Getting a Jump on the Ball

Getting a Jump on the Ball

About 30 years ago, I played softball against the cast of Children of a Lesser God.

(This is a shaggy-dog story of sorts, though it's true. It does have a point. I'll get there.)

It was in the Broadway Show League, a mixed-gender slow-pitch friendly league that played at fields in New York's Central Park on summer afternoons1.

You may recall that the characters in Children of a Lesser God - the play and later the movie - were deaf or severely hearing impaired, except for a male teacher. The actors themselves were deaf or near-deaf except for John Rubenstein, who played the teacher.

So we're playing them, and it's cool to see them warming up, using sign language, being careful to ensure that the person to whom they're throwing is looking, since yelling to get his or her attention would be useless. John Rubenstein - who was a bit older than I was and about as middlingly athletic - came over with one of the other players to help get things going, confirming which team was "home" and so on.

And so the game began, and other than the silence from the other team it went perfectly normally for a few batters. Then one of the folks on our side hit a lazy fly ball toward left center field... and it dropped for a double. For some reason, neither the center fielder nor the left fielder was able to reach what I was sure was a catchable fly ball.

However, this was the Broadway Show League, and except for a couple of teams2, limited sports ability was standard. I didn't think much of it. Then another teammate hit a second fly ball to about the same place.

I pivoted to watch the ball, knowing exactly where it was going to wind up... and was startled to discover that neither the left fielder nor the center fielder were on the run. As I watched, they started towards it... sort of. It was clear that neither was exactly sure yet where the ball was going to come down.

Both were reasonably athletic grown men.

But I could tell one thing they couldn't. I could hear the sound of bat on ball.

As any outfielder will tell you, that's a critical cue as to how hard the ball is hit. It's something any outfielder - any player, really - learns intuitively to correlate with the ball's initial trajectory... and start running long before you have enough visual information to judge the ball's flight. It's the combination of visual plus audio information that lets a good outfielder start running "at the crack of the bat3." Aluminum bats ping rather than crack, but you get the idea.

The deaf actors lacked this cue. Thus on every fly ball they had to wait to figure out where the ball was going, or at least how far it was going.

They were behind the game rather than able to stay in front of it.

(We weren't all that good but beat them by a lopsided score, but I don't think we played a team all year that had more fun, spirit, and camaraderie than they did. It reminded us why we all played in the first place.)

The Crack of the Bat and Legal Project Management

There are three ways to deal with problems:

  1. Prevent them from happening in the first place.
  2. Keep them under control as they start to manifest themselves.
  3. Try to stuff the toothpaste back in the tube.

Approach #1 is of course the best, and Legal Project Management contains techniques for identifying potential project problems and mitigating or eliminating then. However, even the best-managed projects have problems that start to arise.

The effective project manager is one who is constantly on the lookout for potential problems. Most problems have a "crack of the bat" before the full problem trajectory is exposed.

If you have strong project management skills, you increase your likelihood of hearing the crack of the bat, of recognizing an emerging problem before it fully emerges. It's hard to stuff the toothpaste back in the tube, but if you're alert, you can cap the tube as the toothpaste tries to get out.

The Children cast knew that they were missing some aspect of the game, and perhaps knew intellectually what it was, but there was no way for them to make up for what they couldn't hear. (Well, in the game of life they made up for it and more with their infectious attitude and enthusiasm, but that couldn't change the box score.)

An attorney without project management skills - whether obtained through training or through good sense and experience - also is missing some aspect of the game. She may know she's missing something, but only experience and/or training/coaching can give her that something.

And while you can't "train away" hearing loss in some manner, you can train away project-management loss.

Training in Legal Project Management is a way to get a jump on the ball, get out in front of the game. You'll catch a lot more balls with training.

Read more about Legal Project Management on the Lexician Blog.