Jack Mosbacher was a member of the Stanford baseball team from 2008-2011. Each week, he’ll take a look at the Cardinal’s ups and downs on its road to the College World Series.
As I paced around Sunken Diamond on Sunday, nervously waiting to see if No. 5 Stanford could hold on to a 4-2 lead and avoid a sweep at the hands of the visiting No. 10 Oregon, I heard a profound statement uttered by a nearby fan. Scanning the field, wearing a Stanford cap and a concerned expression, the fan said, “These guys just don’t look like they’re having any fun.”
The comment reminded me of a favorite scene from the iconic sports movie “Remember the Titans,” when Coach Herman Boone asks running back Petey Jones if he enjoys playing football.
“Do you still think football is fun, Petey?”
“Not anymore. Zero fun, sir.”
Watching the Cardinal over the past few weeks, it is blatantly obvious that no fun of any kind is being had by anyone. In the midst of a devastating slump, Stanford has lost six out of its past nine games in Pac-12 play and fallen to seventh place in a league that it was unanimously picked to win. This once-spirited team has, quite literally, fallen flat.
It might sound childish, but I believe it to be true: this Stanford baseball team is underperforming because it stopped having fun. Moreover, until this team can remember that it’s playing a game that was invented for enjoyment, I doubt it will return to playing at the high level we know it can.
You don’t have to be a brilliant leader or a psychology major to know that people inherently perform better when they are having fun. Facebook employees work amid foosball tables and video game consoles; large televisions broadcast every March Madness game at Google. Is Mark Zuckerberg just a fun-loving guy? Do Sergey Brin and Larry Page just want everybody to have a good time for good time’s sake?
Maybe so. The more likely story is that these geniuses of entrepreneurship and management have realized and accepted a fundamental truth: a happy employee is a more productive employee, and a team of happy, inspired workers has a better chance of achieving a company’s goals.
Right now, the Stanford baseball team isn’t functioning like a vibrant start-up. Instead, the roster looks more like the disgruntled employees of a frustrated, struggling venture, working away quietly in their cubicles and slowly disconnecting from the group’s original mission and purpose. There is no fun. There is no inspiration. Instead, it feels like these guys are clocking in and out simply because they refuse to bow out and let their teammates down.
Like a business, Stanford baseball has a mission every year: to win as many games as possible and compete for a national championship. In the end, it is the responsibility of the coaching staff to set the tone for the team they oversee. Right now, there is just no way to argue that Stanford baseball’s management is doing a satisfactory job. Just look at the faces of the players on the field. They are not inspired. They are not enjoying the task at hand. They are simply not having any fun. And their recent record shows it.
This team’s underperformance is particularly shameful because of how undeniably talent-laden and experienced it is. Five to seven years from now, there is a legitimate chance that half a dozen of these guys could be playing every day in the majors. If this team (and this coaching staff) can’t turn the sinking ship around, this could go down as perhaps the most embarrassing season in the past 30 years of Stanford baseball. Simply put, this team is too good to accept anything other than success.
There is an easy solution to this long-term malaise: someone needs to make playing baseball for Stanford fun again. If the coaches won’t do it, the players have to take it upon themselves. These guys need to remember how fun it is to play this game—particularly, how fun it is to play this game well. It is directly in the interests of the coaches and players to find a way to start appreciating where they are and what they are blessed to be doing. As a team with a common goal, these guys need to be reminded that they are among the few adults who are still playing games every day—and that games were created, first and foremost, for the enjoyment of those playing them.
I, for one, know that I’ll enjoy watching these guys rediscover their passion in time to make a run to Omaha in July. They may need to do it all by themselves, but, somehow, they need to remember how to have fun.