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Five Lessons About Politics I Learned From Baseball

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It's Opening Day in San Francisco and opening week for the Presidential general election -- a perfect time for renewal, hope, and plans for victory next fall.

I've had the great opportunity to travel around the country following my two passions: baseball and politics. In 1993 I toured baseball parks while awaiting the results of the California bar exam, traveling to over twenty ballyards and following my beloved San Francisco Giants to four of them along the way. From 2005 to 2011, I visited over thirty states conducting campaign boot camps. Both tours allowed me a community-based introduction to the American people and the opportunity to see how baseball and politics are experienced at the field level.

Every Opening Day I reflect on all the hope that lies ahead for my team, and the Zen of the ballyard that makes life worth living. So today, as my World Champion San Francisco Giants kick off Opening Day weekend and the Presidential general election campaign begins in earnest, here are five lessons from America's pastime for American democracy:

1. Focus On Fundamentals: No Shortcuts to Success

In baseball, the fundamentals are pitching, hitting, fielding and throwing. In politics, they are message, management, money and mobilization. As House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says, whoever owns the ground wins the election. No shortcuts to success, just solid focus on leather and lumber; defense and offense. Team players are folks there to DO something, not just BE something; folks who are work horses, not show horses. Prima donnas may carry you to a certain place but raw talent without discipline will not win in the end.

You've got the talent -- bring it. Put one good game -- one good day -- in front of the next. No holding back; no regrets.

2. Character Counts

Sitting at a candidate rally is similar to sitting in a ballyard. Both give you the opportunity to assess the technical metrics and reflect on the intangibles -- what baseball calls "make up" and politics calls "character" -- the leadership, talent and maturity to add value to a venture

Character transcends team and party -- it's the intangible you look for in your heroes and admire even in your opponents. In baseball, most of us love to hate a certain rival -- but we can still admire the competition. As a San Francisco Giants fan, I find little to love about the Los Angeles Dodgers, but I've always admired Tommy Lasorda's charismatic managing style and love the fervor of my Jewish mother Roz Wyman who helped bring the team to LA (and she never fails to remind me -- without the LA Dodgers there would be no SF Giants).

In politics, all candidates and volunteers are ambassadors to voters who expect better than parroting the politics of personal destruction. Being able to find common ground at the higher ground is what separates the stateswoman from the stuntwoman. People want that pride and passion of having something larger than ourselves to cheer for. When it gets down to the wire, character shows in people in baseball and politics who trust themselves and their teammates.

3. Don't Boo the Home Team!

Baseball fans are collectively the "10th man" and needed most when team performance is shaky. When mistakes are made, there's no need to heckle your team -- that's what the other side is for! People have to find a way to point out criticisms and build support without booing the favorites off the field. Radio announcers usually do a great job of urging on the home team while pointing out the flaws along the way in a manner that gives you the full story -- and of course none are better than our own Jon Miller, Kruk and Kuip (Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper) and Dave Flemming who faithfully chronicle the triumphs and tragedies of our SF Giants.

Republicans are often advised to heed President Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment "Thou hall not speak ill of another Republican." As Montana Democrats told each other when they regrouped a decade ago: "Don't make other people pay the price of our divisions." Every time a poor child goes hungry or a worker gets laid off because we couldn't unite to find solutions, other people pay the price of our divisions. Competitive Intra-murals, yes; purist-driven self-immolation, no. Eyes on the prize: unity for victory.

4. Expect The Unexpected

Baseball calls it a curve ball for a reason: you just don't know where some pitches will land. Your ace could get injured. Your golden glover could err. Your team could sit through a rain delay (she writes as showers threaten our 1:30 p.m. home opener). Your manager could get ejected. Your bench must be broad and deep enough to overcome.

Politics requires the same versatility: AFSCME political director Larry Scanlon tells our candidates at Boot Camp: Nimble, creative, and opportunistic campaigns win the day. No matter how well thought-out your plan, political considerations will require you to shift gears quickly. A big donor pulls her funding; you must find the money someplace else. A newspaper editorial slams your ballot initiative; you can increase media buys to counter the effect. Someone jumps into your race, and you must keep your supporters on your team. Someone drops out, and you must chase their supporters. Your plan should be flexible enough to turn fast when needed. President Bill Clinton always cautioned us, "Assume that the other side is working just as hard as you are," to think fast, react forcefully, and seize opportunities.

5. Plan For Extra Innings

Baseball champs have the physical conditioning and mental toughness to overcome a long season of injuries. Postseason endurance goes to the healthy and their managers who plan substitutions with the long game in mind.

Political overtime requires up front election protection. Covering hot spots, overcoming obstacles for military and overseas voters and getting all ballots counted may extend the election into extra innings.

We know as we sit here today that voter ID laws, voter depression efforts, and Post Office closures, and voting machine technology glitches threaten our ability to bring home the vote in November -- time to plan ahead to protect the vote.

Be it America's pastime or American democracy, all the fundamentals, character, support, and versatility may be for naught without an extra inning or post-election closer to bring it on home.

OK, now as soon as the rain stops -- PLAY BALL!

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