An important lesson from an unbelievable baseball game

When it comes to professional sports, Toronto is my city. When it comes to baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays are my team.

Toronto Blue Jays

I returned to Geneva from Toronto two days ago after spending Thanksgiving with my family. While there, I got caught up in baseball fever as the Toronto Blue Jays are back in the playoffs for the first time in 22 years. I was living in Toronto back then and I well remember Joe Carter’s epic walk-off home run to win the World Series for the Blue Jays for the second year in a row. (That game was played on 23 October 1993, one day after the birth of my oldest daughter, Alexandra Jaye Zimmer.)

Last night (14 October 2015), the Jays played the Texas Rangers in the fifth and final game of the American League Division Championship. Texas had won the first two games and Toronto had won the next two. The fifth game was for all the marbles. The winner would advance and the loser would go home.

Now, I have seen a lot of baseball games over the years, but I have never seen a game like last night’s. And I am not exaggerating. Just Google this game and you will find articles by sportswriters who know a lot more about baseball than I do and they are all saying the same thing, particularly about the 7th inning.

I cannot do justice to the incredible, heart-stopping, action in that inning, let alone the entire game. But, as one sports columnist has written:

There have been 3.75 million innings played in the history of Major League Baseball. There’s never been one quite like that. And there never will be again.

The 7th inning

After being down 2-0, Toronto had fought back by the end of the 6th inning to tie the game at 2-2. And then the 7th inning began. It is an inning that will be remembered and discussed for a long, long time.

Rougned Odor, the lead-off batter for Texas, singled. He went to second base on a sacrifice and then third base on a ground ball. With two outs and a man on third, Texas batter Shin Soo-Choo, who had hit a home run earlier in the game, stepped up to the plate. After a few pitches, the count was two balls and two strikes.

And then it happened.

After the fourth pitch, Toronto catcher Russell Martin did what catchers do 200 to 300 times every baseball game. He threw the ball back to the pitcher. At least he tried to. But he didn’t make it. The ball accidentally hit Soo-Choo’s bat and rolled away in fair territory. It was a simple, careless mistake by Martin. It was also a costly mistake.

Odor, the Texas runner on third base, saw what happened and alertly took advantage of the situation to run home on the play. There was a lot of discussion involving the umpires and the managers of both teams. Ultimately, after several minutes, the run was allowed. The Rangers took a 3-2 lead over the Blue Jays. Toronto fans in the stands were nearly apoplectic. 

Ultimately, the Blue Jays got the final out and the game headed into the bottom of the 7th inning. That’s when things got even stranger.

The first three Toronto batters all reached base on errors by the Texas infield. And these were not hard plays to make; the Texas infielders simply made errors on each of what should have been three routine plays. Until last night’s game, there had never before been three errors on three consecutive plays in the post-season history of Major League Baseball.

With the bases loaded and nobody out, the Blue Jays made the Rangers pay. Josh Donaldson hit a blooper that landed between two Texas fielders and suddenly the game was tied 3-3. Then, with two men still on base, Jose Bautista stepped up to the plate and absolutely hammered the ball out of the park. 6-3 for the Toronto Blue Jays. The fans in the stadium, the fans in Toronto, the fans across Canada and Canadian expats (like me) were over the moon.

It was truly an epic moment in professional baseball. The 8th and 9th innings would bring additional suspense, but the Blue Jays would not be denied. The game ended with Blue Jay closer Roberto Osuna striking out the last Texas batter and kicking off a massive celebration.

The video below captures the highlights from that epic 7th inning.

After reading the articles, watching the videos and writing this much, I am getting excited all over again! But why this post on a blog about public speaking? What’s the lesson? Well, quite simply, it’s this:

Remember the fundamentals

The errors committed in the 7th inning were all on basic plays. The error committed by Toronto’s catcher was made while doing one of the most routine things in baseball that is usually of no consequence whatsoever. The errors by the Rangers were made on plays that should have been routine.

In the same way, even if you have years of speaking experience, even if you have given this presentation a dozen times, things can still go wrong. So stay sharp. Stay focused. And don’t forget the fundamentals. Prepare thoroughly, think about your message and why the audience should care, have a checklist of things to do, arrive early, have a backup plan in case things go wrong.

And in the meantime?


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  1. Hi John,

    I stumbled across your site doing some research for my company SlideHeroes (a presentation writing course provider), when I saw this post. It lifted my spirits!
    (I am a fellow Canadian, now living in Toronto after many years in Europe.)

    Sadly, I am writing this comment on October 23, 2015 and the Jays season ended last night to the Royals. The Jays battled hard, but yet another heroic comeback was not to be.

    So it was great to relive those moments from game 5. What a game that was – highlight of the season for me. Thanks.

    Sincerely (and now patiently waiting for spring),


    1. Hi Michael,

      Thanks for the message. In fact, the (European) night before Game 6 of the Royals series, I went to bed at 10:00 pm and woke up at 2:30 am to watch the game. It was an exciting game and one that I feel Toronto should have won. When you have men on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out, you have to score. But it was not to be. The good thing about watching your team lose from overseas is that by the end, you are tired enough that you can shut your laptop and fall right to sleep!

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

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TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

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CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

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Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

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HR Specialist, World Health Organization

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John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

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Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

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CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

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Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

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