As I begin this post, my body is in Geneva, Switzerland. My mind is in Warsaw, Poland as I am about to board a flight to speak at an event there. But my heart is in Toronto, Canada.
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.
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. (Here’s the explanation of the rule if you are interested.) 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 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.
If you missed the game and want to see the highlights, check out the video below. If you want to cut to the key moments that I have described above, they can be found as follows:
- 8:55 – Toronto catcher error
- 10:25 – Texas infielder errors
- 12:58 – Jose Bautista home run
- 15:10 – Final strikeout
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 and don’t take things for granted.
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?