Ask the Rockies if chemistry counts

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 8/19/19

Once upon a time, in another lifetime, I helped my friend Matt coach a high school baseball team. And, at one point a little way into the season, we were in the middle of a game, and Matt called for …

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Ask the Rockies if chemistry counts

Posted

Once upon a time, in another lifetime, I helped my friend Matt coach a high school baseball team. And, at one point a little way into the season, we were in the middle of a game, and Matt called for a sacrifice bunt. It was a good call at the time — it’s always a good call when it works — but, our player didn’t get his hands in the right position, and he popped the ball up. The pitcher caught it, whirled to first base, and threw out our baserunner. Double play, end of inning.

Weirdly, even though we’d only played a few games at that point, this was the fourth or fifth time that had happened to us. And, appropriately, Matt let his frustration show. He took his cap off, rubbed his head, kicked at the dirt a little and exclaimed, “Dammit! How many times is that gonna happen to us this year?”

The entire dugout was silent, as we absorbed what had just happened and the coach’s reaction. And then, quietly, out of nowhere, one of our catchers, a big, strong Hispanic kid named Mark, deadpanned in his best Pete Puma (of Looney Tunes fame) voice “Oh . . . tree or four.”

You think the dugout was silent after the failed bunt? The entire field was dead silent, watching, waiting for Matt’s reaction. Had Matt reacted like most high school teachers dealing with a smart aleck kid, it would have been just another frustrating moment in a long season.

Instead, three eternal seconds later, Matt dropped his hat, and doubled over. Laughing. The rest of the team quickly followed suit.

I have no idea if we won that particular game or not, but I do know that that moment sticks out as the moment we became a team. Chemistry is an unbelievably important — and completely unmeasurable — component of successful teams.

The team we had that summer had 4-15 talent, but Matt squeezed ten wins out of them. They played for each other, they played for us, and they had fun doing it. It was a great summer.

The hard part is that there is no formula for chemistry — you can’t manufacture it, and you can’t command it. It happens all on its own, organically, or it doesn’t. And you sure know when it’s not there.

Ask the Colorado Rockies.

First, let it be said, the largest part of the Rockies’ struggle this season is bad pitching. But there have been any number of games where the pitching was good enough to win if the offense had lived up to the hype. But, instead, they’ve been tight. And losing. A lot.

What’s missing? Well, the Rockies let four players leave in free agency last winter: A veteran 1st baseman/outfielder whose replacement has put up better numbers this season; a long-time veteran outfielder whose replacement was voted to the All-Star game by his peers; a 2nd baseman who is having an MVP season for the Yankees, but whose replacement is playing really well; and a relief pitcher whose replacement . . . has been a dumpster fire.

In sum, the Rockies are two up and two down on their replacements from last year, but are 20 games worse in the win-loss record. How to explain it? The first three players I named were the most popular players in the locker room, and two of them were famous for their ability to make people laugh and keep the mood light. You think that matters when a team is in the midst of a six-game losing streak? You bet it does. Sometimes, it’s the difference between a six-game losing streak and a six win, nineteen loss month.

Every organization is dependent on chemistry for success, whether it’s a sports team, a faculty, a restaurant, or even a church. And it’s something that leaders should always give thought to. Even when the numbers don’t quite add up.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at Amazon.com, on Kindle, or through MichaelJAlcorn.com.” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

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