#Fail

My phone rang sometime mid-morning.  It was a typical January day in San Francisco: cool and damp and wonderful.  I was about to learn some disappointing news.

Relax.  I can handle it.

•••

I’ve failed so many times, it’s silly.  Somewhere along the way I learned that failure isn’t so terrible.  In fact, it might be good.

Sure, most of you see me as the proud man who won the Men’s Division “Bull Chip Toss” at the 1991 Oregon Trail Days Celebration.  (Fact is, I set the all-time record with a toss of 186′ 4″ — right past the Schoenover family sitting in their pickup at the end of the street.)  The rest of you might think of me as the guy who helped lead Gering High School to a 3rd Place finish in the National Mock Trial competition in Portland,Oregon in 1990.  (We should have won the whole thing.  I refuse to make excuses about Colorado cheating in the semi-finals, though.  I’m over it.)

My dad warned me that success wouldn’t always come so easily.  He said I’d eventually suffer setbacks — and if I was ever going to make it, I’d have to learn from them.

He was right.

•••

I answered the phone and I’ll never forget what I heard next.  “Hi, Dave?  This is Jon Miller calling.”

Let’s just say it was not a call I was expecting.  I replied with something calculated and articulate, like: “No $#!%!  I’d recognize that voice anywhere!”

Jon told me that the Giants filled their opening with an experienced big-league broadcaster.  He had just finished listening to my tape, however, and liked it.  We talked at length.  He gave me incredible insight and advice.  He invited me to lunch.

I hung up the phone and jumped as high as I could.  It was the best rejection call I’d ever taken.  It was a moment that changed my life.

•••

I thought about that phone call a lot as I flew home from the baseball Winter Meetings last night.  Funny how that call, one of the most important events of my career was, basically, a failure.

TRY AGAIN

I love the Winter Meetings.  General Managers mingle and posture.  Reporters contrive news and lurk in the lobby.  Businesses target team executives with anything from concession ideas to database software innovations.

I just wander around chatting with old friends and making new ones.

We talk shop and catch up on real life.  Only at the Winter Meetings can I end up at dinner with Bubba, Fuzzy, Boxer and Foots.  We waited for The Cowboy to show up, but he had to file a story.  Or get his email fixed.  Maybe he was tired of me asking about Pine Bluffs.

The stories and the laughs are endless.  The news is fascinating.  Sometimes the real-life updates are fun and sometimes they give pause.  It’s comforting to be back with one’s baseball family.

The Winter Meetings also host hundreds of fresh-faced kids looking for their first job in baseball. They’re easy to spot.  They wear blue blazers and ties.  All the time.

Baseball family listening to the Def Leprechaun Band

Baseball family listening to the Def Leprechaun Band, Sunday night.

One plucky kid named Terry leaned in to interrupt my chat with Jon Morosi late Sunday night.  The evening was winding down for me.  Jon was still chasing a story.

Terry was something else.  He was searching for job advice.  He was the type of kid whom you could easily dismiss if deadlines and editors pressed.  Jon paid attention though.  So did I.

We dug a little deeper and learned Terry survived cancer four years ago.  He’s one year away from complete remission.  He spent last year pulling tarp, making copies and doing grunt work all day, every day, for a short-season minor league team.  He did it for nothing.  Now he was back again, looking for another internship — maybe a full-season gig this time or a paying job — with the hopes of advancing his career.

Jon gave Terry his card and offered to help however he could.  I explained that I was looking for work, myself.

I bumped into Terry the next day and he told me that he had been rejected by a few teams.  I’m sure he’ll be turned down by several more.  Someone is eventually going to hire him though.  They are going to enjoy a personal and professional journey they’ll never forget.  I can’t wait to hear how he does.

I met many more young guys betting on their dreams.  Some were timid.  My primary piece of advice was for them to try to get turned down by a team.  Soon.

FAILURE BEGETS…

Failure's Good!

Failure’s Good!

My first contribution to the professional world went to print in the summer of 1997.  Technically, I was muddling through my third season of minor-league play-by-play when the June 2 issues of Forbes ASAP arrived at people’s homes.  We called it the “Failure” issue and my story was “Famous Flops.”

For the technology-inclined, the article discussed innovations like Apple’s Lisa computer, the Kaypro II and other fascinating things like CP/M – one of the first widely used commercial operating systems.  There were more, but I’ll spare you.  The point is that while all of these things flopped, their failure, or mere existence in some cases, led to better products and business.

It’s a simple premise, but one we don’t often acknowledge. Nikola Tesla survived various explosions and unexpected fires before fathering massive breakthroughs like alternating current and radio.  Tesla met with enough failure and criticism to paralyze most of us.  The Wright Brothers must have failed hundreds of times before actually flying.  No one would have blamed them for giving up.

But how else can you do it?  Real learning doesn’t exist without failure.  No matter the discipline, if you can’t accommodate failure, you can’t get better.

NO FEAR

By the time I took that call in 2002, I had been turned down by several Major League teams.  Shoot, it was a battle just to get my first minor-league job.

Prior to the Sonoma County Crushers hiring me in the spring of 1995, I spent nearly a year living out of my car.

I graduated from college a semester early and watched my classmates race off to their high-paying jobs or grad-school endeavors. For a few weeks, I squatted with anyone still in the area.  I spent plenty of evenings in the basement of the college radio station.  Sometimes I’d see a dorm or fraternity under renovation during the summer and sneak in through an open window at night. On rare occasions, I simply had to lean back in the front seat of my Toyota Tercel.  (It had a nice hatch, but I used that as my closet.)

It’s important to note that this lifestyle was my choice.  I could have taken a “real job” like my friends.  We would have shared an apartment and bought furniture.  I chose not to.  I saw those things as a trap.  I needed to stay nimble, in case a ball club needed me on a moment’s notice.

Talk about optimistic!

So I showered at the campus gym, bought day-old donuts at discount and found unique ways to fill the other meals.  I had no phone (I mostly used the radio-station sports desk as my “home” base).

I wasn’t in regular touch with my parents that year.  I didn’t want them to fret.  My dad worked too hard to have to think about what I was doing.  I felt selfish.  I didn’t think my parents would necessarily disapprove, but I didn’t want to take the chance.

Looking back on it, I realize that my dad and I were doing mostly the same thing.  He started his business with absolutely nothing.  No money, no industry experience and — at the time — two baby boys.  Leaning on hard work and a some trial and error, he ended up with a truck, a building and an Olympia Beer distributorship.

It’s the water.

He was a one-man show for a while, working all but a couple moon-lit hours each day.  But he was building his own little empire, and his passion for excellence was obvious.  He taught my brothers and me a lot about a true-day’s work and handling challenges.

Anyway, I’d lug radio equipment up to Candlestick Park whenever I could.  I’d sit at the very top of the stadium and barricade myself from the wind by stacking the components next to me.  Then I’d “broadcast” the game into my tape recorder.

One of those tapes helped get me my first job: my ticket to 11 more years in the minor leagues.

I learned from each tape I made.  I learned from every minor-league and Major League club that didn’t hire me.  And I learned a lot about myself.  It wasn’t easy, but it was an exciting and fun time.

•••

So I thought about that long-ago call from Jon last night.  And I wondered if Terry had found a team that saw in him what I did Sunday night.  I already missed all my great friends — no, my baseball family — who were still back in Nashville.

Especially my longtime friend, Scott, who let me crash for two days in his hotel room.

I went to Nashville on a whim this week.  I wanted to see everyone and let them know that, indeed, I was not going back to the Houston Astros.  I also wanted them to know that I don’t see that as a failure.

I see it as an opportunity.

19 thoughts on “#Fail

  1. Dave, to say that your time here in Houston was not a failure is an understatement. In fact, I was talking about you today in the wake of the news about Jim Deshaies moving to the Cubs and yet another disappointing non-response from the ball club about those horrendously bad signs in left field that destroy the architecture of the park. My very adamant statement about you was that you are the very best play-by-play guy the Houston Astros have EVER had. Bar none. For a couple of years, I had looked forward to the inevitable departure of Milo with a mixture of anticipation and glee. Listening to the Astros games will be a poorer experience without you behind the mic. I hope that new management figures out how to rectify their mistakes. Otherwise they might find themselves poorer in more ways than one.

  2. Dave, your taking this better than I am. I was counting on you and Brett to get us through the change to the Junior circuit. Karen and I will miss you guys. For all the good things the Astros are doing with the team on the field, the new front office has not measured up. Best of luck to you.

  3. Dave is a talented broadcaster who has all the assets he needs to be one of the best for many years to come. I’m confident he’ll get a chance. While he’s waiting he can always write!!!

  4. The only failure here is that the Astros management has failed to realize that we had the best radio team in the league. I’d listen on my iPhone/iPad on an almost nightly basis. I knew we’d probably lose but you and Brett made the game enjoyable. I would then listen to the west coast games and count my lucky stars that we had the best announcers around. The new management team has not impressed me this off season. They are chasing fans away with their horrible decisions. I’m still holding out hope that they come back to their senses.

  5. I don’t pretend to understand why people in decision-making positions make the decisions that they make. They have their reasons, right or wrong. Sometimes we get caught up in storms that have nothing to do with us and are caught in the crossfire. Sometimes we fail to meet an expectation that we did not know existed or had no hope of realistically achieving. Sometimes people don’t know what they want and we become the scapegoat. I don’t blame them. They are doing what they believe is the right think to do.

    I felt like I grew to know you, Dave, as you painted the picture of my favorite team playing my favorite game. I don’t watch the Astros on TV much, so the radio is my primary sports medium. You and Brett were the Astros for the last few years. I always enjoyed your humor and insight, but mostly, I enjoyed you as a person. I know this sounds silly, but you became a kind of friend to me, and I appreciate that. Your blog accentuated that. Your writing is so honest, insightful, and raw that I came to see it as an extension of our friendship, part of a long conversation (sorry if that sounds creepy). You know baseball, but you always know how to approach the sport in a way that speaks to a larger truth. You speak to the life that the sport aims to enrich. That has been very comforting, calming, and grounding these last few years.

    To say I was surprised to hear of your dismissal is an understatement. It hit me in a similar fashion to how I felt when I found out that my 1st grade best friend was moving to Indiana. I’m not sure what next season will hold, and I’m unfairly skeptical about whoever fills that booth next season. Even if I grow to like the new PBP guys, I doubt I will develop the same kind of friendship (one-sided as it may be) that I felt with you. I can’t wait to see where you land next (and I’m sure you will land somewhere very soon), and I look forward to following your career in the years to come, even if our “conversations” become fewer and further between.

  6. Dave,

    Synchronicity

    Before I even knew you wrote these wisdoms here today, you just happened to have been a major part of the column I wrote and posted about the same time yesterday at my “The Pecan Park Eagle” site.

    Simplicity

    As I’ve tried to say more implicitly a couple of times in recent public writings, you are on your way to becoming one of the best radio play-by-play guys of all time. Allow me here to move what I think directly into the daylight: In every technical way, you are already there. You just needed more time and tenure under the growing strength of public support for what you do. A bigger public persona might have spared you from the stupidity of your recent release by the Astros. Look what it’s done for Milo. The guy’s retired, but he’s still talking about coming back to do a few games next year.

    Unfairness

    Life’s full of it. When we are on the receiving end of unfairness, whether it comes in the form of rejection, abandonment, or a flat-out f-ing over in business, it doesn’t feel good and we feel a little unclean and less lovable for a while. My worst reckoning with the experience happened about 24 years ago, in 1988, when I got be on good writing terms with a fellow named Scott Peck, who wrote the iconic story of personal growth and transformation that still sells today as “The Road Less Traveled.” In short, Scott liked a course I had written based on his book so much that he reached out and encouraged me to apply for the new job as CEO/Director of a new foundation in Tennessee that some people were establishing to carry out his programatic ideas for healthy community building. – I applied, but never even got to the interview phase. The letter I got in the mail from the interviewing committee didn’t say I had been rejected. It just said, after reading my written responses to their initial questions, that I had been “deselected from the list of candidates under consideration.” – What a stink bomb that little piece of candy-coated disappointment turned out to be. – How in the world is a “deselected” person supposed to feel about themselves, anyway?

    Closed Door/Open Door

    Once I got past the smell, the “deselection” experience turned into a life changer for me. It made me take a long hard look at how we use language in so-called professional circles and start turning back to the use of plainer, simpler words. It also became part of my pull back to the game of baseball, where we still have foul lines that protect us from egregious errors (most of the time, anyway) and a game that plays out like the long season of life itself. We have our good and bad games – and long streaks of one kind or another – but we never forget: We are here to win – no matter how long it takes.

    The Sandlot

    “You gotta have heart, miles and miles of heart!” We learned that on the sandlot, long before there even was a song from “Damn Yankees” to carry that spirit to everyone else in our little part of the world. – And nobody deselected any of us on the sandlot. They might have called us names or tried to run us off, but we refused rejection. We fought our way back until our playing abilities earned us places on the field.

    We hung in there with heart and hope until we earned a place to stand. And we didn’t walk away because we saw what it did to the kids who gave up.

    I didn’t know it then, but I know it now. I learned about life on the sandlot than I ever did in graduate school.

    Tomorrow

    It belongs to you, Dave. Better days are coming.

  7. Dave……you and Brett have NO IDEA how much we fans in Houston enjoyed your time with
    this club! I am such a “die hard” Astros fan……….I listened to ALL of the Spring training games!
    I learned soooo much from both of you. You painted the picture of the game so well, it felt like
    we were sitting right beside you at the game! This new owner has changed my Astros so much, I
    don’t even recognize it any more. We hated the move to the AL, but Crane has changed EVERYTHING. Please let us know where you end up! I am a retired Delta flight attendant, and in the late 60′s and early 70′s I used to charter the Astros. All the best to you and your family!
    Merry Christmas! Becky

  8. Dave — A really nice column, from a felllow Beaver. Anyone who doesn’t fail once in a while is missing an essential experience. I went through a fairly long period of recession-caused unemployment recently and was amazed at some of the places I got turned down — Plaid Pantry, really? — before landing a job at a place where I really wanted to work. It’s not the right position in the company for me, but I would have taken anything. My enthusiasm for the company and its mission made the difference, and kept me there while my skills evolved.

    If I had the money to buy the Rays and move them to Portland, I’d hire you. Right after I traded for our homeboy and Beaver star Jacoby Ellsbury.

    BTW, did you lose that mock trial combination to the town with the best motto in Oregon: “Ask not what you can do for Dufur, but what Dufur can do for you?”

  9. Pingback: Potholes on The Road of Life « The Pecan Park Eagle

  10. Pingback: Astros Links of the Day For December 7, 2012 | Houston Astros Dugout Online | Houston Astros Blog

  11. Great post, sir. Honest to God, an hour or so ago I was just pining for baseball season to hurry up and start already and then I remembered you wouldn’t be there calling the games for me. And that was sad. Best of luck. I know you’ll do well.

  12. Dave, I completely agree that better days are ahead for you. The Astros gig came with some pretty nasty baggage and was destined to end this way. It was simply a matter of time. Since I’m not a Jon Miller fan and your appreciation for his work is evident in yours I have not been a Dave and Brett rah-rah guy, but that does not mean that I haven’t appreciated some the features you brought to the broadcast. In a new situation with slightly different partner chemistry and perhaps less oppressive management I certainly agree with those posts above that your future could be enviable indeed. What is very certain, your attitude will never be an obstacle.

  13. Dave…..I choose to vote with my wallet……until the Astros get their heads out of the sand I’m not spending one dollar to go to a game.

    You are a winner!

  14. Holy crap, not the Schoenovers! Curse you for unearthing the memory that linear family tree from the repressed depths of my subconscious. Congrats on the bull chip record, though.

    And I would like to make it known, as Dave’s fellow mock attorney, that the Colorado team was indeed made up of unrepentant cheaters. Still, every time I drive into Portland, I think back on that incredible experience. Nothin’ stops the Rock!

    I was a little bummed to hear you weren’t making the move to the AL; was hoping to catch a quick word with you at a Mariners game sometime. I’ll be checking out MLB Full Count for sure.

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