“Don’t bounce it” are not words of encouragement in a big moment. This past Thursday was opening day for Major League Baseball. It is baseball tradition to have an honoree throw out the first pitch of the game.
One of the greatest first pitches of all time was the one that President George W. Bush threw out in game three of the 2001 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The date was October 30, shortly after baseball had resumed after the terrorist attacks of September 11. The country needed a big moment.
Don’t Bounce It
There is always pressure on whoever has the honor of throwing out the first pitch, much less when you are the leader of a country that has a significant wound that is still healing.
As President Bush was getting loose in the batting cages underneath the bleachers, he was greeted by Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. Jeter had this bit of advice for the President, “Don’t bounce it.”
I too, have had the honor of throwing out a first pitch, on a much smaller scale. Last March, I had the honor of throwing out the first pitch of the Acworth Baseball Association. Smaller stage, same advice. As my name was called, a coach friend leaned over and said those same words, “Don’t bounce it.”
So…how do we NOT bounce it in the big moment? Here are three unique perspectives on how to throw a strike every time:
Toe the Rubber
For non-baseball fans, the rubber is a term used for the white rectangle that the pitchers throw from in a game. In baseball lingo, it’s toeing the rubber. Generally, when someone throws out the first pitch, the host team sets up an alternate mound that is closer than the official one. It takes the pressure off the individual throwing the pitch.
Prior to providing his words of wisdom to the President, “Don’t bounce it,” Jeter advised him of one other thing. He asked the President whether he had planned to throw from the mound or in front of the mound. Jeter advised that this was Yankee Stadium and they would boo him if he threw from in front of the mound. Bush committed to throw from the mound.
Big moments require leaders to take the rubber, not short cuts. In big moments, anxiety builds and every part of us screams avoidance. Strength is sometimes found in simplicity, just toe the rubber.
Let it Fly
First pitches for opening day or world series are typically reserved for people who have some level of notoriety. Many times, notoriety gets the ball bounced. It comes up short because the person didn’t just let it fly. Despite the amount of time that the person had practiced throwing strikes, they abandoned their preparation. They over thought it, tried to force it too much, and didn’t get enough zip on the pitch to deliver the strike. They bounced it.
In the big moment, there is no room for overthinking it, forcing it, or failing to deliver the strike. Nearly 59,000 people and millions around the world were watching that October night. Our country needed a strike more than ever, and he delivered. The President had practiced for that big moment, he trusted his preparation and simply let it fly.
The tradition doesn’t end there. The person that throws the pitch meets the catcher half way between the mound and home plate to shake their hand. It is a gesture of thank you for receiving the pitch, completing the process.
In a final act of gratitude, that person waves to the crowd, thanking them for the applause. That night the applause was deafening, it left me with goose bumps. That evening President Bush thanked a nation that was hurting, for their support. He was not going to be able to lead through that big moment in our nation’s history without our support.
When we deliver in the big moment, when we throw it right down the middle for a strike, show gratitude to those that helped us get through it. It is impossible to pitch to ourselves in leadership. There is always someone on the other end of things that helps us in the big moment. Whether it is helping us complete the process or simply encouraging us through applause, make sure to thank others.
Too often, we read and listen to people telling us how to deal with the pressures of big moments in leadership and it just comes up short of what we need to hear. The reality is pressure comes with the territory of leadership. We should shoulder the burdens of big moments, but also our own burdens and the burdens of others. Those moments get BIG.
I strongly believe that it is our ultimate responsibility as leaders to use our influence to better others and the worlds we live in. The scale of President Bush’s first pitch and mine were drastically different. Fifty-nine thousand compared to a few hundred.
I do know this though, the stage of a leader is big on any scale. The President had the eyes of the world on him, I had the eyes of my world on me. Fortunately, I delivered a strike right to my then twelve year old son, Grant’s glove. He met me halfway, I shook his hand, thanked him, and I told him I loved him. That was a BIG moment.
Whether we are the parent or the child, employee or the owner, the teacher or the principal, the officer or the chief, the youth pastor or the senior pastor, every moment you serve your world is a BIG one. Do not underestimate the impact you can have on that world in every moment of every day, big or small.
What will your big moment be? Whatever it is…when all eyes are on you…when the moment gets big…don’t bounce it.