Tuesday, August 22, 2006

And now, for a truly inspirational story.

This past weekend was Round 1 of the playoffs in the men's baseball league in which I play (and serve on the board of directors). The playoffs always open with a best-of-three series: a game on Saturday, then a Sunday doubleheader. A fellow board member, Scott Pennypacker, pitches for one of four teams in the event, the Patriots. Scott knew going in that he'd almost surely have to pitch a fair number of innings in at least two of the three possible games. What he didn't know was that, due to other players' sore arms, he'd have to pitch the entirety of his team's games. What he also didn't know--and this is the part that still blows me away, even as I write it--is that both of the first two games would go into extra innings. Specifically, 16 innings for the first game and 13 innings for the second.* The bottom line is that this past Saturday and Sunday, August 19th and 20th, Scott Pennypacker, age 47, threw 29 consecutive innings of playoff baseball (plus, I later discovered, another four innings for a second team on which he plays!). Not only that, but he won both games, sending his team into the next round. As I told our local paper, the Morning Call, I've been following baseball a long time, and to the best of my knowledge, what Scott did out on that field last weekend is unprecedented in baseball's modern era. To be sure, I've never seen (or heard of) anything like it in the annals of adult recreational baseball, where even most of the ex-Major Leaguers who still pitch tend to top out at seven or eight innings in any one game. And they don't come back and pitch again the next day.

My point is that this isn't a case of some woman with MD telling us how she's going to conquer the world from her wheelchair. And this isn't some schlocky motivator at a sales conference telling 250 salespeople from the same company that they can all be the No. 1 salesperson next year. This is one guy who actually went out and did something inspirational. Now, even saying that, let me be clear: When I use the word inspirational, I'm not implying that merely knowing what Scott did should magically enable the rest of us to go out and duplicate his feat, or achieve some analogous triumph in our own favorite endeavor, "if we just put our mind to it!" That's nonsense. Heck, what Scott did last weekend doesn't even mean that he could go out and do it again. And it certainly doesn't mean he could top it--by, say, throwing 50 innings next time. For all we know, the poor guy might've blown out his arm, and may never pitch effectively again. But looked at in the proper way--as a discrete, finite event; in its moment, its singular time and place--it is stunning evidence of human overachievement. And, yes--dare I say it--it's an example to the rest of us that maybe sometime we can go out and do something unexpected and wonderful.

Trouble is, we never know in advance when those sometimes are. And no, we can't simply will them to happen just by "wanting it enough..." No matter what Tommy Lasorda or anyone else tells you.

* For the benefit of those who know nothing about baseball, a "normal" game consists of 9 innings.


Cosmic Connie said...

Good post, Steve. That *was* uplifting, as you'd promised us yesterday. I have to say I'm not a big sports fan, but I can appreciate this as a genuine example of a person achieving something remarkable -- without SHAM.

Thank you also for the links to your previous articles in NRO and Psychology Today. They were very well-written (naturally :-)), but, alas, they brought back some awful memories of the last "real" job I had -- that is, the last position in corporate America.

I was in the propaganda department of a high-tech company, laboring as a copywriter, newsletter editor, PR drone, and assistant ad designer. I was pretty good at it, and perfectly satisfied doing what I was doing. I didn't want to be "a leader" or any of that crap. I didn't particularly want to climb the corporate ladder, which was a good thing since the place had a glass ceiling (actually I think it was Plexiglass; the head honcho was a cheapskate).

All I really wanted was to do my creative stuff, be paid a fair salary (that never happened), and have a life outside of work.

However, the head of my department was a gung-ho sports-oriented ex-Marine who was always trying to get us "creatives" to march to his "strive for leadership" beat. This meant, among other things, working impossibly long hours.

It also meant having leadership cliches crammed down our throats every day. This guy's office was filled with every motivational book, plaque and poster on the market. That was back when corporate America had first discovered the power of "excellence," thanks to Tom Peters, and it was also when Tony Robbins was just getting cranked up. And, of course, there were all kinds of sports-oriented motivational geeks to further inspire my boss.

This, needless to say, was not the ideal environment for me. But I have to admit it did give me lots of material to work with in the following years.

What's truly sad is that corporate America has not really changed since I was doing time there. Employees are still subjected to the latest ludicrous sportsthink motivational gimmicks, as well as all the other crap by different consultants and moti-droids. Everyone is, apparently, still expected to excel, though it's often not clear in what. And they are all supposed to strive to "be a leader," although that of course is impossible.

BTW, I always had an answer to that annoying moti-droid saying, "If you're not the lead dog, the scenery never changes." Every time anyone has ever said that to me, I have politely pointed out that this is not literally true, for dogs, particularly the breeds used for pulling sleds, have better peripheral vision than humans. (The Rev has his own take on this saying, but hopefully he will exercise discretion and not share it. :-))

Anyway, thanks for the "inspiring" post, Steve.

matt dick said...

Having read and absorbed the title of your last post, I missed this post becuase I no longer read this blog.

Too bad, the comments make it sound interesting...


Anonymous said...

Steve- I think your obvious love for baseball has clouded your judgment in this case. Because you love the sport, you see an accomplishment like this as "inspirational." Meanwhile you spend the rest of your time knocking down the things others find just as inspirational, to them. Isn't that a contradiction or at least a little one sided?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Carl. To some, grown men hitting balls with sticks is "truly inspirational;" for others, people attempting to rise above their handicaps are truly inspirational. Etc. As our friend Dr. Phil says, perception is reality, at least insofar as we respond to these instances...

RevRon's Rants said...


Steve -
I for one haven't felt that you have denigrated anything I find inspirational, even though I don't always agree with you. I just go my merry way, knowing deep down that you are sometimes profoundly mistaken, as is your right! :-)

However, I do think you might want to give some thought to making your opinions less one-sided... Oh, wait... once an opinion is formulated, it tends to be pretty one-sided, doesn't it? OK then... How about restricting your blogged opinions to those with which everyone (or at least I) can agree? Sure would save on bandwidth.