Stepping up to the plate

I really don't want to use this column to brag, but I feel compelled to share that I'm the starting shortstop for my synagogue softball team.

I really don't want to use this column to brag, but I feel compelled to share that I'm the starting shortstop for my synagogue softball team.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm the starting shortstop for the Division D team, which is the worst division in the Temple League. I call it the walker division because there are several players who should actually use a metal walker to get to first base.

I mention my athletic prowess because the game of softball helped launch my professional career. I was a summer intern with Ruder Finn in 1981 when I took the brave step of joining the agency softball team.

We played in the New York Advertising League. I thought it would be an opportunity to mingle with higher-ups and impress them with my hustle and winning attitude.

What I neglected to consider was that my physical presence did not generally generate excitement. While I was not bald back then, I was nonetheless 5 foot 4 inches with glasses. It's safe to say no one expected me to dramatically impact the course of the season.

Physical stature aside, I was warmly welcomed by the team manager and was assured that I would get some playing time.

The first game was a humiliating disaster. I eagerly showed up, cheered from the sidelines, and patiently waited for my big moment. However, it turned out to be a nail-bitingly close game between the two teams. The manager was intently focused on winning and the final inning came and went without me ever getting a chance to play. I sat unnoticed and awkward while the players hugged and cheered at the final out.

Embarrassed and dejected, I silently decided that I was done with the company softball team. Luckily, however, the manager saw me exiting the field and called me over.

"I'm sorry I didn't put you in," he said. "The game just got too intense and I forgot that you were here. Please come to next week's game.

"I promise you will be in the starting lineup."

My mood went from depression to cautious optimism. The manager remembered me. And he was a VP, so at least someone in upper management knew I existed. True to his word, he started me in the next game. I had to play catcher and bat last, but I was still grateful for the chance. Then something wonderful happened. I came up to bat with two runners on and two outs. We were losing. The outfielders moved in when they saw the little guy at the plate.

I then proceeded to smack the longest ball I'd ever hit for a dramatic home run.

My teammates erupted, I was mobbed at home plate, and the manager was beaming.

More importantly, I was no longer invisible. There was now a funny story about me at the agency and I was "known" to some people. I was ultimately offered a full-time position.

I know it was mostly due to good client work, but I figured the home run didn't hurt my chances in landing the role. Looking back, I'm most impressed not at my good luck, but at my braveness back then as a 21-year-old. It took a lot of guts for a lowly intern to try out for the team. It took even more moxie to hang in there after the humiliating experience of the first game. I fought for my chance to step up to the plate.

It might sound corny, but you really can't score in life if you never create the opportunity to get the bat in your hands. l

Don Spetner has served as CCO for Nissan North America, Sun America, and Korn/Ferry International. He can be reached at donspetner@gmail.com.

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