Several weeks ago I wrote a blog entry titled “The Four Most Exciting Words in Sports,” which are “Pitchers and Catchers Report.” Those words mark the start of Spring Training, and much more than the woefully incorrect groundhog, are the symbol that winter is finally coming to an end. Today, I want to talk about the Two Most Exciting Words in Sports.
If the start of Spring Training hints at the coming of Spring, Opening Day marks its arrival. Regardless what the calendar said, for millions of baseball fans, today is really the start of Spring. Continuing a tradition that goes back over 100 years, today is Opening Day, the official start of the 2013 baseball season.
If you know a baseball fan, you know they can get a little crazy about America’s favorite pass time, and especially about today. What other sport has a tradition of the president participating in the start of the season?
But, what makes Opening Day so special? A baseball season is 162 games long. The results from today’s games represent 0.6% of the entire season. In fact, over the past 10 years, the team that won the World Series, LOST on Opening Day 70% of the time. Shown another way, the Chicago Cubs have won on Opening Day 55 times in the last 104 years. And in all that time they’ve never won the World Series.
So, Opening Day results are not a good indicator for the rest of the season. What is it about this day that makes it special? (And what does that have to do with your teams?)
I think Opening Day has two special characteristics, and both are applicable to our teams, whether we lead a group of ballplayers, or a group of engineers.
First is the idea of a definitive starting point. No other sport has as long as season as baseball. Professional basketball plays 72 games in a regular season. (Of course, the playoffs, can be nearly that long as well.) Football plays 16 games. Baseball plays more than both put together. The middle part of the season is called “the dog days.” Those are the games in August when the trade deadline is past and the final push for the playoffs hasn’t started. Add in the fact that in some outdoor stadiums the temperature can get well into the triple digits and it becomes a bit of a slog, especially if you support a team who doesn’t have a shot at the playoffs.
Opening Day represents a new start. Every team is technically tied at the start of today’s games. My beloved Seattle Mariners might be out of it in August, but on Opening Day they have a shot at World Series glory. (Seattle remains the only major league city to never have their team attend the Fall Classic.) But, hope springs eternal.
In the IT world we often work on episodic projects. At one company we spent two years upgrading our data center. It was a long, long process. And we had our “dog day” moments. We worked to break the 24 month project up into smaller projects, each had it’s own set of deliverables a due date, and most importantly a kick off date. It wasn’t as spectacular as Opening Day, but it was just as important in my opinion.
Consistency, consistency, consistency
The second reason Opening Day is special is it gives a sense of consistency. The Cubs had their first Opening Day in 1876 when Al Spalding beat the Louisville Grays 4-0. And they’ve had an Opening Day every year since. Through wars and strikes, the World Series got cancelled once (1994) but Opening Day and the start of Spring have continued down through the years.
As a baseball fan, you can feel a connection to the millions of fans through the years, and of course to the players, managers, and owners. It’s what makes baseball unique in sports. It has a history that fans connect to on a personal level. Last year’s Hall of Fame ballot featured some of the most controversial figures in modern baseball; Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa. Fans naturally have opinions on whether players connected with the “Steroid Era” should be allowed in. But, what makes baseball so magical is that those fans are just as passionate about whether Pete Rose, the all time hits leader who admits he bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds should ever be in the Hall of Fame (he’s not.) Or whether Ty Cobb, the person that Rose replaced as the hits leader, who was an avowed racist and one of the dirtiest players in the game should be in the Hall. (He is.)
And there’s still debate about whether Joe Jackson actually belongs. (He’s not in.)
These men played decades ago, and in the case of Jackson, nearly a century ago. But, baseball captures that sense of history and most of all the consistency. Opening Day brings its hopes and dreams every year.
In business, consistency is just as important. During this long maintenance process, we had meetings every Tuesday and Thursday morning for about 25 minutes. I didn’t need to send out appointments, and in fact didn’t. The team knew that if it was Tuesday or Thursday morning at 9:30, we had our project meeting. During the entire project we used the same MeetingPlace phone conference dial in numbers. I actually inherited the number 1245. I think someone picked it because of how easy it was to type on a telephone keypad. By maintaining consistency, it allowed both the engineers and the customers to develop a routine, but more importantly a confidence that the project was on schedule, and that the team was delivering.
In your own teams, consider the lessons of Opening Day. And I hope that sometime today you get to hear the two most exciting words in sports: