Some Lessons from a (Formerly) 0 and 7 Team

Posted 04.17.2009

Washnats1 Until last night, when they sealed the deal with a four run eighth inning in a 8 – 2 win over the Phillies, my Washington Nationals were the losingest team in baseball this year with an 0 and 7 record.   The great Washington Post sports columnist, Tom Boswell, had a very thoughtful piece this week on the perspective it takes to stay focused and optimistic when a team is going through a tough stretch.  I know that baseball as a metaphor for life is a bit overdone, but when I read Boswell’s column I immediately saw some lessons that leaders can use in tough times.

Here’s my take.

Step Back for Perspective:  Just before the Nats home opener against the Phils began, longtime voice of the Phillies, Harry Kalas, collapsed in the broadcast booth and passed away a short time later.  At about the same moment, word came that Mark Fidrych, the Detroit Tigers pitching sensation from the 1970’s, had been found dead at his home.  A week earlier, Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by a hit and run driver hours after he had pitched six scoreless innings in his first major league appearance.  As Boswell so beautifully wrote:

“These slap-in-the-face moments in life, which don't directly concern us yet affect us more deeply than we might suspect, have a sobering tonic quality. They take us out of ourselves for a moment and let us see matters — not life-and-death things, just our everyday reality — with more distance and less anxiety.”

I love his point about seeing our everyday reality with more distance and less anxiety.  In the midst of whatever it is we might find ourselves caught up in and worrying about, life and death both go on.  It’s important to remember that “our stuff”, no matter how important it seems, is part of a much bigger picture.

Reward the Performers:  A couple of days ago, the Nats sent their long term prospect for center field, Lastings Milledge, back to the minors for a while and replaced him with Elijah Dukes.  Millings had been showing up late for practices and team meetings and acting like he was a privileged superstar. Dukes had been hustling like crazy so manager Manny Acta put him in the lineup yesterday. Dukes hit the home run that sparked the four run barrage in the 8th inning.

Plan for the Recovery:  Boswell suggests in his column that the Nats are very close to signing their star third baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, to a long term contract.  If they’re not, they should be.  Zimmerman is a defensive marvel and is consistently the guy you want at the plate when you have men in scoring position late in the game.  He delivers as he did last night with an RBI double in the 8th.   When you’re in a tough stretch, you have to plan for the recovery by keeping your best talent on board.

Don’t Fold:  One of the great things about baseball is that it’s a 162 game season.  To be successful, you have to pace yourself and take it a game at a time.  After all, the only game you can play is the one you’re in.  You can’t change the games that are in the books and you can’t play the ones that haven’t happened yet.  You deal with what’s in front of you.  That seems like a reasonable approach for leaders in the current economy as well.  The next time you find yourself feeling a bit panicked, remember these words that Ryan Zimmerman shared in Tom Boswell’s column.

"If you think we're worried, we're not. "We're closer than it probably seems. We need to play defense and pitch a little better. We have to battle through it. Things will turn."