Perhaps it is that time of the year for stories which involve baseball cliches. That is one possibility for the subject of this week's visit with you. Maybe it is just that I am seeing things in the world around me that bother me. Either way, it seems to me that a new trend is developing which has the potential to cause great harm to our fire service. I am continually encountering people who seem unwilling to be team players.
Far too many people are choosing to swing away, when the coach says bunt. These folks want to whack the ball out of the ballpark. They want to grab the headlines. They care very little for the other players on the team. These are the people for whom the concepts of team, teamwork, and teammates have little or no meaning. Trust me. I have met a bunch of them through the many years I have spent in the fire service, but the trend seems to be getting worse.
Let us return to the days of yesteryear for a look at some of my happy (?) sports memories. Back in the faraway days of my youth it was my good fortune to dabble in the world of little league baseball. I was not a good player. Perhaps on my best day I was able to claim the title of "mediocre" team member. Believe me when I say that I was never a threat to anyone on the base pads of the Freehold, New Jersey Little League.
However, it was my good fortune to have coaches who cared about the chubby kid from over by the Nescafe coffee plant on Jerseyville Avenue. I guess they knew that it was never going to be my lot to head for the major leagues. They were kind to an athletic underachiever.
Nonetheless they applied a great deal of diligence to arming me with enough of the basic skills to keep me from publicly embarrassing myself. I can still remember a number of their gems of wisdom:
- Keep your eyes open
- Just meet the ball
- Do not swing for the fence
- Always run it out on a pop fly
- Hang in at home plate
- Make them pitch to you
As you might imagine, my career as a baseball player was short and undistinguished. I was a catcher for some of the time, a first baseman for some of the time, and a bench-rider for the rest of the time. My real success finally came in high school, when I was allowed to be a part of the football teams. Ah, but that is a story for another time.
All of these things were just one part of growing up in the Freehold, New Jersey of the late 1950's and early 1960's. I believe that each of you can understand where I am coming from here. It is with a great deal of certainty that I see my experiences in New Jersey as being mirrored by many of your experiences in your hometowns around America.
Perhaps your coaches shared the same gems of wisdom with you. In any event, what we are as members of today's American fire service is an amalgamation of all of the experiences we have seen, felt, and shared during our lives.
Let me examine each of the pieces of baseball wisdom to see if there is a certain commonality to them. Perhaps there is value in reviewing these messages to see if they still apply to our actions as members of the fire service in today's world. I have a hunch that they do.
The first gem of wisdom came from the people who were struggling to teach me to be a catcher. It seems that they noted within me a certain propensity to flinch when the batter swung at the ball as it crossed the plate. After studying me for awhile, one of the coaches noted that I was closing my eyes as the ball approached my glove.
His advice was simple indeed. "Keep your eyes open," became his hue and cry for me. That was a hard summer for both of us. However, by the end of the season, I was catching much better. My mind wants me to say to you that this was perhaps the first time in my life that I had to face and conquer fear.
The fear of being whacked by the bat was great. However, every catcher who has ever played the game conquered this fear. So hanging in there was not really all that big of a deal. I would love to say it was all success, but I can't. I was never more than a mediocre catcher.