Utility Players: Being the Ideal Teamplayer

(This is the sixth post in a series on wisdom from baseball co-written with Mark Stanifer.)

What makes a teamplayer ideal? Patrick Lencioni, writing about this in a 2016 book, may not have meant to highlight attributes that make up an established trend in baseball, but much of his content applies. That trend is the manufacturing, valuing, and usage of the Utility Player (a player who can play several positions competently, a sort of jack of all trades).

My Cardinals certainly are riding this trend with players like Matt CarpenterGreg Garcia, and Kolten Wong. They bring excitement to the clubhouse and the field with their versatility. But the player who has best modeled the worth of the Utility Player over the last decade is Ben Zobrist. Zobrist has been called the Father of Utility, and with good reason. He’s been at it most of his career, which includes playing for the last two World Series champions.

So what does Zobrist have, besides talent, that makes him the ideal teamplayer? What does a Utility Player possess that any teammate could possess, regardless of the team or their position, and be an ideal teammate? Here is a short list:

Hunger

Lencioni includes this as one of his three attributes of the ideal teamplayer. To be hungry means to want it more, to be self-motivated, to have what Bill Hybels calls a holy discontent. Hungry teammates want to be on the field, at the plate in the big moment, or dedicated to every workout and routine. They aren’t satisfied letting the rest of the team outdo them; they are passionate about carrying their weight and taking on more responsibility.

Flexibility

If you’re not careful, hunger can blind you. Hunger could lead you down the “it’s my way or the highway” path. To avoid that road, the ideal teamplayer values and pursues being flexible. If he’s not in the lineup every day, he trusts the coach. If he’s asked to move to another position for a short term to cover for an injured teammate, he trusts the decision. Hunger and flexibility must be present for the ideal teamplayer to maintain balance.

“Team First” Mentality

The Utility Player will fail with a “me first” mentality. Eventually, all teamplayers would. Building and maintaining a “team first” mentality is what the ideal teamplayer does. They show up on time, they meet deadlines, they squelch any temptation to complain, they even offer to give the rookie a shot at glory. The ideal teamplayer knows how to and works hard at staying off any ego trips.

So what about your life teams (family, work, community, ministry)? Maybe you aren’t the skilled Utility Player, but would your leader call you hungry? What’s your flexibility level? Who mostly comes in first in your thoughts, you or the team?

If God has placed you on that team as the Utility Player, how are you managing your perspective on your position? Your position on the team is what God designed for the team and for you. Stay hungry and flexible. Keep team first. Be ideal.

“How Could You Not Be Happy For Them?”

It started yesterday when I got to the office. People who I’d never heard talk about the Cubs were suddenly all about them. It takes just one look into my office to know I root for the other team – the Cardinals. We (they) had fun with it, and we moved on.

Since I’ve been home the last 24 hours, I’ve been soaking in all the post-series bonanza. All the tweets and videos. Rewatching some of the game on mlbnetwork. And then taking in three hours of the parade coverage today. Yeah, you read that right. This Cardinals fan watched three hours of it. Never watched any parade for three hours. It was a wonderful way to spend a portion of a day off (no sarcasm).

I texted a friend, who somewhere in his fanhood deserted the Yankees (excellent move) and became a Cubs fan, to see if he was watching the parade coverage. He was working, and the answer was “no.” I had yet to text him since the game, so I told him I was happy for them – Cubs nation. Here was his reply:

I don’t know how you can’t be. Even if you are a Cards fan. At least for them to get one finally.

Four hours of thought later, here’s my answer. You could not be happy for them if…

  • …you believe the sports world revolves around “your” team
  • …you think people make just way too much on how championships impact a community
  • …you stink at celebrating
  • …you are challenged in the “rejoice with others” category of living
  • …you have little respect for other’s genuine feelings, even when you don’t share them

After taking in all the bonanza, with more to come, here’s why I am happy for them:

  • This victory was not about the team as much as it was about the people of Chicago
  • This franchise was not about themselves as much as they were about the people of Chicago
  • The team leaders love the game, love each other, and love the people of Chicago
  • The fans love the game, love their team, but more importantly love their families
  • All of Chicago seems united from the victory fostered by patience, suffering, and faith

Come Spring, I’ll still be a Cardinals fan. Like the Sox fan who lost a bet and had to don a Cubs jersey on TV, I don’t want to feel dirty. But today, I am happy for Cubs nation. How could I not be?