The Secret Life of Skips - Part II: The Far Side

Image and images can be very powerful. We all know the aphorisms like "A picture is worth.... blah, blah." But it only gets real when you're a part of the picture. Your guys start calling you "The Fossil". Something dead - for a long time and re-discovered. The reality is, that it's their best effort response to the not-infrequent question "Where did you guys dig this one up?".

They say "An ounce of image is worth a pound of performance". Well, we performed well last year. A big factor in the success was that 3 of 4 of us had played the same positions on the same team several years before. We won enough the second time around that the new guy in the 4 got labeled "The Missing Link". Stay away from the monkey cage.

Who can say how to put a successful team (or even a season) together. Beyond a certain minimum skill and experience level, it boils down to personalities, drawing power and fitting the right player in the right position. The recruiting process involves a lot of sniffing around. Occasionally a one of the ambitious, under-rated young pups gets excited and goes after a top player. I call it leg-jumping. It draws the same kind of grins from the unaffected.

But the sniffing aside, what has to be managed is your image or perception of the position, the player and how it fits together. The young ones don't have this wisdom yet, so lets go through it position by position.

Your Lead is the one with all the bravado. He says to you, "You can't run with the big dogs if you pee like a puppy!", when you reveal a conservative early game strategy. So you handle it by paying him a compliment. "Yeah, yeah. Let's go after 'em. You can throw guards better than THAT guy!". Put this same character in the rings skipping for a 4-game series and he turns into an ostrich on a leash by the end of it. He'll be happy to go back.

Second stone. In the '80's (before THE RULE) it was where you hid your ugly kid brother, the same guy you stuck in right field in little league baseball. "HEY! Throw it hard in case you hit something!" But today, in the '90s it's even more important for the second have all the shots - more so than the third, some say - because your offence and defence both get established at this position every end. Careful when you call a hit-and-roll. If he sees only the last half of the call, you could get an in-turn draw instead of an out-turn hit. Too much data to process all at once. Or am I the only one this happens too?

The third stone used to be (before the RULE) the most talented player on a successful team. This is not altogether true anymore - especially if you listen to a second stone who takes a lot of pride in his position. See, before the RULE, you could get by with a weaker second if you had an awesome third because you could pick your spots by peeling away. Now the game is on every time the second comes to shoot. But you still need awesome talent at third - and he's almost always a more talented player than the skip. Any skip who disagrees with that never had a truly good one.

Why does such a talented player stay at third? Simple. Likes it. Doesn't want to skip (at least right now) and hates to sweep. The intangible that sets this person apart is that he has to have an outstanding awareness of people and how to deal with them. Beyond the essential technical talents, he has to be good at the people thing, stuck between the front-end and the skip. His biggest job is handling the skip's head. He wants the skipper to be confident but not arrogant; to be a decisive leader but not exclusionary; to "be your own man" but not an embarrassment; to be a target but exclusively HIS.
You worked all summer - 400 miles on the bike, 1500 or so leg raises and curls. You dropped a few pounds through spot conditioning. What do you get in the locker room after your first game in October? "Attaboy, now you look like a pregnant snake."

Now it's November. The Ever-ready bunnies on the front-end have been into the caffeine. They over do it on a draw to the 8-foot in 10. You lose. You say all the right things as they apologize and take all the responsibility for the loss.

"Whew they let me off the hook for those two deuces I missed." A consoling fan says "Gee you threw a great rock." Bonus. Image intact. The wounded ego is healing. It's just the right time for the third - at your side as always - to jump in and drive it home. Referring to the "great rock" you threw, he quips, "Yeah, but that was in '91 wasn't it?" Mission accomplished.

Nothing sticks to a good third because he's pretty good at handling people and situations. But just try to get an opinion. "Was I a little narrow on that?". "Wellll, you weren't wide." Or how about this "Did I turn that over?". "Uhhhh, no hang time." So considerate is the guy, he sets up subtle semi-phore just to ask for more ice, so you don't have to feel like Captain Bly. Adjust-glasses-left-side means "A little more, Stupid." Adjust-glasses-right-side means, "A little less, are you awake yet?". Adjust-glasses-up-the-middle-one-finger means, "Screw that. Try something else." Adjust-glasses-both-hands means, "It'll tick Crusty off but I agree. Let's try it."

Let's not forget the fifth man. If you're not careful you'll get someone who can't resist twiddling all the nobs and levers that make your team go - or go bad. Except that we're talking about team dynamics, talking to this person can be like having a conversation with your wife's best friend. Just nod your head a lot, sigh sympathetically in the right places and then go have a drink with a friend.

"I wouldn't want to be normal even if I knew what it was". Ha! You thought I forgot the skip didn't you? Joking aside, there's more to it than that so I'll leave you with a question to debate. It should wrap up this whole positions and players bit, particularly the skip.

What four position players on a baseball team (excluding the pitcher) correspond to the positions on a curling team? George Will, in his book "Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball" contends that the four most important positions are Shortstop, Second Base, Catcher and Centerfield. To get you started, I'll say the skip is the shortstop (hit the ball to me!). Get this debate going with your team and then sit back and watch.

Maybe you DO have someone who belongs in right field.

Til next time.