more. They are so much more. They’re the lifeblood of the game. They are the heart of the team. Pitchers and big hitters may be the rainmakers gaining million dollar headlines, but it’s catchers who are the leaders and communicators.
And I started thinking, every company needs “catchers.”
With their unique vantage point of the field, catchers spend the entire game assessing, strategizing and planning ahead.
Catchers are skilled leaders and proficient problem-solvers.
Catchers galvanize, knowing just the right words and signals to ‘move the mound.’
Catchers are strong, agile, accurate and adept at thinking quickly on their feet, expecting the unexpected.
Catchers are diplomats, pre-positioning a relationship with the umpire on behalf of the pitcher. The catcher has the guts; the pitcher, the glory.
Catchers have concision, perfecting their grip to control their throw like a good leader controls his message.
Catchers take charge.
Catchers get down and dirty, taking the hard knocks with quick recovery.
Catchers are trusted, seeing what the pitcher cannot – just like a good leader knows where to get critical information he can’t get anywhere else.
Catchers know hand signals carry the same power as a handshake.
Catchers value the ‘nod,’ and know when to say ‘yes,’ and, more importantly, ‘no.’
Catchers know it’s their job to ‘sell’ every pitch, just like in business.
A catcher reads body language – a huge defensive asset – throwing out, on average, 35% of all attempted steals. Body language accounts for 35% of communication. Body language = intention.
Catchers know how to leverage their assets to prevent the competition from scoring.
Catchers protect home plate at all costs like a leader protects his reputation.
I think grampa was on to something. Maybe it wasn’t because I kept getting up and down.
I still can’t sit still.
My feet still don’t touch the ground most days.
But I got some catcher in me.