Cooperstown MLB Symposium

We recently discussed the Your Success Story Program at a Cooperstown Symposium , NY



Your Success Story:

An Innovative Scaling of Major and Minor League Baseball Community Involvement to

Enhance Public Perception and Positively Impact 21st Century Youth

Lynn R. Miller, Ed.D.

Arizona State University & the Extra Innings Foundation

Author Note

Additional Information Provided by Jerry Hairston, Jr.

Picking Up Where Regni’s “Restoring” Left Off

This paper picks up the discussion where Lt. General John F. Regni, USAF (retired) left off, and continues where the Cooperstown Consortium began by innovatively joining academia and professional baseball. Regni’s paper, Major League Baseball: Restoring “The National Pastime” (2009) was from last year’s Cooperstown Symposium. In his paper, Regni (2009) remarked that baseball has, over time and for a variety of factors, lost its luster as a piece of Americana. The intent of my paper is not to address all the factors discussed in Regni’s (2009), but to focus on one of his factors which involves reconnecting players, and therefore their teams and organizations, with students/future fans of the game, supporting not the restoration but the revitalization, of the national pastime in the 21st Century. A program called Your Success Story is highlighted as an effective 21st Century community involvement activity targeted towards youth, but also benefits all stakeholders. Your Success Story-type community involvement programs are not intended to restore the past luster of 20th Century baseball, but to add innovation, vitality and scalability to the 21st Century version of the game.

Baseball’s Community Involvement in the 21st Century

Community involvement by both major and minor league baseball organizations is not a new practice, and generally includes traditional, non-innovative activities such as providing local youth sports camps, athletic field renovations, hospital or care center visits, serving a holiday meal at the local homeless shelter, player appearances at grand openings, and the like. Within some organizations, community involvement has expanded to include a global aspect as teams venture beyond the neighborhood and assist citizens of countries around the world. These practices should continue, yet it is clear that innovation must occur regarding community involvement activities, especially activities geared toward the younger generation if revitalization is to occur. The Conceptual Age of the 21st Century demands baseball includes conceptually-based community involvement activities, especially when interacting with today’s youth. These activities must involve the abstract, theoretical and intangible. For example, the Your Success Story program includes the abstract, theoretical and intangible while supporting the revitalization of a positive image of the national pastime. This is accomplished as baseball players visit—in person or virtually—classrooms and discuss conceptual success strategies including improving every day (mastery), staying focused (autonomy), and not take anything for granted (purpose), as well as adding their own conceptual success strategy they have used to get themselves to this point in their careers, and how they will continue to use these strategies to reach a future career goal. In essence, becoming a positive role model while motivating and inspiring today’s youth. 

Asking the Right Questions to Scale Toward the Right Action

Strategic questioning is the first step in exploring innovative, scalable, and valuable practices. Although the positive work done by baseball organizations is admirable and has helped countless youth, the following questions remain: How are the baseball organizations sharing the love of baseball so that others are likely to love baseball as well? How are community activities benefiting both internal and external stakeholder groups?  How can technology be used to create a customized, interactive community involvement activity that is both novel and powerful? To what extent are these activities scalable? When considering the people, processes, and philosophies that actually exist within a baseball organization or team, how innovative is the organization or team (Dyer, Gregersen, & Christensen 2011)? And finally, how are these activities supporting the intrinsic motivation of 21st Century students (Pink 2009)? 

The “Pull” of Your Success Story

In response to the questions posed above, this paper presents the Your Success Story program which is an innovative, scalable, and future-oriented community involvement activity that supports 21st Century student success. It is an example of the power of “pull” defined as small moves, smartly made, setting big things in motion. It exemplifies how individuals in both academic institutions and professional baseball can collaboratively expand their awareness of what is possible while developing new dispositions, mastering new practices, and taking new actions to realize unlimited possibilities (Hale, Brown, & Davison 2010), such as that which is an outcome of the annual Cooperstown Symposium. These goals are achieved as major and minor league baseball players visit classrooms to discuss with students how the students can use the three success strategies of staying focused, improving every day, and not taking anything for granted, as suggested by former Negro League and Major League Baseball player Sam Hairston. These specific strategies are aligned to current theory and research described by Daniel Pink in his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us (2009), where he maintains that as we move from the Information Age of the 20th Century to the Conceptual Age of the 21st Century, autonomy, mastery, and purpose will become increasingly important as the need for individuals to possess intrinsic motivation becomes critical for their economic success.

Baseball community involvement practices geared toward youth should take heed by including such actions as telling purposeful stories. The intended outcome of telling a purposeful story, as is included in the Your Success Story program, is for the storyteller (baseball player) to move his audience (students) to take action steps to reach a goal.  Stories can be used to connect, persuade, and triumph. The four steps to telling a purposeful story include the teller getting in state, being prepared, revealing his goal, and being interactive. These four steps are adapted from Tell to Win, a book by Peter Guber (2011), Chief Executive Officer of Mandalay Entertainment Group and Mandalay Baseball Properties, owner/consultant to seven minor league teams in the Reds, Tigers, Rangers, Astros, Yankees, and White Sox organizations. Guber (2011) states that a purposeful story is a Trojan horse serving as a vehicle to convey a special message to the audience, and benefits all who encounter it. 

Benefits to 21st Century Students, Baseball Players, and Baseball Organizations

The classroom visits that are a part of the Your Success Story program benefit all those who are involved in the experience as evidenced in the following excerpts from thank-you letters or testimonials representing a variety of stakeholder groups following a player’s visit:

Students/Future Baseball Fans - From Students:  Sometimes I ask myself if I can do it. Do I really have what it takes? I really appreciate you coming and your story really inspired me to never give up! You coming here made me powerful. From a Teacher: I have been able to use your examples and keys to success in my lessons ever since your visit and whenever I do, the kids respond immediately and positively. From a School Principal: Parkview students were definitely motivated by the players’ powerful stories about setting and achieving their life goals. 

Baseball Players - Players benefit from the classroom visit experience by gaining more confidence in public speaking, assuming an increased leadership role on the team, an added sense of purpose, and increased inspiration and motivation. Players assume a new outlook regarding the important role they play in their team’s development of positive community and public relations. Kanter (Nov. 2011) observes that community building is not a hard sell for people native to the area as there is an emotional pull of place; however for others whose careers take them across geographies, this type of work is a way to connect their organizational roles with the places they now live, making them feel more rooted. This is especially applicable to professional baseball players who rarely reside on a full-time basis in the city or town their current team calls home. In a typical career span, players live in one town for high school, move to a different town for some college, are drafted and move to various towns as they progress through different leagues such as rookie, instructional, A, AA, AAA, the Arizona Fall League, winter leagues in the Caribbean, and Spring Training. This experience becomes even more profound in those cases where the player is from another country. From a Baseball Player to a Teacher Following His Classroom Visit: Please tell the kids that I enjoyed reading their responses to my story. I don't want any of the kids to get jealous but I am going to frame Jessica’s letter and put it in my locker for the rest of my life! Some days I forget that the sky is the limit and that we all have a chance in life to be someone who is successful. We all forget that success comes in different ways. I am glad that all of your students really paid attention to what I was talking about. In every response the kids wrote, they mention that I touched their heart. Now when I am feeling down, all I have to do is think about your class because now I have more motivation to get to where I want to be. Thanks again.

Baseball Organizations - The need to cross borders to access opportunities must be accompanied by concern for public issues beyond the boundaries of the organization, requiring the formation of public-private partnerships in which there is a consideration of societal interests along with business interests (Kanter, Nov. 2011). From a Manager: Speaking from my own experience, my players who visited classrooms came away feeling energized knowing they helped motivate students to reach their own dreams and goals. They also felt more comfortable participating in future community and promotional events. Players who participate in the program add increased value to themselves and their organizations. Overall, organizational claims that they serve society gain credence when they allocate resources to community projects and activities without seeking immediate returns on their investments of time, money, or resources. 

Revitalizing Baseball Community Involvement for the 21st Century

Through innovative and scalable community involvement activities geared toward youth, baseball players, teams, and their organizations can help students focus on their dreams and goals with passion and excitement. In conclusion, the intent of this paper is to raise awareness and promote an ongoing dialogue regarding innovative, purposeful, future-oriented community involvement practices by baseball organizations so that players, teams, and their organizations build long-term partnerships with external stakeholders that support the revitalization of the national pastime into the Conceptual Age of the 21st Century and beyond; capitalizing on the strength in partnering academia and baseball where all stakeholders learn to author their own success stories.


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