Ed Hart Musings: Quality “At Bats”

I come from a family of athletes and spent a disproportionate amount of time as a kid and through college playing basketball.  Melinda was the same way and played college lacrosse.  When our two sons came along, they started playing multiple sports but have really settled into two, basketball and baseball.  When pressured, they will tell you that they are baseball players who also play basketball.

I admit to not initially understanding or appreciating the game of baseball.  My grandfather played catcher for the University of Texas and my dad loved the game.  My “career” ended abruptly and non-noteworthy sometime in Little League.  Having said that, I have learned to love, make that LOVE, the game of baseball.  I could go on and on about why, but for the sake of this blog I will focus on the concept of a “quality at bat”.

I came across a sign at a local public school that described a “quality at bat”.  This is common knowledge for baseball folks, but it really got my attention for how it described success at the plate.  Here are the 10 ways to achieve a quality at bat (with some editorial comments from me):

  1. Get a hit (duh)
  2. Get hit by a pitch (ouch)
  3. Sacrifice fly (sacrifice?)
  4. Sacrifice bunt (there’s that word again)
  5. Reach base on an error (not a hit)
  6. Move runner to third with less than 2 outs (does not require a hit to do so by the way)
  7. Score a runner from third (still does not require a hit)
  8. Suicide squeeze bunt (more sacrificing)
  9. Walk (boring but important)
  10. Have an 8 pitch or more at bat (the coolest thing ever once you appreciate it)

Why is this interesting and who cares?  It is interesting because 90% of the ways to achieve a quality at bat are more about sacrifice or perceived failure than about the immediate gratification associated with a hit.  There are innumerable ways that this can translate positively to real life, work or otherwise.  Toughness and grit, selflessness, preparation, patience, and strategy all come to mind as traits that can be built around the concept of a “quality at bat”. 

I got to thinking what a “quality at bat” might mean in the real world.  Namely, what defines a quality meeting in a business setting.  Well, I will close with my top 10 list of a quality meeting in a baseball context:

  1. Win a new customer, or help an existing customer or client (get a hit)
  2. Schedule a follow-up meeting (a walk or a hit)
  3. Learn something about the person you’re meeting with… like the names of their kids or hobbies (kind of like a walk… takes patience)
  4. When meeting with a potential new customer, learn the names of other vendors or advisors (hit by a pitch if one is a competitor, but still valuable)
  5. Determine the person’s personality (more patience)
  6. Confirm that a new customer is a good fit or opportunity (Have an 8-pitch at bat)
  7. Offer to provide help just to prove yourself (SACRIFICE)
  8. Be intentional… deliver your message, and then LISTEN (could be reach base on error or advance the runner… either way it is deferred gratification)
  9. Obtain something tangible to work with (company/family goals or documents)
  10. Ask for the business (hopefully after at least 8 pitches… or could just be a strike out)

Success in baseball, as in life or business, is about patience, sacrifice, resource allocation, intelligence, resilience, and execution under pressure.  Next time you are in a meeting and it is not going the way you envisioned, remember to play the long game, study the strike zone, and strive for at least an 8 pitch “at bat”… success will follow.

Ed Hart