Regular readers will have figured out that I’m a book and movie junkie, so here’s another reference. Does anyone remember the nighttime practice session from the movie “Miracle?” It seems that the U.S. Hockey team that beat the Rooskies in 1980 didn’t have an exactly stellar start, and Coach Brooks (Kurt Russell) was a little pissed off at some of the lackadaisical play he saw during a preliminary game. He called a practice after the game. The practice consisted exclusively of line-to-line drills. Players were puking on the ice less than halfway through. The point of the practice was to break down the individuals and to overcome each player’s reluctance to give full effort to the team.
Last Sunday, my son’s team got their asses handed to them by a better team. It was an afternoon doubleheader, and yes, it was hot and yes, the boys were dragging themselves out of the dugout to take the field late in the second game. Their opponents, however, were not. They were running out with gusto. The coaches noticed this and were not pleased. Last night’s practice consisted of running out to take the field, fielding three outs’ worth of fungoes from the coach, and running back into the dugout. Eleven times. After that little drill, it was time for some base running. Twice the baserunning the team usually does at the end of each practice. Kids who didn’t show what the coach felt was adequate hustle had the opportunity to practice demonstrating hustle by running a few laps around the perimeter of the field. At the end of practice, there were twelve kids blowing and sweating like thoroughbreds after ten hard furlongs. To wind down the night, the coach delivered a sober, serious lesson about the importance of delivering 100% effort as a team, and how less than 100% effort from even one player drags down the entire team.
The point of these rambling anecdotes is that that is the kind of leadership that Ozzie Guillen needs to demonstrate in order to lead the Marlins to a winning season next year. In his interviews, he seems to take a sort of laissez-faire stance, where the individual player’s performance determines playing time, and whether or not a player works hard seems to be up to the player alone. In the wake of an abysmal season, Ozzie must step up his leadership. He has to take a group of young, talented men and lead them to wins through hard work and esprit de corps. He has to inspire these young men to reach for more than they would be capable of on their own, and he has to create, develop, and amplify their will to win. It’s no easy task, given the nature of free agency baseball and the here today, gone tomorrow nature of clubhouse faces. It’s hard to overcome this. But it’s a task he has to figure out, and one I think he’s eminently capable of doing.