It is Spring Break and I am enjoying Cactus League baseball with Tyler and Suzanne this week. Tyler and I have been known to see eight games in five days. We would see more, they just don’t schedule enough games at different times throughout the day. Today it is Cubs vs. D-Backs from Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (what a great name). We have strict rules: no cell phones. internet access, ipods, or tweets. No talk of work, school or any part of the world that exists outside the contours of the stadium. (No I didn’t write this blog post today–it would violate these rules and frankly you are not important enough to distract me from this experience. I wrote this post ten days ago. I also planned ahead to get tickets to this game–I got the tickets first and then found the time to squeeze you in.)
I am the Jimmy Fallon character in “Fever Pitch” (if you don’t believe me, come to my office). Suzanne is a much more cute version of Drew Barrymore. Like Drew, Suz enjoys the sunshine, beer and an occasional hot dog, but struggles to understand my spring training addiction. My favorite scene in the movie is when Jimmy declines an invitation from Drew to travel with her to meet her parents. He explains that her trip conflicts with his annual spring training pilgrimage to see the Red Sox. Drew questions the importance of spring training by pointing out that the games “don’t count”. Jimmy explains that the trip is really about evaluating the Red Sox’s talent for the upcoming season: debating who should make the team, who should start and who should stay in the minors. An impressed Drew responds “And the Red Sox value your opinion? They listen to what you have to say?” Jimmy, sheepishly responds…”Well no, but….”
Tyler and I know where Jimmy is coming from. We try to see as many teams as possible and to chat with their diehard fans. Inevitably, we are told about a hot prospect, a young player with great potential. My first question to the admiring fan is always the same: How long has the prospect been in the team’s player development system (well usually I just say “the minors”)? The answer better be less than five years. Ideally the answer should be less than three years. By year five, if a prospect hasn’t turned “potential” into results–the only reason the team still calls him a “prospect” is because they have a shortage of talent and need to keep their fans focused on the future. The devoted fan is blinded by the hope of soon-to-be realized potential to help his struggling team. If the team is the Cubs, management probably already gave the under-achiever a five year, twenty million dollar guaranteed contract. But well-run teams (see the Tampa Rays) wont be this stupid. They will have retained the flexibility to trade their former prospect to the Cubs (or the Mets before they ran out of money). If that doesn’t work, they will just cut their losses and give the player his unconditional release.
Like it or not, the world is impatient. Increasingly so. Today, many prospects are paid big money and are expected to show almost immediate results. This is just as true for assistant professors, MBAs and CEOs as it is for baseball players. If you want to make it to the top, it is important to have a sense of urgency. The time to prove your value is short and the next crop of “prospects” are just a year behind you.
By the way, Drew was wrong…if you are a prospect trying to turn potential into results, all the games count.