The intersection of citizen advocacy and elected community leadership is more fluid than a hard, clean line. There are rules and processes designed to facilitate that dynamic, but it isn’t easy to maintain consistent compliance in practice.

Whether elected or volunteer, public service comes with the responsibility to sometimes loosen one’s grip on an absolute position and accept a reasonable compromise. It also requires occasional conformity to uncomfortable or alien practices to how one operates as an individual, a family, or a boss.

Many of the people who step forward to serve the Cambria community are eager to “crush the ball” and drive positive change. Some are natural leaders, with the right combination of skills and experience needed for a particular role. Others are situational leaders, either by subject matter expertise, intense personal connection to an issue, or passion for a cause. Many, if not most, are good collaborators who find a place to contribute to the overall success of the team, and therefore the community. There are a few who struggle to recognize when they are holding on too tightly to a single style, not putting the greater good above personal philosophy.

Little League Baseball

When my son was much younger, I helped support his Little League team. I was not an official coach, just a father who knew a fair amount about the game of baseball, had a flexible schedule, and enjoyed watching the kids learn all the essential things that come along with organized sports. The official coach, Steve Galluccio, kept a group of rambunctious young boys on a good path while allowing enough freedom to keep it fun. He also had the remarkable ability to handle the difficult kids who would sulk or act out when they weren’t chosen to start or play the position they wanted.

My skill was in observing the players as hitters.

You can observe a lot by just watching. Yogi Berra

Two of the kids had great raw tools but made repetitive mistakes that limited their success. One boy was an obvious athlete – tall for his age, great disposition, and a joy for playing that made it look easy. His approach reminded me of the great Atlanta Braves outfielder Dale Murphy. The Little League version held his arms high, with shoulders level with his chin. His eagerness to hit the ball as hard as possible led him to violate the prime rule of hitting – keep your eye on the ball. When he started his swing, he would raise his front shoulder, which blocked his view of the incoming pitch. On those occasions where he connected, the baseball rocketed over the head of the outfielder. More often, though, he would miss the pitch badly. We worked on this problem throughout the season, and his success rate improved with each game.

‘The second player had a different batting style, though his desire to crush the ball also led to some bad habits. To generate more power, he would pull his arms way back as the pitcher released the ball, knocking him off balance and elongating the time it took to get the bat into the hitting zone. We worked on his starting point, moving his arms away from his body and keeping his hands farther back, in a ready position. We also worked on getting his feet spaced and balanced. The time he gained gave him split seconds to adjust to the location of the pitch. The phrase we used as a reminder was “fast hands, quiet feet.”

Put Me In, Coach

Like people everywhere, we sometimes refuse to listen and adjust our stance, relying on self-confidence that might be a bit misplaced. Not everyone can be right all the time. We all need coaching, and we all need to constantly evaluate our approach and make adjustments to meet the day’s challenge.

One of the many reasons I see baseball as an analogy for life is the century-plus history of those who enjoyed long and successful careers by making adjustments. Many pitchers, gifted with a blistering fastball that made them unhittable, found themselves getting touched up as they lost a bit of zip. Twenty-year major league pitcher Frank Tanana adapted by adding new pitches, changing speeds, studying hitters more closely, and knowing when to turn the ball over to a teammate. Derek Jeter could hit home runs but took a situational approach to hitting, amassing statistics that underscore his intelligence, team focus, and the judgment to adjust to the game situation. Will he apply the same philosophy to his new career as an MLB team owner? We will see!

Self-realization is powerful. So is listening to coaches who see things from a different perspective. As my good friend and mentor Rick Jablonski says, “give me the athlete, and I’ll teach him the game.” Great advice, especially with those who have the willingness for continuous learning and growth.

Like baseball, there is always a crowd watching every move, every choice, and every decision in public service. The beauty of it all is there are way more fans rooting for success than detractors hoping for failure. So, grab a glove or a gavel, suit up and enjoy the game.