May 7, 2012

Baseball and Sports Open One's Eyes to the Exceptional

Tonight (Sunday the 6th of May) was a good evening if you are a baseball fan. There were some great games that are out of the norm. It seems that there are quite a few extra inning games this year, but two of my favorite teams, the San Francisco Giants and the Baltimore Orioles both took their games into extra innings. The Giants game started 3 hours after the Orioles game and yet they ended within a minute or so of each other. With the Giants going into the 11th inning to get a walk off single to win and the Orioles won in the 17th after a 3 run home by Adam Jones put them ahead in the top of the inning.

Looking for the Exceptions

One of the announcers for the Boston Red Sox and Orioles game that went to 17 innings had said he met a friend of his who brought his kid to the game and the announcer said to the kid, “I hope you get to see something special today”. That is a big part of the fun of baseball, and sport in general from a spectator’s vantage, it is the exceptions and the things that are special. It is also a great way to pick up the norms and customs in a culture (Gunther Barth’s “City People” is a great book on human social interactions and how the the social norms are found and set in cities includes the baseball stadium as one of the core elements for enculturation and social interaction with others). But, the understanding of norms and exceptions while watching a game being played with skill is where one learns to see the world. Sports fans stick out in the workplace, whether they are male or female as they often see things differently. They look for the exceptional and often look to see hints of things that stand out.

It is that seeing a world for the norms and the exception to appreciate them, but also to look to emulate them. This really is the standout out trait quite often for the deep fans. It is also the weaving of the story before your eyes and the potential for a great ending. But, it is also watching the unexpected player, or even the expected player, do something far from the norm and maybe even spectacular.

Tonight’s Orioles and Red Sox 17 inning gem had two unusual pitchers as the winning and losing pitchers, in that neither was a pitcher. The winning pitcher, Chris Davis is the Orioles designated hitter and occasional first baseman. He went to bat eight times tonight and didn’t get one hit. But he was called on to pitch in the 16th inning and stayed on in the 17th as there were no more relief pitchers available and Buck Showalter the Orioles Manager put him on the mound to pitch. This is exceptionally rare. What was rarer was Davis did rather well and in the two innings he struck out two batters. Really amazing.

Two Summer’s back when my dad was on in his last weeks another amazing game took place. It was the ninth inning and two outs with Armando Galarraga pitching a perfect game up to that point. All Galarraga needed was one last out. he pitched and the ball was hit and thrown to first base ahead of the runner and the umpire called the runner safe, a hit. The perfect game gone, but it was the wrong call. The manager argued his case and the replays clearly showed the runner was out and Galarraga should have the perfect game (there have only been 21 perfect game pitched in all of recorded major league baseball). The umpire Jim Joyce stuck to his call as that is what he saw as the runner safe. The game was over minutes later with the final out with Galarraga getting the win, but not the perfect game.

Following the game the Jim Joyce went off field and looked at the replay and realized he made the wrong call. He went to find Galarraga and apologize and admit he made the wrong call. This was gut wrenching for Joyce, who is known for getting the hard calls right so often. But, the humility and deep showing of humanity in Joyce reaching out admitting he was wrong and feeling horrible as his call stood between perfection and it incredible rarity. Hearing this story choked me up (I had watched the end of the game and was in awe). I called my dad and told him about it, but he was medicated and not really able to share in it. The thought of the game and story of it is something I still get choked up with, because it is utterly amazing.

With an eye to the exceptional I hear designers talk with the same alertness, as well as others in various other professions. Quite often the best of any field have this same focus and often they see the world much the same way. Often when you sit and get to know them the stories of games watched come out where something amazing happened or something out of the ordinary. They have learned to look for that and keep their eyes and mind open and attentive to just that the seeds of exceptions starting and the desire to see it this time, the one time will they see the exceptional happen, as it happens.

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