These Remarkable Women in Sports Inspire Me

Just as I inherited my love of music from my mother, the same is true of my love for the Yankees. 

I was five years old when my mother took me to my first game. I can still remember where we sat in the stadium, with my feet dangling and eating a hot dog and cracker jacks. Treats for me. I remember it being a fun day. And I remember my mother’s favorite player at the time being Thurman Munson. 

We left the Bronx in 1972. So there wouldn’t be any in person games until the late 80s, after I finished college. By then, I would take her to a game. A tradition we maintained almost every year thereafter when she’d come to town for her Spring visit. We even got in a few games in in the new stadium, where I was able to have them surprise her with a “Happy Birthday” on the globetron.  

My mother didn’t just enjoy baseball by watching the Yankees (like me). She played softball, as well. Then she became an umpire and for many years was the only female umpire in all of Western New York. In fact, the Cattaraugus County Baseball Umpires Association gave her, and a few other veteran umpires, an award two months before she died. 

So, with this as a backdrop, you may understand why this New York Times headline brought the widest smile to my face and heart, “The First Black Woman to Coach in Pro Baseball Thanks Her Mom for the Job.” 

The profile gave me all the feels…

Congratulations Bianca and Kim

Bianca Smith works for the Red Sox (we’ll forgive her :/). But she, too, inherited her love for baseball, in general, and the Yankees, in particular, from her mother – a lifelong Yankees fan. Like me, her mother took her to her first game when she was very young – three to be exact. Like me, her mother died of cancer. 

Bianca is breaking barriers in much the same way as Kim Ng did last Fall when she became the first full-time general manager for a major league team – the Marlins. And guess where she got her start? You guessed it! The Yankees (!), where she was the assistant general manager for three years.

I think of these women – my mother, Bianca, Kim – and I’m reminded of how their “firsts” made history, broke barriers, and opened doors. And it makes me proud and grateful. 

Yes, there are “firsts” in other sports. But, I don’t follow other sports/teams.

Except for the last two (COVID) years, I’ve kept up the tradition of taking in a Yankees game or two each season. I’ll still watch a game on TV. And while doing so, I often imagine what my mother would say about the current players’ stats, who she thought was fine (hello Aaron Judge!), or how she felt about an ump’s call.  

Baseball as a Life Metaphor

Like music, our love for the Yankees and baseball was an incredible bond between my mother and me. But I’ve come to appreciate baseball for its lessons off the field, too. Like…

The Power of a Team

Baseball is like any other sport (including individual sports like tennis and golf). It requires a team. Yes, you see the players and coaches on the field and in the dugout. But, there are other team members who are more in the background. 

The same is true for you and me. Success in business and life is a team effort!

Bring Your Patience

All sports require talent and strategy. But baseball requires patiencefrom both the players and the fans. It usually takes 3-4 hours for a 9 inning game, but on rare occasions, it can extend beyond this window of time.

Pressure and Focus

Each time a player is up at bat, the pressure is on to be fully present…for everybody! 

The batter has to stay focused on his hitting strategy; the pitcher on his pitching strategy; both need to be aware of what’s going on on the field – are any players on base, are any in scoring position, how many outs. 

And the outfielders have to guard against a wandering mind if the game has been slow.

Regardless of the position played, there’s a potential price to be paid if you lose focus. 

The same is true for you and me. 

Adapt, Adapt, Adapt

Teams travel to play opponents. Opponents travel to play against them. This means they are continuously meeting new and sometimes unfamiliar members of other teams, and playing in new environments and situations. And if they get traded during the season…

Sure, you could argue they get paid quite well to adapt. That’s not the point. 

This is: Baseball (and all team sports) are examples of instances where you don’t always get to pick your manager, coach, or teammates. 

How well do you adapt, especially in situations where you don’t get to pick any or all of the other “players” in your world?

Failure/Success

Failure looks like striking out, dropping the ball, throwing the ball too wide or too high. It looks like losing, and it doesn’t matter if the final score is 7-1 or 7-6.

Success is the opposite — hitting a home run, robbing the hitter of one because you caught the ball, throwing the ball to home plate and getting the runner out, or winning the game. 

In either case, the goal is to lose and win with grace. And to learn something from each to carry forward to the next game.

Guard Your Ears

Fans and non-fans alike can be brutal. The home-team’s fans can be harsh and unkind to the visiting team. And sometimes the home-team’s fans can be unforgiving – especially when a player is performing poorly. Learning to block out the noise – regardless of the source – is an important skill to have.  

Hmm…sound familiar? What do you do to block out the noise that isn’t serving you and your goals? 

Never Give Up

The game truly isn’t over until it is over. It’s not smart to assume a 7-1 lead at the end of the 3rd inning will be the same or wider in the 9th. I can’t tell you how many times I thought the Yankees “had” the game because of their strong start, only to end up losing the game in the end. 

But, when the reverse happens….ooh, man that is sweet!

One Inning at a Time

Related to the above, the game is played one inning at a time. If you made mistakes in the previous inning, you need to quickly learn, pivot and move on. Likewise, it’d behoove you to never assume the game is in the bag until the game is over.

I can think of hundreds of ways this applies to you and me – in business and life.

And here’s the “mother” life lesson of ‘em all, courtesy of, well, my mother: 

“You win some, you lose some, and some get rained out.” 

Depending on what disappointment I was sharing, this was sometimes my mother’s retort. I didn’t always find this response satisfying. Today, though, I actually find it grounding.

Well, friends, this concludes my Women’s History Month tribute series. If you missed any of my pieces, you can catch up here: entrepreneurs, economists, and the tribute to my mother.

I’ll end today’s tribute as I did the others; with a question: Who is the woman in sports (as an athlete or in management) who inspires you?

p.s. Photo of Fontilla A. Timmons’ (Jacquette’s mother)

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