As I believe I’ve mentioned, I grew up playing softball. I can remember watching baseball games – usually the Cubs or the Braves or the Dodgers – with my grandpa who was a huge baseball player back in his youth.
In fact, my grandpa actually played in a baseball game against Satchel Paige, who was considered by many to be the best and fastest pitcher. Satchel Paige, for those who don’t know, was considered the greatest pitcher who played in the Negro League. In 1948, he was finally allowed the chance of playing in the Major League. My grandpa played ball for his town’s baseball team when his team got the chance to play against a Negro League team. He had heard a lot about this Satchel Paige guy, and he went up to the plate with a huge chip on his shoulder. My grandpa willingly admitted to his death that he never saw the pitches Satchel threw him. He heard them, he heard the thump of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt, but he never saw the ball.
Playing ball is definitely in our blood. We played catch for hours growing up. We played hours of whiffle ball in the yard. When I was trying out for varsity catcher in high school, my dad learned how to pitch fast pitch softball style so that I could practice. My grandpa, who was a catcher back in the day, actually taught me how to catch. My dad played every position on the field, except catcher, so my grandpa was happy to share the knowledge.
The one piece of knowledge that he shared with me was to never get mad at the umpire and protect the hell out of the umpire. While it seemed somewhat intuitive, I never really understood until I played college ball. My grandpa had died the year before, so he never got to see me play. And, I never got to tell him how much I finally understood what he was really trying to tell me.
Yes, it is important to catch the ball. It is important to call the plays and know what the pitch was that batter hit the last time at the plate. But, it was critical, as I learned, to stay on the side of the umpire even when s/he is making horrible calls. I learned how quickly I could get the umpire to change his call in subsequent pitches. How would I do that? I would always act like I was on the side of the umpire. If the umpire called a pitch a ball when it was clearly a strike, I would confirm that it was indeed outside, right? While everyone was yelling at the bad call, the person who had the same view of the ball was taking his side. An identical pitch would be called a strike next time. This would work about 90% of the time. And, the important thing – never let a pitch get away from you when everyone is yelling at the umpire – a pitch that would end up hitting the umpire. They will think you did it on purpose and threaten to throw you out of the game. (I almost got myself thrown out of the game when my temper got the best of me and yelled back at him, but that’s a different story.)
I realized the other day that I use this technique at work sometimes. When in a meeting with someone who needs to change their approach, I will sometimes fake understanding by pretending I see their logic. Many times they don’t understand their own logic, so while everyone else is being a little too assertive with their opinions, they find relief in having someone on their side. I can usually get them to re-examine their stance using this trick. I wonder if my grandpa knew how powerful his advice was when he gave it.