Baseball season is underway. And for those of you who don’t know me well, that means that my life now has been altered to accommodate the sport.
I’ve come to realize that baseball is more than a passion with me. It’s an addiction. From April to October, my days are spent glued to the TV watching baseball, obsessively tracking my fantasy baseball teams, attending baseball games, reading baseball news, buying baseball cards and playing MLB The Show on my Playstation. My cravings to hit the batting cages even arise more frequently.
Having followed baseball for two decades, I’ve come to know the game intimately and found that so much within it can be paralleled to the dynamics of friendships.
For years, I’ve affectionately called the closest people in my life my “A Team.” When I first came up with the term, I unintentionally selected the word “team,” but it ends up quite fitting to my point.
Selecting the right friends is similar to managing a baseball team.
For those of you who are skeptical while reading this, let me first say that I don’t think friends should be treated as commodities, as the MLB tends to treat their players. They are not products that should be measured by performance-driven statistics and carelessly bought, sold and traded. There are no contracts. There are no winners and losers. There is no off-season.
What I’m presenting here are the challenges of the decision-making process in managing relationships and how ever-changing and dynamic the world of friendships can be. My comparisons are meant to be metaphorical — not literal.
That being said, let’s say you’re starting from scratch. Such as moving to a new city, starting a new job, looking to expand your circle of friends…any situation where you are actively recruiting new players. You have an active roster of 25 spots to fill, with nine starters to choose.
Through an abundance of social interactions, observation and scouting report reviews, your team begins to fall into place and take shape. So begins the evaluation process…
Who do you want in your lineup every night? Who do you want in your core group of friends? Who do you place on the bench? In the bullpen?
This can be cumbersome…
You have a veteran player (or a long-term friend), who has consistently performed well over the years but has had increasingly poor seasons recently. The player has become stale with only declining numbers in sight (like Randy Johnson).
You also have a hot prospect (or a friend you just met) who’s fresh from the farm — loads of talent, amazing potential, bright future. But the player has no MLB experience and hasn’t proven if he or she has staying power in the big leagues (like Emilio Bonifacio). There’s a high risk that the player might crash and burn or not live up to the soaring expectations you’ve placed on their shoulders.
On yet another hand, you have an exciting power hitter who can drive in runs when it counts (or a friend who’s exhilarating to be around and comes through in big ways when it matters). But he or she strikes out a lot, is a terrible fielder and couldn’t steal a base for his or her life — the player is one-dimension and unreliable (like Ryan Howard). If he or she isn’t smacking home runs, the batter has no value.
Your fourth option is a closer with a low ERA — the statistical measure of consistency — who almost never gives up home runs and has never blown a save. But his or her command of the mound is shaky, and the pitcher gives up a lot of hits and walks (high WHIP).
Like a friend who’s always there for you but has a difficult personality — The player (like Mitch Williams) gets himself or herself into problems frequently and is often stressful to deal with, but knows how to get through hard situations without sacrificing runs, stays cool under pressure and always saves the game.
Of the types of players outlined, which one do you pick? What friend do you pursue a more intimate relationship with?
Perhaps the closing pitcher will find more control. Perhaps the rookie will grow into playing at a more elite level. Perhaps the veteran does, in fact, have the wisdom and maturity to reawaken their brilliance. Perhaps the home run hitter will make adjustments to become more well-rounded.
All of these things could very well happen…or not. They could go the polar opposite way. There are so many variables involved, and such developments are unpredictable.
Sometimes a promising player fizzles out fast, while another — called a sleeper — comes out of nowhere and has an unexpected breakout season. Sometimes someone doesn’t work well as a starter, but he or she is good in small doses, making an excellent utility player. Sometimes a good reliever moves into the starting pitching rotation and becomes great.
Anything can happen.
When weighing such factors, it’s crucial to decide what kind of team you want. What are your values and what is most important to you? This will obviously range due to the individual and also his or her goals.
Some will say, “As long as he can stop every ball that comes near him at shortstop, I don’t care if he bats .200 all year.” Others will say, “I can deal with him striking out a lot — he hits 40 home runs a season!”
In terms of longevity, some people approach their friendships casually and aim for short-term success. They want a team full of people who they can always go out and have a great time with. The players are lots of fun, enjoyable to be around and have strong chemistry.
They might be somewhat flaky and self-centered, but they can always be counted on when the chips are down and are very coachable, flexible and all-accepting. They might not be around 10 years from now, but they help the team’s present objectives. What good is possibly winning the World Series in five years when you can win it this year?
To others, their friendships are very serious matters. They want a team filled with people who never skip practice, play with all their heart and is in this for the long run, regardless of how many losing seasons the team goes through. The players have deep mechanics, solid fundamentals and are receptive to correcting flaws.
They might be somewhat demanding and susceptible to slumps, but they are intensely reliable, committed players who would sacrifice anything for the sake of the team. They might require more patience, but they are hard workers who would play for you for the rest of their life. What good is investing so much time and energy into coaching a player who will be on another team in a month?
Another question that comes into play for a baseball manager is his or her tolerance level for difficulty. Are you the type of person who embraces change, lives for the moment and doesn’t mind friends coming and going frequently? Baseball is a game, so each season should be a fun and fulfilling ride. It shouldn’t be a struggle.
If it things get really hard with one player, who needs them? There are plenty of fish in the sea who would love to join your team. You go for the best players out there at the time, and you’re a free-spirited, resourceful coach who believes in creating opportunities and never having anything in life go sour.
Are you the type of person who values loyalty, works through problems and is invested into the growth and development of your players? You stick by people and plug through tough times — you’re by no means a fair weather friend. Being part of a team means commitment, acceptance and courage of conviction. Victory tastes so much sweeter when you have players who have been with you through defeat.
You understand that seasons have ups and downs, and people shouldn’t be discarded just because they aren’t convenient for you at the time. You care about your players, win or lose. They play for you because they want to, and will dive into the crowd to catch a foul ball and leg out a base hit when others wouldn’t.
Since you provide your players with unconditional support, they become a deep, comprehensive ballclub that can win under any condition. You like the idea of creating an unshakable dynasty that has a stellar record for decades with only room for growth.
Taking all of these perspectives into account, a smart baseball manager knows that success lies in having a mix of different players with different strengths and weaknesses. We’d all love to build a team filled with Brandon Webbs and David Wrights…how you get there is up to you.