Wednesday, October 20, 2004

David "Papi" Ortiz and Community Dynamics

A raging fever has beset New Englanders this week. The symptoms -- giddiness, anxiety, religious ardor, and incessant caffeine consumption.

Red Sox games in October are always cause for nervous excitement, but this is ridiculous. Three consecutive all-nighters of baseball heroics have drained the energy from ordinarily productive Bostonians and lined owners' pockets at booming coffee shops all across town.

Amidst the post-season dramatics, I wonder how many people have shared my particular wonderment: What is this mysterious word walk-off I keep hearing from baseball announcers? Sunday night, David Ortiz hit a walk-off homerun. Monday night, Ortiz hit a walk-off single. Even as I type this, the announcers on my radio tell me that Ortiz hit a walk-off home run in the Sox' previous playoff series against the California Angels.

Wherefore walk-off and why does it always happen to David Ortiz? And what does this have to do with community dynamics?

After hearing three days of walk-off this and walk-off that, I am proud to say I figured it out. But you can look it up if you don't believe me. A walk-off hit is one that ends a game. In the bottom of the ninth inning, or the bottom of an extra inning, any hit that drives in the winning run is a walk-off base hit. This makes sense because after a walk-off hit, both teams walk off the field.

David Ortiz is rightly considered a hero for his production of walk-off hits (home runs and otherwise). Hitting never counts more than with the game on the line.

And finally, here comes the (tenuous) bridge to Connectedness: Communities, like recent Yankees-Red Sox games, last a very long time. With so much future ahead of them, communities can typically afford to let group decisions evolve gradually. But every once in a while a community finds itself in the bottom of the ninth inning, with a tight deadline looming over an important decision.

I recently experienced the "bottom of the ninth" in two different communities. In each case the general situation was the same: A community appoints a committee to produce a critical document, requiring long and complex deliberation over many subtle questions. Months later, the committee is ready to present its work for approval by the wider community. Despite welcoming feedback at every step of its arduous months-long creative process, the committee doesn't actually attract much attention until this last dramatic phase. Just when the committee thinks it has finally wrestled through all the tough questions, new voices raise all-too familiar arguments.

Here comes David Ortiz to the podium. The semi-annual meeting is one week away.

The committee has drafted a solid document, but the community is anxious. Couldn't the committee have done a better job? Are we really ready to approve this document?

Proposed amendments begin to circulate informally. Meanwhile, the committee is done; they are not putting another six months into this. The semi-annual meeting will be the do or die moment.

Ortiz swings! It's a long fly ball down the right field line! It looks like it's got the distance! Yankees outfielder Sheffield has his back to the fence, he jumps for the ball...

My two recent "bottom of the ninth" experiences ended quite differently. One was a walk-off grand slam (See? It all comes together) and the other a fly out to the warning track. I'll say more about the real-life differences between these two stories soon.



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