When sports commentators extol the virtues of Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer, you’ll often hear them say, “He plays the game the right way.”
Unless you’re a baseball fan, you might not even recognize Mauer’s name. He’s an all-around athlete who grew up in St. Paul and now stars for his hometown major league team.
At 6′ 5″, with a pro quarterback’s arm and a basketball player’s agility, Mauer (pronounced “mao” — as in Chairman Mao — “er”) is a two-time All-Star widely regarded as the game’s finest defensive catcher.
On the offensive side, Mauer’s starting to be mentioned among the premier hitters not just in baseball, but in baseball’s long history. He’s already led the majors in batting not once, but twice. By end of play this past Tuesday, he was again atop the American League in hitting, making him a definite threat to win a third batting title.
Given the tremendous aptitude Mauer demonstrates with bat and glove, it’s the attitude with which he plays that, as much as anything, earns him admiration from fans, hard-nosed former players and curmudgeonly media commentators.
On Tuesday night, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mauer merely added to his legend. He was perfect at the plate, four hits in four at bats, driving in a run and scoring two in a Twins’ 8-2 win over the Pirates. With the bouquet of hits, his average blossomed to an eye-popping .429.
But for all the showy stats, here’s the telling highlight from Tuesday’s game. An example of what it means when people say Mauer “plays the right way.”
In the bottom of the 5th inning, with two out, his team ahead by two runs, Mauer occupied first base. One of his teammates lofted what looked to be a sure-out fly to short center field.
Now understand, Mauer’s young, just 26 years old. He has a contract that plays him millions each year to play a game — a game at which he’s ridiculously accomplished. According to one report, he was battling a cold Tuesday. He plays catcher, the most physically taxing of all positions. And the baseball season is a physical and mental grind — 162 games, one flowing into the next.
Some players in this moment, with these credentials — whether to conserve energy, or to demonstrate a certain level of self-satisfaction — would have jogged lazily toward second, slowed to a walk to watch the pop fly being caught, and then veered toward the dugout.
But Joe Mauer elects not to be an ordinary player.
Instead, he ran hard from first, as baseball players are taught to do as kids but so often forget or fail to do as millionaires. Remarkably, Pittsburgh’s center fielder lost track of the ball in the Metrodome’s roof. What should have been out No. 3 dropped 10 feet to his right. By the time he retrieved the ball on a bounce, Mauer was chugging into home plate with another run toward a convincing victory.
The Not-So-Little Things
What on God’s green baseball diamond does any of this have to do with marketing, sales or even business?
Maybe not so much, but then again…
Most days we don’t get to produce an award-winning Super Bowl ad. We aren’t closing a new, multi-million-dollar piece of business. We’re not making a speech, writing a speech, or even setting up the audio-visual equipment for a global economic summit in some romantic-sounding European capital.
A lot of what happens day-to-day in marketing, sales and corporate communication is not all home runs and high fives. It’s about:
- Finding ways to make the user experience on our Web site more valuable and engaging than it was yesterday.
- Making time to scan that industry news article and think about it’s implications, so the next e-mail touch with a customer isn’t simply “How are you doing?” but instead, “You know, I’ve been thinking….”
- Going on calls with a sales rep, or asking her to show you the home-spun cheat sheets and leave-behinds she’s developed to fill gaps in the sales support toolkit provided by Marketing.
- Looking at every program and campaign we create to see how we can make it better, smarter, more efficient, more measurable.
As we summon focus, creativity and commitment to do all these relatively unglamorous, seemingly incremental things, it might be helpful to recognize that even superstars are very often doing the little things on their way to the All-Star Game.
At least they are if they’re playing the game the right way.