Commonly overlooked, and often lost along the path to personal glory, good teammates are the foundation on which a winning culture is built. Knowing this, some questions must be asked. Am I a good teammate? If not, how do I become one? It isn’t easy. A good teammate doesn’t always get noticed, and bad teammates are hardly held accountable. A good teammate is engaged with the team at all times. They don’t check out after a bad result. They pull for their guys until it’s their turn. No matter what, they maintain a winning attitude and continue to connect with their team and the game itself.
Baseball provides countless opportunities to break that connection. Failure, mistakes, momentum, and ego are all examples of distractions associated with the game of baseball. Do we allow personal failure to strip us of our “team first” attitude? What about the mistakes of others? Teammates, and umpires can often let us down with blunders that may affect our personal performance. Bad calls and errors are inevitable. When we dwell on the mishaps of others, we openly invite negative reaction to our own failure. Bad teammates draw attention to negative results. Good teammates strive for positive results despite previous setbacks. Who has your back when the game stares you in the face and decides that it’s your turn to make it or break it for the team? A good teammate is someone whose voice you’ll hear from the dugout during those nail-biting moments, shouting his support over the crowd. Now he’s there in the moment with you, doing all he can to ensure your success. What if that success eludes you? If your failure lets the team down, and you drag yourself back to the dugout, he’s still there with a low five and a pat on the back. “Don’t worry, we’ll pick you up.” In that moment, are you strong enough to be a good teammate with him and cheer on the next guy? Or do you slouch in the corner and sulk over your failed attempt at success? In baseball, as in life, these moments build character. They are an investment into the success of the team. Are we fully investing our time and focus into each other as teammates? Do we rise above the adversity of failure and invest ourselves into the success of the next man up? The best teammates do. They don’t miss a moment to engage with the game and the guys playing it with them. They don’t allow their ego to break that connection.
Travis Fryman was the first person I can remember actually speak to the power of good teammates. I was a freshman playing at Pensacola Junior College, and he came to speak at a team BBQ. We sat out by the pool as he began to tell us about his life in the big leagues. It didn’t take long for him to mention the concept. He let us know how much of an emphasis they placed on being a good teammate at the professional level. The long season dictates a sense of family among the guys in the clubhouse. One of our players asked him to recall his best teammate. “Jim Thome” was his answer, stating that he was always at the field early getting his work in, chatting with younger players. He fully dedicated himself, not just to the game, but to the team. He had a positive attitude that was contagious throughout the organization. Baseball seems to have a way of coming full circle, and years later, after being drafted by the White Sox, I got a first-hand “Thome Teammate” experience.
It was spring training, and I was in minor league camp, waiting to pitch in a Triple A game. Thome came down to the Minors to get some extra at bats for the day. As he casually strolled up with his glove and a few tree trunk sized bats, he reached out to me for a hall of fame hand shake. “How you doing big guy?” It felt like we had seen each other 100 times before. He proceeded to walk through that dugout and absolutely owned the place. It was like the guy knew everyone in Triple A, and momentarily, we were all teammates of Jim Thome. That handshake completely made my day as a young minor leaguer, and still has a positive impact on my character. I couldn’t help but reflect back to that poolside BBQ. Mr. Fryman was right, and the longer I played the game professionally, the more I realized the universal nature baseball had placed on being a good teammate. This was more than just a bond of friendship or professionalism that you shared with the guys on your team. It was a brotherhood, and the BEST teams embrace this culture of “family”.
Last year, the Red Sox won the world series with, first year manager, Alex Cora leading the charge. As I watched those guys celebrate the ultimate victory baseball has to offer, I couldn’t help but reflect back to a small clubhouse in Caguas, Puerto Rico. Cora was our winterball manager, and he was addressing our team for the first time collectively. In an instant he captivated the room with the most perfect fusion of English and Spanish that I had ever witnessed. Both languages were utilized leaving no need for translation. Even as a veteran with international experience, I had never seen someone casually address the adversity of a team the way he could.His message was completely in tune with his delivery. He let us know that our team was a family. He made sure that we were 100% committed to that message if we were going to play for him. We were instructed to operate as a family when we came to work, or go home. Our team arrived every day knowing that we might not like each member of our family, but we loved and respected them. This collective mentality allowed us to acknowledge that we were all part of something greater and more important than ourselves.
“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the team won’t be worth a dime.” – Babe Ruth