It was just last Thursday and the big game was going into the bottom of the sixth (and final) inning. The team from Eastlake Little League of Sammamish, Washington were down to their last at-bat, trailing the team from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho in the Northwest Regional semi-final game by a run. The winner of this game would go on to the finals in the region and then ultimately to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. It was the time for heroes. It was a moment for Jack Titus.
I don't know the kid personally, but after coaching little league for a decade I definitely know the kind of player he is. Small, scrappy, dependable -- a good ballplayer I'm sure...but not a starter. But, with one out and a man on first, Titus was called in to pinc hit. Talk about pressure. His one at bat of the game. And in front of a national audience.
Titus had been hitting well off the bench. And once again he didn't disappoint. With the grace of a seasoned veteran he ripped one past the third baseman for a single, putting runners on first and second. Then the next batter, Austin Oh, lined one up the middle driving in the tying run. With Titus on third and the anxiety mounting, Idaho's pitcher unraveled, throwing a wild pitch that enabled Titus to race home. Eastlake won the game. Two days later they went on to crush a team from Billings Montana in the finals. So now it's on to Williamsport for the Little League World Series tomorrow which began yesterday.
Oh deserves a ton of credit for winning that game, as does the rest of his teammates. But if Jack Titus had made that second out the entire mood of the game would've changed. The momentum would've been on Idaho's side. Oh would've been under much more pressure. For me, it was Jack Titus, the little kid off the bench, who really stepped up. Here's a kid who, when given the chance, didn't cower or freeze. He swung the bat. Would you have done the same? Do you perform like that under pressure? Do you meet your challenges with courage and heart? Is that how you run your business?
The Little League World Series starts tomorrow in Williamsport and runs through next weekend. And if you want a few lessons about running a business, check out a few games. Here's what you'll learn about winners.
They know their jobs. To make it this far, these kids know the game and they know their positions. Of course you'll see some errors. But they will be surprisingly few. They might not have reached 10,000 hours of playing time yet, but they're on their way. They are thinking about the next play. They are anticipating where they will throw the ball. They are alert on base. These are the same kids that forget to pick up their shoes, leave Gatorade bottles lying around at home and don't clean their rooms. But not here. Why? Are these players more talented or special than any other typical 12 year old from Washington state? Not really. They certainly have some baseball skills. But they've been coached well. They've done the drills. They're prepared. And they don't want to let the rest of their team down by making stupid mistakes. Do your employees know their jobs like this?
Everyone contributes. Little League rules require that every kid gets at least an at-bat and must be on the field for consecutive outs depending on the size of the team's roster. The lesson is that if you're on the team than you've got something to contribute. Jack Titus may not be a power hitter or lights out pitcher but he can darn well come up with a clutch hit when called upon! Remember that the next time you're unhappy with an employee's performance. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Before terminating someone is there not some way to put his or her strengths to better use for your company? Is there not some other way he or she can contribute so that you can profit? We are all good at something. Everyone, even plucky pinch hitters, has their role.
Professionalism and sportsmanship rules the field. Watch what happens when a player strikes out on an ump's questionable third strike call. Does he roll his eyes or say a few words? No way. He puts his head down and runs...runs...to the dugout. Would he behave the same way if his mom just called him out? If he's like my kids then definitely not. But this is Little League baseball and professionalism is of the highest priority. The kids treat the umps with respect. The coaches are always there with a positive word. The players from both teams shake hands after each game...and oftentimes hang out with each other right afterwards. You rarely see fights or arguments. There are few jerks in the Little League World Series, other than some of the parents watching the game (but even most parents, by the time they reach this level, are conditioned to behave respectfully). In fact the 12 year olds you'll watch play behave better than many MLB players. There's no cheating (well, except for that Danny Almonte scandal from 12 years ago but boy could that kid pitch!) and there's a respect for the game. The team that wins does it fair and square. Hopefully your business also plays by the rules. Hopefully you behave in a professional and respectful way to your customers, suppliers and employees.
They enjoy the ride. Make no mistake about it, these are 12 year old boys playing baseball on manicured fields in front of huge crowds and on national TV. Any kid that plays baseball dreams of this. Sure, there's pressure. But the kids handle it better than their parents. My kids played travel baseball and were on good Little League teams. They played at a pretty high level but ultimately they lost to better teams. I would be inconsolable. But they always gracefully accepted the loss because 12 year old athletes understand that there will always be kids who are better than them. And they respect that. And they enjoyed the ride. Win or lose, shout or cry, you'll ultimately see the players in Williamsport smiling and having fun. And successful business people I know have the same kind of attitude. They play with passion and they play to win. Sometimes they lose. But they appreciate their situation. They love what they do. They stop and smell the roses. They have the enthusiasm and the attitude of a 12 year old. Because sometimes you need that type of childlike naiveté to keep moving forward in the face of the challenges you'll encounter. There's always another game. There's always next year. And, like any competitive kid, you're not going to go down without a fight.
If you do anything this weekend, or even next week, try tuning in to the Little League World Series. You will be hooked. And keep an eye out for Jack Titus and the Northwest team representing the Eastlake Little League of Sammamish, Washington (they won their first game yesterday!). Jack will get his at-bats. And he'll probably get a hit or two. But regardless of how he plays, he's still a winner. And so are all the kids playing in Williamsport. It's because they're having fun. You and your business should be playing the same way.
A version of this blog appeared on Inc.com