Build Together--Before We Fall Apart

I’m coaching 12-and-under baseball again this year. My team was to have had 13 players, but just before the season started, one of the best pitchers fell at a school sock hop and broke his arm. He’ll be out until July--at best. At the first practice, one of the new prospects got out of the car in a sling. He’d broken his arm, too. When the team picture was taken that Saturday morning, one of the older, more dependable boys (who had been on the team for five years) had a brace on his right arm. He was going straight from the picture to see if the arm was fractured. His mother confirmed that night that indeed it was.

Suddenly my 13-person roster is down to 10, so kids that have never played certain positions will be challenged this season. Pitchers doing well will stay in a few more innings instead of getting relief, and batters that formerly got away with looking at a called third strike are going to have to start swinging--we will need to play aggressively. The season has just begun so we have as good a chance as anyone to accomplish great things, but the odds are considerably against success at this point. I appealed to the recreation department to give us one or two more players, but the answer was no. We must play the cards we have been dealt.

Here are some facts:

· Nothing I can do will make broken bones heal faster.

· Even when the injured players are healed, they will not be ready to fully compete this season.

· Those that are healthy will have to step up and shoulder more responsibility.

· Parents and teammates should find ways to support both the injured and the healthy--but not pity any of them.

One of the keys for any success this season is to ensure that the remaining players are familiar with game rules and master fundamentals (when to steal, when to bunt, when to take a pitch). And more than anything, these players need to know that what they do on behalf of the whole team is appreciated.

Switching Tactics

OK--the groundwork has been laid. Let’s step out of the box and consider another context.

Our president, governor and mayor were elected to be in charge of a “team.” They told the country, state and city that the buck stops there, at their desk. They are in charge. Suddenly, and unfortunately, the housing and investment crises have hit the country at the same time as the fuel crisis. That sounds like three broken arms. But the officials seem to be coming up with a different list of what to do.

See, my manager’s approach accepted a few realities and moved toward solutions by supporting those still on their feet and capable of fighting the good fight.

Yes, those people in housing foreclosure need support and forward-looking programs to help them save realistically for the future, but everyone is missing something simple here. Analogously, in the game of pool a solid player knows that sinking a ball in a pocket is worthless unless the cue ball lines up for the next shot. An inexperienced player just slams the object ball in a pocket, letting the cue ball bounce around the table. The cue ball doesn’t land in a particular place by accident--it is how you play the game.

Lessons In Commitment

So, America--as Bernie Mac used to say--will everyone please take their eyes off the pity party for awhile and focus on the struggling, but buoyant middle class? That group, however, will be the next to fall if it doesn’t get a break or two soon. It is supporting the carefree foreclosure-laden banks with their fees and surcharges. The government treats it as the well-adjusted middle child and says, “Oh, he’ll be okay.” The middle class has watched this absolute embarrassment of an election campaign, and tolerated the type of drivel and baloney that probably has real presidents like Lincoln and Truman spinning in their graves like a lathe! I believe today’s politicians come from the same cast of characters that told those watching the levees crest in Louisiana that they will be OK--no big deal. What does one have to do to get their attention? They are focused on Band-Aids and spot repairs instead of solving the problem.

Before any of the overpaid mouthpieces try to complicate it, try this on for size: Dear American Politicians, here is how we save our country:

· Immediately review the records of all persons within a designated middle-income range, and categorize the best performers. For those with outstanding credit and a history of paying bills early and/or on time, offer them a terrific rate on refinancing their mortgage. This enables them to take some of that principal money and pay off credit-card bills, car payments or tuition expenses, and still maintain a reasonable mortgage with a decent tax deduction forthcoming for the next few years while interest is paid down. This idea favors those who are faithful and honest, stimulates the marketplace, and infuses the banks with new customers who will be introduced to other banking products and options. If successful, this program may be expanded slowly to others who have responsible spending habits. Reward good things! Is the merit of that so hard to see?

· Rotate government-mandated sales on big-ticket items. For example, May and June could be major appliance months. All stores would provide the best price for refrigerators, washers, dryers, air-conditioners, etc. Force the major retailers into a price war where quantity moved is more important than dollars gained per unit. Reward those companies that sell the most (or basically help the most Americans) by recognizing them publicly, therefore providing free advertising through good will. Let’s do it for cars and trucks, too. Remember Macy’s and Gimbels and the Miracle on 34th Street? Good will goes a long way.

· Start providing a better example to our youth, for God’s sake. Remember the old days when your councilman was the butcher or barber down the street. What happened to your neighborhood mattered to them because it happened to them as well. Now people maintain a home in the neighborhood they represent but rent it out while they live somewhere else. People have made these once “sideline” positions into lifetime jobs, and their main interest is taking that step and developing it into the next step; every councilperson wants eventually to be mayor. Do any of them ever ask themselves honestly if they have the right stuff? There is a presidential candidate out there whose husband had so much respect for the Oval Office that he chose to have extramarital sex in it? To this day he is cheered when he takes the stage. Is this what we want in a “first family”? There is another candidate whose hate-mongering pastor of more than 20 years has suddenly distanced himself, a happen-stance the candidate chalks up to coincidence. Come on, guys--can’t we hold ourselves to a higher standard? Do any of these people truly stand for anything? Admit it, each of us knows a former teacher or supervisor that we think, deep inside, would make a better president than any of the three that are being offered today for the next term.

· Inspire a neighborhood enhancement effort so that local governments are given discounts or rebates on paint and roofing supplies, etc. With the discounts in tow, encourage weekly city hall meetings where labor is organized to spruce up neighborhoods and fix needs for the town, especially for senior citizens and the disabled. Instill some pride and brotherhood, man.

Here, American politicians, is your mission in three sentences:

· Hold yourself to a higher standard.

· Help those that want to stand on their own by doing your job so well that your efforts dovetail with theirs en route to harmonious, individual success. That will lead to collective success!

I believe those in charge have forgotten their responsibilities. They are in office to represent us. But I have yet to run into anyone in the last decade that said, “Man, those guys in charge sure are doing a great job.” Have they ever heard of the Marshall Plan? How about the Truman Policy? These programs pumped billions of dollars into places where needs were high and debt was paid off within the same presidential term. It’s time they not only pretend to hear, but create the format to LISTEN! The only route to getting the country back on its feet is to assist those who have not yet fallen away. When they make the effort to help those who faithfully work to bind the nation together, they will be well on their way to success. Then--and only then--will we redefine a country that gets out of the habit of reacting and starts acting before the levees all break, and we’re back to clinging to our chimneys waiting for the rescue boats to find us.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He can be reached via e-mail