Monday, September 08, 2008

I like Elites!

I don't mean aristocrats

I mean elites.

And by elites, I don't mean people whose predominance is based on inherited wealth, privilege, or class. I'm talking of the self-made individuals from whatever background, who rise by the dint of talent, perseverance, and courage to the top level in their particular chosen field.

Elites always attract me. I've had to consult medical opinion for a number of serious health issues in my family in the last decade. In doing so, I never stopped with my primary care physician or the local specialist he recommended. Instead, I carefully and meticulously researched and sought out experts in their fields, and ended up finding elite people with international reputations within a three hour driving radius. My health, such as it is today, is due to those wise decisions. I'm convinced things go better with elites.

So are the Los Angeles Dodgers. Due to a chain of circumstances,
Manny Ramirez came to Los Angeles late in this 2008 season. Before he arrived, the Dodgers were only close: close to first place, but also
only close to playing 500 ball. The Dodgers continued to play at about the same speed, despite the fact that this Hall-of-Fame shoo-in excelled individually with a 400+ batting average and a 700+ slugging percentage. Until last week there was no change in team performance. What happened?

For whatever reason, Manager Joe Torre, decided to bench two of the team's most highly payed veterans who were not performing. Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones were plugging up and sapping the offense. The lead-off, base-stealing star, Pierre had an OBA under .300 and Jones, couldn't get his BA over the Mendoza line - couldn't get it within 40% of it actually.

So when the manager went with the young talent on an everyday basis, the team chemistry jelled with Ramirez. Manny's mere presence in the line-up was able to have a multiplier effect, lifting the Dodgers into an eight-game winning streak. That's what you get when you play who's hot instead of who's not, just because of the latter's sense of entitlement. The improved play of the talented youngsters, Blake DeWitt, James Loney, Matt Kemp, and especially Andre Ethier speaks for itself. Manny was the elite; but there wasn't a change in team performance until management made the hard decision not to go with the people in which they had the biggest, most expensive, and longest term investment.

Of course, as elite, all-star catcher Russell Martin points out, 1st place in the first week in September does not mean 1st place in October. But I have to celebrate an elite home town performance while I have it, don't I?

Last night, another elite performer kept me up past my bed time. Like other elites I admire,
Serena Williams put on a stellar show, winning her 3rd U.S. Open Title, and her 9th Grand Slam victory. I should also say something about Serena's older sister, Venus (7 Grand Slams). As well as their father, Richard. As a coach and father to my four sons, I have always looked upon these three Williams as paragon models in achieving perfection without the benefits of inherited status or wealth. Growing up in Compton, California, where they remember having to duck gunfire, the sisters were the youngest of Richard Williams's five daughters. Richard dreamed of raising tennis stars, and Venus and Serena showed the most aptitude, winning tournaments when they were 10 years old. In the middle of the 1990's they hit big time, and now in their late 20's they are still major players in the WTA.

The thing I like about both Manny and Serena is that they seem to relish playing the inner game. Both stay within themselves with a confidence that putting forward their best effort will be ultimately more satisfying than the eventual outcome. Serena readily smiles when she loses points. I've seen Manny smile when he strikes out swinging on three pitches - and the next up, time homering with the same smile. Both Serena and Manny come to the arena to hit the ball hard, and to hell with the outcome.

The point of this subjective, anecdotal, superficial
and improvisational review of sports is simply a celebration of elites in our midst. In every area of endeavor, recognition of their talents, potentials and achievements enriches us. They are more than celebrities. They are leaders. By paying close attention, the rest of us can learn to be better than mediocre.

So, I am all for elites. In sport, I find myself among their cheering spectators. Outside of sport, I find myself among their partisans. Because I am more than a fan; I am a stakeholder.

All fired up and ready to go.