As I write this, the New York Mets are 1-0, so they are still in the hunt for the N.L. East crown. Of course, 161 additional games from now, who knows? The start of a new baseball season, coinciding with the beginning of spring, is always a cause for hope and optimism (even, “you gotta believe,” for Mets fans).
With its leisurely pace, untied to a clock, baseball is perfectly suited to the slower lifestyle of warmer weather. And hot dogs and sunshine aside, one of the things I like best about actually attending a game rather than watching it on TV, is that you can see the entire field since so much actually happens away from the camera’s focus.
As a softball coach, I tried to teach my players that every defensive player moves (or should) on every play. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a single turn into a triple because an outfielder did not anticipate the possible overthrow of a base and back up the play. Because of the large size of the baseball or softball playing field and the nature of the game―with fewer players accountable for the majority of the field area―it is essential that players not immediately participating in any given play still move into positions where they might be needed.
The catcher runs down the line to back up a throw to first; the pitcher sprints home to back up a possible play at the plate; the shortstop aligns with home plate in case he needs to take a cutoff throw; the left or right fielder runs at an angle that puts him in line behind the center fielder in case the ball is misplayed.
On every play, every player should be moving to where he can help. It may not seem necessary, almost redundant most of the time, but when an error occurs in front of him, the player who has moved into a backup position may be able to save the day. While the simultaneous movement of all the players may not be as evident as at the start of a football play, baseball is still a total team sport, and teammates must think ahead to anticipate potential scenarios and possible errors that could require their direct involvement at a moment’s notice. In short, everyone should have someone else’s back.
The same principle applies to business. Consider this true story: An editor needed a six page newsletter printed. Rather than using a trifold, the editor wanted pages 1-2 and 5-6 printed on both sides of an 11” x 17” sheet; pages 3-4 would be on a single 8-1/2” x 11” sheet inserted into the larger paper after it was folded. The pages were not numbered, but the editor sent a PDF file and gave explicit directions and the printer confirmed them. An electronic proof was provided and approved.
The printer completed the job and delivered it to the mail house. The editor had asked for samples of the job to be overnighted to him so that he could see the job before it was mailed. But the printer made a mistake: He sent samples of the 11” x 17” sheet but forgot to include the single 8-1/2” x 11” sheet, so the editor could not see the entire newsletter. But the larger sheet was perfect, the printer had completed many other jobs flawlessly, and the editor had approved the proof, so he thought everything would be fine.
Unfortunately, the printer made one other mistake: He printed pages 5 and 6 twice―once on the larger sheet and once on the smaller. And since no one in the print shop thought to look at both pieces of the job together, the error went unnoticed and the misprinted job was shipped to the mail house. Disaster ahead? Probably, except someone had anticipated the possibility of a mistake and put himself in position to have everyone else’s back.
The supervisor at the mail house, which was supposed to insert the single sheet into the folded sheet, didn’t just process the job without checking it first. He looked at both newsletter sheets and caught the error! He then called the editor, who called the printer, who reprinted the job, and delivered it the same day. The corrected sheet was inserted and the job mailed properly.
Had the mail house supervisor not taken the time and trouble to ensure that the job was correct, the editor would have had some very annoyed newsletter recipients (and his boss!) to deal with, and the company would have incurred considerable added expense to pay the mail house and the post office for a second mailing. One person’s putting himself in position to back up the play saved money, time, and a lot of embarrassment― and maybe the editor’s job as well.
It was not the mail house supervisor’s responsibility to look at the printed pieces, but he did so anyway. And when asked why, he said simply that he always double-checked any work that came in, just to be sure that the job would be done right. Words to run a business and a winning team by.