I am a rabid San Francisco Giants fan — not a Johnny come lately, bandwagon kind of fan (though those are ok too!) — so I was gleeful when Travis Ishikawa hit a walk off home run to clinch the National League Championship title in Game 5 last week. I loved the way his team and the crowd responded, as if they knew he would do it all along. But I mostly love his story. So much of what we hear from the world of sports is bad lately — football players punching their fiancees, Olympic athletes headed to jail, and rampant cheating among college athletes. And then there is Travis Ishikawa, a good guy who has worked hard and has finally played the role of hero. What’s interesting is that, as Madeline Levine would say, and as we so often hear when we talk to parents and business executives, his path to success has not been on a straight line. Baseball freaks know his story well by now: He was state player of the year for Federal Way High School in 2002 and earned a scholarship to Oregon State, but signed with the San Francisco Giants after they selected him in the 21st round of the 2002 MLB draft. All great, until it wasn’t. Rather than continuing on his “star” trajectory, he bounced around between the majors and Triple A teams, good enough to be a journeyman first baseman but not able to hold on to a roster spot for long. During his seven seasons in Major League Baseball he has played for the Giants, Brewers, Orioles, Yankees (one game in which he was 0-2 at the plate, both strikeouts) and Pirates, and he played more regular season games in the minor leagues (923) on 8 different teams than in the majors (444). So no wonder that when Ishikawa was re-signed with the Giants on April 25th of this year and sent to play Triple-A ball in Fresno, he considered retiring. But he kept working — being productive in 47 games with good stats — and when Giants’ outfielders Angel Pagan and Michael Morse were injured, the most unlikely thing happened: Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy put Ishikawa in left field — even though he had played first base his entire career. For the non-baseball crowd, this pretty much never happens. It is tremendously difficult to change positions in the majors and particularly to move from the infield to the outfield. And the move wasn’t easy; Ishikawa made a number of mis-steps along the way, including an error that led to three runs in Game 5 last week. In an interview with theMilwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel last week, when asked about his decision not to quit, Ishikawa said, “any time you struggle in the minor leagues at my age, more so this year, you wonder about that. It goes back to needing to persevere. As much as I hated going through it, it’s made me a better man for going through it.” So there it is — something good from the world of sports. At CS, we talk about the need to raise kids who take risks and about the need for kids to persevere and to be resilient. Thanks Travis for giving us a story that makes our point so well. Of course, not every story will end like this one did, but if our kids don’t learn to take risks, try things that are uncomfortable (like moving to the outfield!), and realize they can bounce back, there will be far fewer happy endings.
Maureen Brown, MBA, is Executive Director for Challenge Success, where she oversees daily operations as well as marketing and strategic planning. Ms. Brown comes to Challenge Success with over 20 years of consulting experience in health care, financial services, and technology. Prior to joining Challenge Success, Ms. Brown worked as an independent consultant and as a Partner at APM, Incorporated, where she structured, sold and managed strategic and operations improvement engagements for health care institutions, primarily university medical centers. Ms. Brown has also worked in Cash Management for Philadelphia National Bank and Citibank. She has been on various boards at Georgetown, and most recently co-founded the Bay Area Georgetown Technology Alliance. Ms. Brown has also served as a Board member at Woodside School.