As I write this, I am watching the broadcast of the final game ever to be played at Yankee Stadium. I have cried on and off both during the game and the pre- and post-game ceremonies. (Yes, I have heard, “There’s no crying in baseball.”) I know that many, if not most, baseball fans hate the Yankees. But, despite my 30 years living in California, they’ll always be my hometown team and saying goodbye to the place where I learned so much is hard.
I was destined to be a baseball fan (my mother was actually at Yankee Stadium the day before I was born) from the start, molded by my dad who didn’t care that I was a girl; I was his firstborn and he put a baseball mitt on my hand as soon as I could stand up and throw a ball. My dad was born and raised in Brooklyn and I think rooting for the Bronx Bombers was his one and only act of rebellion.
By now, I’m sure most of you are wondering why I’m writing about this in a business column. Well, I think there are parallels between baseball and business — I know I learned a lot from watching the Yankees over the years. I have vague memories of the 1961 baseball season, the one where Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris battled it out to see which one would break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. (It was Maris.) Both men said the fact they were competing for the record helped spur them on. Likewise, entrepreneurs shouldn’t ignore our competitors; instead, we should use their success as an inspiration to try harder.
My baseball mania kicked in the following year and I lived and died with my team. None of the other girls in the neighborhood cared about the sport, so I spent most of my time with the boys talking baseball. This served me well later in life, when my ability to talk baseball put a lot of male co-workers at ease, at a time when many men weren’t all that comfortable with women in the workforce. Essentially, it taught me the power of small talk.
Being a baseball fan was a great motivator for me. I was a good player too, but girls weren’t allowed to play Little League back in the 60s. So I watched from the sidelines as my younger brother played, angry that I couldn’t. I think I subconsciously vowed that being a girl wasn’t going to keep me from doing whatever I wanted ever again. I learned a few good entrepreneurial lessons there: how to channel frustration and the power of determination.
My childhood hero, Mickey Mantle, the great Yankee centerfielder, was one of the best to ever play the game. I remember one game where he limped up to the plate as a pinch hitter after missing many games due to an injury and ended up hitting a home run. When he crossed the plate, blood was seeping through the bandage wrapped around his ankle. I think about that moment every time something seems insurmountable. Remembering Mantle’s courage and fortitude enables me to power through.
At the end of Sunday’s game (which the Yankees fittingly won) Yankee captain Derek Jeter told the nearly 55,000 fans still sitting in the stands that wearing the Yankee pinstripes means “pride and tradition, but most of all, we have the best fans in the world.” And then the team saluted their fans by taking a lap around the field, waving and giving thanks. Fans, like I wrote here several weeks back, are nothing more than customers. And on one of the most emotion-packed days of his life, the captain of the team, given a chance to say anything, chose to thank his “customers.” Jeter went on to ask, somewhat rhetorically, where would the Yankees be without their fans? All entrepreneurs need to remember that. We all say the customer is king, but how many of us really live by that philosophy?
I am not saying the customer is always right. They’re not. But even in those cases, you need to try to calm the ruffled feathers before those boo birds (as they’re called at the ballpark) spread their negative message.
Baseball is like business. Don’t believe me? Here’s baseball Hall-of-Famer Lou Brock: “You can’t be afraid to make errors! No one can ever master the game of baseball, or conquer it. You can only challenge it.” Sound familiar?
Whether it’s baseball or business, no one gets to win every time. But you’ll never win if you’re not in the game. Mickey Mantle struck out far more often than he hit home runs. Yet he’s known as one of the greatest home run hitters of all time. We entrepreneurs need to be more like the Mick — get up every day and swing for those fences.
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