Baseball undoubtedly will fill lots of space on this site. It’s what I know, it’s one of the things I dearly love. Today is about team. Just team, baseball team, any sports team, work team, whatever team. I know from team’s I have played on, and more team’s I have been close to, that there are not many things better as a player than being able to look up and down your bench and know that they all got your back. You’ve got theirs and so it goes from player 1 through 25. Look at the playoff teams playing right now and win or lose, these teams are together battling, for the better of the team, playing roles in some cases so they can be a part of the team. The team…the team.
Sometimes we get to pick our team. We get to pick ourselves and who else will be on our team with us. Most times though, we don’t get to pick our team. We get placed on a team, or start with a new team that yesterday we weren’t on but tomorrow we lead or are a part of. In team sports you would like to think that, aside from talent, there wouldn’t be much difference in the team dynamic from one to another. There is though. There’s a lot of difference from one to the next. You hear it all the time. A player goes from one city to another and talks about the culture or atmosphere being so different from one place to another. Aside from maybe, personalities, along with talent, especially in sports, there shouldn’t be such a difference.
I wonder how Mike Aviles feels about team now. He was traded from Kansas City to Boston during the season, which was a total surprise to him. He was happy though, for the chance to come and be a part of a perennial winner, a winning team. Can you imagine what he must be thinking now? He most likely took a lesser role in Boston to be a part of something big. It turned out to be big alright; one of the biggest collapses in baseball history. He valued the team concept so much he gave up some personal goals perhaps and ended up on a team that didn’t even value their own team members.
Take comfort in knowing that you are committed to the team, and being it is a team, then the other members must also value the concept as you do, right? I mean we’re all on a team to reach a goal, yes? Not always. Maybe not even often. This is one of the biggest reasons, in my opinion, why the difference can be so huge from one place to the next. You work your tail off to be a better version of you and at the same time it makes the team better right? Well you would think so. Not everyone is in the competition for the team. Many compete strictly for themselves, which is fine, unless of course you are on a team.
The best team’s I ever played for or ever watched were the ones who understood that it does take every member to win or to reach the teams’ goal. Look at that last sentence … “I ever played for”… that’s right, played for, played for the team. For the team. Played for something greater than myself, played for the team. I make a point with that because even the way the words are written or spoken denotes how one feels about the team in a sense. Players retire and they talk about what they miss most, and it’s almost always the team, the camaraderie that they miss the most. The feeling when you know your teammate has your back and when you can’t wait to come through for your team. I mean it’s kind of cool to know that you were there in the heat of competition thinking the same things, feeling the same pressures, matching the intensity with one another, sharing the highs and lows with this team that were all trying to accomplish the same thing. To me, there’s not much better or more pure than that.
When you are on a team that gets it and all members are on board it’s a beautiful thing. It’s so genuine and truly selfless. You can be in the dugout while your teammate is at bat with the game on the line, and you feel what he feels, your know the situation, you know the intensity, you feel it, you share it, you breathe it, and you believe in him. But it’s not just him, you believe in the team. And when that player gets the hit to win it and you explode out of the dugout, just as happy as if you had delivered the big hit, to congratulate him and your teammates, it’s not about you. It’s about the team. The team won, we all just won, all of us, not just the guys getting the hit or scoring the run, we won. That’s team.
Teams are often a diverse collection of talent, experience, personality, skills, and character. The best teams have a mix of everything and figure out who and what is best used when and where. This next piece seems to be harder and harder to find, but I am going to break it down anyways because it’s true, and honestly I miss it myself. One part of team is being together, not for the social aspect, but for a common goal. Lots of time together practicing, waiting, relaxing, competing, etc. So many, many, moments for the team to teach its members and set them up to pass it on. The experienced work with the talented to better develop specific skills. The character assists the personality with the image the team projects. The youth and less experienced push the experienced to be better at their skills as they age, all while the personality and energy are refreshed. Ultimately the experienced leave it in the hands of the next generation having passed on their talents, experience, and importance of character. It’s like a big family really. Every night at the dinner table of practice and bonding, filling up to be strong for competition. There’s plenty of time in the living room of waiting for your turn to play or relaxing between victories. There’s the house and yard of the daily grind where tempers flare, lessons are taught and learned, and the team is molded by its leadership. Then there’s Sunday dinner of the game when everyone dresses their best, bows their head, tipping their caps with reverence as they partake in the highlight of the week, the moments relished by all.
It’s a beautiful thing when it works the way it’s supposed to. We don’t forget those teams, the ones we played for, or the ones we watched, there was, and is, something different about them. Those teams stand out and they’re hard not to cheer for. I remember one such team I played for many years ago. Back then I was more the youth being taught by experience to hone my talents into better skills, but I was also character helping mold our image on the field and how we carried ourselves. We were not the most talented or skilled team by a mile, but we played well together, never counted ourselves out, and wanted it more than most. We were hundreds of miles from home with just a few there to watch us play. As we pulled off one improbable win after another in all kinds of weather, from snow showers during one game, a frost covered field one morning, and some serious heat in others, we remained poised. We were excited and half of us couldn’t believe we already had done so well, still we acted like we’d been there before. We had a couple come back wins that were nothing short of miracles, where we simply willed ourselves to victory.
As these victories added up, and even though my memory isn’t as good as others, there are two things that really stood out to me. One: it was taking literally everyone on the roster to contribute something to our victories in almost every game. Two: every team but one that we beat, sincerely congratulated us, and then they (and their fans) would come cheer for us in the next games we played in the tournament. We were hundreds of miles from home where (seriously) several people thought New Hampshire was a town north of Boston and we had more fans than anyone else as we got deep into the tournament.
Before we knew it we were playing in the winner’s bracket final of a National Championship. We lost that game to a better team. Another memorable team in my mind. I actually cried after we lost that game knowing we had left nothing on the field and feeling spent. As I sat between a couple of boyhood friends on the team, we talked, trying to get back up emotionally, players from teams we’d beaten and their families filed by and encouraged us. Perfect strangers trying to pick us up in a moment after a tough loss. It speaks well of those people and also shows how our team had earned the respect of our competitors so much so that they were compelled to come watch us play and cheer us on. We rebounded and won the loser’s bracket final against a team that might have been twice as good as we were if there were a way to measure such things. I still don’t know how we won that game, but by the time it ended I think everyone on our roster had played and the guys getting the big hits and making the big plays had started on the bench. It was unbelievable.
We lined up on the base lines for our National Anthem, and exchanged hand shakes and “good luck” to the only team that had beat us. We were playing for the National Championship. It was a good game, maybe a great game, as both teams defied the other to get hits and runs. The defense was the best of the tournament. Ultimately we lost the game, and finished second. When I looked at that team and watched them compete, and later, get their awards I saw another version of our team with a little more skill. But they were gracious, they were wiped out, they sincerely savored the victory of a hard-fought battle. It’s the only time in my 20+ years of playing that I actually exchanged jerseys with the other team. We all did. Then another thing that doesn’t usually happen, we all just gathered together, both teams for a picture with most of us now wearing the other teams jerseys. Memorable.
These were two teams, like families I detailed earlier, only these two teams were distant relatives that belonged in the moment together, and when that moment came, neither wanted to leave it. True to my vow to be a good teammate, this was the best tournament I ever played in. Statistically it wasn’t even in my top ten tournaments for me personally, but it wasn’t and still isn’t about me. It was, it is, and should always be, about the team.