Friday, February 1, 2008

Play ball

My dog, Berkeley, had a tumor removed from his chest Thursday. The three-plus hour surgery went well, and he's recovering in canine ICU. Pre-operation, I asked the surgeons about the tumor: What kind (thymoma), has it metastasized (no), how large (the size of a baseball). Fortunately, it was encapsulated and they extracted the whole ball of guck.

I'm a baseball nut, have been since I could grip a ball. Baseball is the closest thing to a personal religion; there's something devinely romantic and intoxicating about the pop of a mitt, the crack of a bat, the tonic of a beer and hot dog, the smell of fresh-cut grass, and the melodious holler (Beer, cold beer here; Bag of nuts, big bag of nuts) of an aisle-prowling vendor. Spring training cannot come soon enough.

Baseball is metaphorically rich. As I shared in a New Year's eve post, I enjoyed a ripe story from Tom Wolfe illustrating his research of the life of contemporary college students:

When I grew up, people used a metaphor to describe their progress with a mate. First base was kissing, second base was heavy petting, third base oral sex, and hitting a home run: Going all the way. Today, in college, first base is heavy petting, second base oral sex, third base intercourse, and a home run is learning their partner's name.
Metaphorically, there are many parallels to draw between baseball and business. I engaged the value of metaphors back in October ... here's a refresher (excerpted from Metaphors We Live By):
We understand experience metaphorically when we use a gestalt from one domain of experience to structure experience in another domain.
Sports metaphors and analogies -- especially baseball ones -- are intrinsically apt for business. People moan that sports metaphors are cliche or trite. Yes and no. They're useful as shorthand communication levers because they are cliched and therefore everybody knows exactly what they are intended to mean (including the emotional connotations they are supposed to have), without ambiguity. If you are trying to make sure people get your point quickly and clearly, then the more cliched -- that is, standardized -- your metaphor is, the more efficiently it helps you communicate.

Which reminds me of a conversation I overheard in Scottsdale at a Spring Training game several moons ago, two guys lounging in the outfield bleachers, musing about ...
... Dude, let's start a company. Cool. What's the ball game? I dunno. But we've gotta swing for the fences this time. Okay, what's the roster look like? Joey for sure: He's a clutch hitter, total utility man; we need guys who can play all positions. Who else? Well, we need some horses. How 'bout Steve for sales? Not bad as a set-up man. Miles is the guy we need to pitch; awesome closer with the swing-for-the-fences mentality we need. Mark for IT? Brutal; he’s way in left field. Total screwball. We'd be lucky if he got us to first base. Alright. Adam? Dude’s been on waivers for too long … he’s walking around with two strikes against him; total rain delay. Sarah's a diamond; HR? Tough call. She plays major league hardball and could be on waivers. May need to pinch hit for her while she's in the bullpen. How about John for marketing? Good free agent, but risky. John’s totally off base, big league liability; he likes to play the field.

Quick change-up: Ballpark, how much do we need to open the gates?
No clue, but if we wanna play in the bigs, we need to bust the salary cap; otherwise, we’ll get picked off and end up in the bush leagues. Okay. We’ve gotta act right off the bat if we wanna knock it out of the park. You game? Dude, you know my wife’s going to give me the hook; as much as I wanna play ball, I think I need a rain check. I’ll touch base in a few. Don't drop the ball on me. Keep me in the game in case you cross signals with your manager.

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