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Vol. 34, No. 6

The Batting Cage

by William R. Bay

I have always liked playing baseball. I’m left-handed, and I played first base. It came naturally. It was what my father had done, and his friends have told me he was one of the best.

So it was disappointing to watch my son play in Little League and struggle. You know that age—pitchers walk or strike out everyone. There are one or two hits a game. And the game takes forever. My son struck out. He walked. He got hit by the pitcher. He was frustrated. He had plenty of advice as to what he should do from other players, his coaches, and yes, his father. When he stood there ready to bat, he had the classic left-handed pose. His swing was great. But when it came time to perform, he lost focus. He worried the pitcher would hit him. He bailed out. After three years, he lost confidence and talked of quitting.

So I did the only thing I could think of—we went to the batting cage. We worked on the position of his hands, how high to hold the bat, watching the ball all the way in, adjusting to meet the pitch. The machine sent hundreds and hundreds of balls at him—inside, outside, high, low—to make him feel comfortable. The idea was to remind him of why it’s great to play, to build confidence, to help him understand what he could do, and do well. It also prepared him for what would come on the diamond, when everyone was watching, when the other side was yelling. Because what you do must be clear. You have to know it instinctively. You have to get used to the speed of the ball, ignore the crowd, slow the game down. When you do, it brings clarity and everything snaps into focus. And you’re ready to hit whatever comes at you, whatever the circumstances.

Those are the same traits that make an effective bar association or bar foundation. You have to clarify the mission of the bar. Get used to the speed of change. Focus on what you do best. Learn to adjust the approach. You have to see the big picture but keep your eye on the ball.

There are always pressures to do more, to do something significant for every cause that is brought to your bar. It can overwhelm you. You may start to miss more than you hit. You can lose the confidence of your members. More important, you can lose confidence in your bar organization’s ability to be effective and relevant. If you are concerned about those things, it may be time to head to the batting cage and refocus on your mission and what your bar does best. In these turbulent times, we need to remember what we have always stood for—service to our members and our profession, service to the public, commitment to pro bono and diversity. And then perform the most important tasks with a focus on excellence. Our shared goal is to be the organization that our members and our communities can be proud of and can count on when it’s our time to bat.

I’m betting your bar will be glad it got back to the fundamentals in the batting cage—remembering why we became attorneys and the importance of our profession and our associations. I know I was convinced of the value at my son’s first game the next year. I saw the sweet swing I had seen in the batting cage hundreds of times. The ball was lined to right center. My son wound up on third base. He tried to suppress a grin while the crowd went wild and wondered who this kid had become over the winter. And it was all because of the confidence, the understanding and clarity he learned in the batting cage. As bar leaders, there’s no time like the present to head there for a refresher session to ensure we stay focused on the things that really matter.

As for my son, he still plays in Fort Worth, Texas, and hits for power. The batting cage is a beautiful place.