In baseball – as in the law – it pays to do things in the right order.
Catch the ball before you throw it. Bat when it’s your turn. And if you come to a fork in the road, take it.
That last bit of enlightenment comes from The Great Yogi, who also said: If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.
Which brings us back to the law, where we are taught that facts lead to conclusions, answers follow complaints, and “May it please the court” should precede whatever is said next.
And yet it is in those moments when order is upended and the script flies out the window that we learn new and interesting things about ourselves.
90 Percent of this Game is Half Mental
Eons ago I had the pleasure of coaching my son Bo’s team in Pee Wee baseball. By pleasure I mean the first coach quit after one practice, and I was unlucky enough to be sitting by the dugout when the hastily-formed New Coach Search Committee wandered by. So I got the job.
As it turns out, the Cardinals were one of the first expansion teams in the history of Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation. So many youngsters had signed up for the spring season that the rosters of the original teams had to be culled. Some players were protected, while others were thrown into Harry Potter’s Sorting Hat.
“Unprotected players will be assigned to two new teams,” the league director announced.
At this point you should be shaking your head in disbelief. What? Allowing teams to protect their best players and dump the rejects on the Cardinals and Marlins? How unfair! Not to mention a blatant violation of Flood v. Kuhn, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that struck down Major League Baseball’s reserve clause.
But instead of rushing to file for injunctive relief, I found myself donning a Cardinals cap and loading an equipment bag into the trunk of my car.
You Can Observe a Lot Just by Watching
After assuming the reins, my first priority was to do what any good coach would do. I began preparing a Great Motivational Speech.
“Winners aren’t people who never fail,” I told my players. “They’re people who never quit.”
But the Cardinals had other things on their minds.
“What happened to our real coach?”
“Why am I on this team?”
“When can we slide?”
That last question came from Zach. He was the smallest kid on the team, with big brown eyes and an effervescent personality. And though he had never played baseball and had only a faint grasp of the basic concepts, he was obsessed with sliding.
“First things first,” I said. “Let’s work on hitting.”
“But I want to slide,” said Zach.
I Never Said Most of the Things I Said
And so our season began. The opening games went about as you’d expect from a fill-in coach and a team of Hufflepuffs. Though I must say our squad was well-balanced, and by that I mean our anemic offense was perfectly matched by our porous defense.
Midway through the schedule, we were winless, and I had discovered the virtues of Tums, morning prayer, and the Mercy Rule.
And then one game I looked up from the bench and saw Zach standing on first base. How he got there I have no idea. But he was looking at me and yelling.
“Coach! Can I slide?”
“Pay attention,” I called back.
Too late. The batter sliced a line drive through the infield. The crowd cheered.
“Run, Zach, run!”
And boy did Zach run. But not towards second base, like you’re supposed to. Instead he took off from first and headed for home, returning the same way he came. He and the batter passed each other on the baseline, going in opposite directions. Finishing with a flourish, Zach executed a beautiful slide across the plate.
It took awhile for the umpire to stop laughing. But eventually play resumed. And though I’ve forgotten the final score, I will never forget how happy Zach was – no matter that he was called out and his “run” didn’t count – and how excited his teammates were.
His backward heroics had inspired them. No longer were we the unwanted and the unwashed. We were daring baserunners and superior sliders. We were the Flying Cardinals
It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over
The stress and pressure of practicing law can take a toll. Sometimes we lose our bearings. In such moments, it might help to ditch the playbook, forget how it’s supposed to be done, and look for a new way home.
As The Great Yogi said: anything can happen, and it probably will.
Jay Reeves has practiced law and done some other things over the years. He likes squeeze plays, line drives, and Ronald Acuna Jr. Want to learn how to unleash the power of your own unique story? Need a speaker for your next bar meeting, firm retreat or CLE? Contact email@example.com or 919-619-2441.
Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina and is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which helps lawyers and firms improve their well-being and create saner, more successful law lives. He is available for talks, presentations and confidential consultations.