It's MLB opening day: another glorious beginning to the baseball season, another time to reflect on the old clichés and new life lessons we glean from America's pastime.
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 20 ballyards and following my beloved San Francisco Giants to four of them along the way. From 2005 through 2013, I visited over 35 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 still world-champion San Francisco Giants kick off Opening Day 2014, here are six lessons from America's pastime for American democracy:
1. Focus On The Fundamentals: No Shortcuts to Success
That old cliché "it doesn't matter if you win or lose but how you play" means you must focus on the fundamentals -- baseball's pitching, hitting, fielding and throwing -- and politics' message, management, money and mobilization. In both baseball and politics we look for "team players" -- people who are work horses, not show horses.
It is tempting to find shortcuts to success -- losing is no fun in baseball. My mom and dad took us to years and years of Giants games before we finally saw them reach the playoffs and another decade passed before the first World Series Championship in San Francisco. By contrast my daughter Bella has been to two SF Giants World Series parades in her first five years of life (that must be how NY Yankees fans grow up).
Losing is even less fun in politics because it's not a game but our Constitutional republic at stake. Nevertheless, the rules of engagement are the same: prima donnas or cheaters who take shortcuts to success may advance for a while but end up hurting themselves and their teams in the end.
2. You're Not As Good As Your Wins Or As Bad As Your Losses
When Yogi Berra said "90% of the game is half mental" he meant that baseball players who let their good or bad performances go to their heads are losing the mental game even if they're winning. Same is true for political leaders who believe their own good press or internalize criticism. Winners remember to put one good game -- one good day -- in front of the next without gloating over wins or brooding over losses.
3. 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. As a San Francisco Giants fan, I find little to love about the aforementioned 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).
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.
4. 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. Same is true in politics: competitive intra-murals, yes; purist-driven self-immolation, no. Eyes on the prize: unity for victory.
5. 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. Your manager could get ejected. Your bench must be broad and deep enough to overcome.
Politics requires the same versatility: 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. And you can bet that the other side is working just as hard as you are to think fast, react forcefully, and seize opportunities.
6. 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 -- so plan ahead to protect the vote. A season in baseball or six months in politics is a lifetime so plan accordingly.
7. America's Pastime And Democracy Belong To ALL Americans
One thing I've learned serving with the San Francisco Giants Community Fund to help kids play baseball is that the player base and the fan base are far more diverse than the people who can afford $40 tickets and $10 beer. As SF Giants pitcher Sergio Romo's "I only look illegal" T-shirt reminded us, most fans have no idea whether that player you're cheering is a citizen or naturalized or here on a visa -- and likely don't care because they're part of the fans' baseball family. Would that the same attitude were extended to all members of the American family. Just as a new generation of African American, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander baseball heroes are electrifying the game and changing the fan base, the new generation of African American, Latino and AAPI political all-stars are changing the voter base and candidate base of our democracy.
On Opening Day, rejoice that America's pastime and American democracy's shared fundamentals, character, support, versatility, endurance and diversity strengthen and enrich us all. In that spirit, PLAY BALL!