Impromptu conversations

Earlier this week, I had a delightful conversation with an 80 year-ish old couple in a doctor’s waiting room. Doing what I often do, I observed
a conversation starter and took the chance to inquire.

The man was wearing a white t-shirt that had the cursive “Dodgers” in blue on the front. Rather than speak across the room, I walked over, got a cup of bad coffee, stopped at their seats and dove in.

“Is that for the Brooklyn Dodgers or the Los Angeles Dodgers?” I asked indicating where the baseball team moved in the late 1950s. He smiled and said the answer I hoped to hear, “Brooklyn.”

In response to my question if they are from Brooklyn, he said “No, Cuba.” Rather than segue into a different subject regarding why they left Cuba, I stayed with baseball. I asked if he was a Jackie Robinson fan and he became animated. He said he actually got to see Robinson play.

We discussed what a treat that was and our collective knowledge of Dodger history. I can remember old baseball history much better than recent history. We meandered down the path of Robinson, beating the dreaded Yankees in 1955, the book “The Boys of Summer,” the pitching prowess of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres that swept those same Yankees in 1963 and the current team’s prowess.

His wife relished in his enjoyment of the conversation. She had a big smiile, Before I could move onto her, his name was called by the nurse.

It was a delightful conversation. I have shared before how much I like to uncover conversation starters, be it a name like Olivia or Aimee likely after a star or song or some version of double names like Mary Ellen or Betty Sue. Or, I love it when resort areas have someone’s home town on his or her nametag.

My wife said I made that man’s day, but he helped make mine better. I encourage everyone to have impromptu conversations. It brings us closer. Just look for those cues.

Quiet heroes

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the invisible people at work that quietly go about their business and don’t strain their arms patting themselves on the back. It got me thinking about public figures who do their work in a dignified manner, not calling attention unnecessarily to what they do. Permit me to highlight a few.

In tennis, the bad boys of tennis seem to get the notoriety. These are the ones that throw tantrums, racquets, and verbal abuses of line judges. Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, and John McEnroe could be quite the jerks on the tennis court and no one should emulate that part of their game. On the better side, Arthur Ashe was a class act as well as being an excellent player. The same could be said for Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer who seem to go about their business in a professional manner. These last four each have had more success, but they also achieved it without being a jerk on the court.

In football, it seems a player needs to draw attention to each good play they make, yet seem to be silent when they screw up. It need not be that way. Herschel Walker may have been the most gifted college athlete to ever play and was a very good pro player. Yet, when he made it to the end zone, he acted like he had been there before. He was not big into histrionics as it was not his nature. I also recall the time he was out jogging and he came upon a couple who had wrecked their car and the doors were jammed. Walker came up and after learning of their dilemma, ripped the door off the hinges, so they could get out. Once he confirmed they were alright and the police were on their way, off he went. He never made a big deal of it until a reporter later got the story and confirmed its truth.

In baseball, many know the Jackie Robinson story as the first African-American major league player and, if you don’t, please check out the movie “42” which came out last year. And, many may also know the name Hank Aaron, who before the steroid era allowed another player to pass his record, he had hit more home runs than any other player, including Babe Ruth. But, as the African-American Aaron was chasing Ruth’s record, the death threats mounted. It was similar to Robinson’s plight in 1947. Aaron always carried himself with a quiet grace and dignity. He did not brag much about his prowess and the tremendous Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, seemed to get more notoriety. But, in the end, neither Mays or Mantle could come close to Aaron’s records.

In politics, the narcissistic group tends to draw attention to themselves. The first rule of being a Governor or Mayor is to show up whenever there is a business opening, relocation or groundbreaking, even if you have little to do with the event occurring. But, the people who come to mind that served with quiet grace include folks like President Jimmy Carter, Senator Bob Dole, Ambassador Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State and General Colin Powell, NC Governor Jim Martin and new Senator Elizabeth Warren to name only a few. None of these folks are without faults, but they seemed to go about their business in a very gracious and professional manner.

I mention these stories, not to say you have to be less exuberant. You do not get to the positions these people have held without being confident. As a former manager of people, I have witnessed and shared with others, the more arrogant you are, the less team-oriented you are, the more difficult to tolerate you are, then you better be that much better. Because if you are not, most people will not tolerate your BS too long. Steve Jobs could be one of the biggest jerks around, but he was tolerated as he was showing people a new path forward. Yet, many chose not to work with him. The ones who had success seemed to have experience in “handling” his moods and condescension.

You can be quite accomplished in your endeavors without being a jerk. The people I mentioned are all very talented and successful people. So, my suggestion is to be confident, but work well others and share credit. Be a class act and good things will happen. And, per an earlier blog post, do not mistake kindness for weakness.

Sports movies whose lessons echo

Last month, I highlighted a sports movie that made even men cry called “Brian’s Song.”  The movie was about friendship between men of different backgrounds who were competing for the same job on a football team. So, the movie inspired me to note a few other sports movies, that echo longer, due to the story and/ or circumstances. There are many sports movies that can easily be forgotten, so those that are not have a reason for lasting in our memories.

To me, the most profound sports movie is called “Invictus” which chronicles the greatness of Nelson Mandela using the example of the national rugby team. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star in the movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Mandela would not let the Springbok team favored by white South Africans lose its support and galvanized a whole country behind it as it hosted and won the world championship. The team was a metaphor for inclusion and showed why Mandela was able to bring a fractured country together. Mohammed Morsi should have taken notes when he took over Egypt and he may still have a job.

“42” about Jackie Robinson becoming the first African-American major league baseball player is of the same ilk. The story is far more than about baseball, as Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman) and Dodger owner Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford), showed a huge amount of courage to break the color barrier years before the Civil Rights Act. Bot received death threats, but Robinson had to face so many obstacles, hatred and abuse by racists, fans, players and even teammates and do so, without responding with anger. Many people would not be up to this challenge and at some point would have reacted. By example, he helped pave the way for others.

A movie some might be surprised is on this short list is “Bull Durham.” The reason I picked this one is it captures the camaraderie of teams quite well and shows the not so glamorous side of baseball in the minor leagues. But, the movie is about an old player and unique woman mentoring a young talented pitcher with a “million dollar arm and a five cents head.” Kevin Costner plays the veteran catcher, while Susan Sarandon plays a unique and astute baseball fan. Ironically, Tim Robbins, who becomes her husband in real life, plays Nuke Laloosh, the pitcher who needs seasoning. It also provides advice for that would resonate in the non-baseball world.  Here a few:

– Strikeouts are fascist. Throw more ground balls, they are more democratic.

– Don’t mess with a streak. If you think you are on a streak because of….then you are.

– Don’t think, just throw.

But, one you may not have seen is a worth the watch – “Bang the Drum Slowly” which is similar to “Brian’s Song,” but about baseball. It stars Michael Moriarty as a pitcher who will not play unless his catcher played by Robert De Niro can play. The catcher has cancer, so this will be his final season, a secret only Moriarty knows.

There are several others that could have been highlighted. “Hoosiers” with Gene Hackman as the imperfect coach of a high school Indiana basketball team that beats all odds to win, is excellent. “Field of Dreams” is also excellent where Costner creates a baseball diamond in his corn field and has the best game of catch at the end. “Seabiscuit” and “Phar Lap” are two movies about race horses and people who should not win, but do while overcoming great adversity. The latter is an Australian movie and is worth the watch. “The Greatest Game Ever Played” about a teenage golfer, Francis Ouimet, who beat three of the best golfers in the world is a little cheesy, but excellent. “The Lou Gehrig Story” is cheesy at times, but with Gary Cooper playing Gehrig, it is worth it. And, even “Rocky” is a classic, although they should have stopped at one.

Let me know your favorites. I know I have left off some good ones, but would love to hear your thoughts.