Twirl Your Way To Success
Oct 02, 2014Posted by james

The baton is in the air one, two, three, four and up to seven seconds. The work involves tricks, dance and gymnastics, with every move requiring concentration and precision. At least two hours of practice are required each day for this sport.

We are talking about twirling. Yes, it is considered a sport, and it’s just not for the ladies.

Richie Terwilliger of Rockland County is a twirler. He’s 22 and he has competed in six world championships. About 20 countries actively participate. But twirling as a sport is virtually unknown here. As Richie often says, people think of college twirlers, parades and girls whenever twirling is mentioned.

The female-to-male twirling ratio is 40-to-one here. In some other countries, it is 50-50. Richie started twirling at age 12, but he stopped several times. As a youngster, he wasn’t quite comfortable with the ratio. Since then, his love for the sport, and its unlimited tricks, flips and rolls, has convinced him to continue to compete.

Richie was introduced to twirling by his kid sister, a champion herself, and they have appeared in pairs competitions. The increasing roles for guys and the growing difficulty of competition that can include one to three batons prompted Richie to up his game. He has taken martial arts to help him focus. Gymnastics and dance classes have improved his balance.

Richie’s coach has complimented the young man on his blend of strength, flexibility and natural artistic ability. He has mastered rolling a baton over his body without the use of hands, and he is the only competitor to juggle a baton with his elbows before it is knocked behind him with a knee to allow him to catch it.

Though focused now on his college classes of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Richie has continued to compete in twirling “because it’s cool, it’s fascinating, it’s fun.”

Jim

Lessons Of Perseverance And Leadership
Sep 01, 2014Posted by james

All the players, along with the manager and coaches, were introduced to the fans at this year’s opening day at Yankee Stadium. Danilo Valiente received polite applause. But, for the many fans who were at the park or watched the ceremonies on television, Danilo Valiente was an unknown wearing a pinstripe uniform.

Was he a new player? A new coach?

“It was just like a dream,” he told reporters later. “I was standing there thinking: How could I be here? What am I doing in this place? I could feel the tears coming down my face. It was the biggest thing that ever happened to me.”

Here’s the story about how the 47-year-old Danilo got to that place, how he heard his name on the public address system at Yankee Stadium and how he found himself standing along the first base line with the manager, coaches and players.

Danilo played ball in Cuba until he was 25 years old, reaching the equivalent of that country’s Class AAA league. He was told that too many good players were ahead of him, so he decided to become a coach. He also managed, leading the Boyeros club to the 1996 championship. One of his pitchers on Boyeros would become a Yankee—Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. Danilo then coached for an even more prestigious club but had to supplement his meager earnings by working at a hospital. During all this time, he learned the art of throwing batting practice.

He married an American woman and moved to Tampa. Soon after, his wife died and Danilo needed to become more immersed in baseball to address his grief. He even found the nerve to approach Mark Newman, a senior Yankees official, during one of Newman’s morning walks around the Yankees spring training and minor league complex in Tampa. He requested a position with the Yankees organization. It took a while, but Danilo eventually was hired. He worked in Tampa and with three of the Yankees minor league teams. The players raved about his ability to throw batting practice, which has become a highly-prized specialty, and he was promoted to the big league team last September.

So, you ask, how was a batting practice pitcher selected to be introduced at Yankee Stadium prior to the home opener?

A day earlier, the Yankees were flying to New York when one of the players called Danilo to the back of the airplane for a brief discussion. The player told Danilo that not only did he deserve the promotion but that he also deserved to be acknowledged. The player said that he had informed management that Danilo should be introduced at Yankee Stadium. Danilo was told to be ready for the opening day ceremonies.

Derek Jeter was that Yankees player who made it happen for Danilo to be introduced before 48,000 fans at Yankee Stadium. Upon hearing the story, one longtime baseball fan repeated what many people have said about the Yankees shortstop for 20 years: “He gets it!”

Perseverance by Danilo and leadership by Derek led to an experience of a lifetime. These are two great lessons for you to follow each time you begin your workday.

- Jim

Diamond Shifts And Paradigm Shifts
Aug 16, 2014Posted by james

Watching a baseball game has become a bit confusing. With some exceptions, the game has not changed for more than 150 years. But, now, I can’t always find the third baseman!

If you are having the same trouble, then you will need to adjust how you watch the game. Sometimes I have found the third baseman in shallow right field. The second baseman has moved, too. He frequently appears on the left side of the infield, closer to the shortstop, whom, by the way, has moved deeper into the hole on some batters.

This new infield alignment developed gradually over the last few years but it has exploded across the diamond this season. The strategy is based on statistical analysis of where batted balls are put into play. Now, players often are repositioned far from familiar territory. Shifting also is a little psychological game that opposing teams impose on batters—that game within a game competition.

Last season in Major League Baseball, 8,134 shifts were recorded when balls were hit into play. Already through mid-May, teams had shifted 3,213 times. If this keeps up, MLB will implement about 14,000 shifts this season. Many batters will see their season averages plummet 30 or 40 points.

While everyone is chatting about the effects of the infield shift, the concept really is not new. When looking back at baseball’s infancy and then its dead ball era and its golden years, the game’s historians found evidence that extreme shifts, at times, had been used by teams. Baseball artwork from the 1880s indicates that basemen stood on top of their respective bases. During more modern times, but still before many of us were fans, teams shifted drastically for Ted Williams.

“Shifting” travels farther back in time for business, occurring long before it became fashionable for a baseball player from Cincinnati to wear a red stocking. More recently, though, we have become accustomed to hearing about the latest version of the business plan in the form of the “paradigm shift.” That phrase is just a contemporary term for looking at something from a different angle, or obtaining new information to create a successful strategy. Put simply, it is no different than “thinking outside the box” or implementing best practices.

At the end of each day, whether we are involved in business or baseball, results often get summarized in quick recaps. Diamond shifts, paradigm shifts and other plans and strategies are not included in the box scores reserved to report just the wins and losses. So, should you decide to implement a “shift” or another plan from your business strategy that cuts against conventional thinking, be sure that it is well researched and strategically managed. When it is, you will enjoy reading your business box scores again on the following morning.

- Jim

Ice Cream Rewards For A Job Well Done
Aug 04, 2014Posted by james

At the U.S. Women’s Open a little more than a month ago, the debut for one player was marred by a couple of double bogeys and a triple bogey. She failed to find the fairway on one shot. She hit another into a bunker. The shot out of the sand rolled past the flag and off the green. She hit her chip about 20 feet past the hole.

This new player on the circuit finished the day at eight-over-par 78. Despite the problems and probably some jitters, she remained upbeat. “It was a lot of fun,” said Lucy Li. “I kind of struggled today, but it was great.”

Then she took a bite from a pink ice cream bar. As she continued to talk with the media, she occasionally giggled and grinned, revealing a mouthful of braces.

Lucy Li is just 11 years old, and on this day she beat a few other players who posted first-round 79s. More than a dozen players did not break 80.

One player said that while Lucy may look 11, she doesn’t speak as most 11-year-olds and she certainly doesn’t hit a golf ball the way other children do at that age.

At such a tender age, Lucy already knows how to place her game in perspective. “I learned that you’ve got to be patient,” she said. “One shot at a time. Try to get rid of the big numbers.”

That’s much the same way we operate around the office. We remain patient. We address one issue at a time with our clients. We try not to overwhelm them and ourselves with big problems.

When a workday is over, whether it was spent on the golf course or in the office, we all must remember to reward ourselves for a job well done no matter the outcome. Lucy already knows what to do. When she was asked about her plans for the rest of the day after her debut, she grinned and said: “Eat some more ice cream.”

My favorite is chocolate. What’s yours?

- Jim

Overcoming A Past With Giant Obstacles
Jul 16, 2014Posted by james

He was abandoned in Jamaica, Queens. He was just three months old. Today, he responds with a “not really” when asked about any relationship with his biological parents.

Jason Craig Bromley, Jr.’s mother was a drug addict. He arrived as a crack baby. His father was in prison for manslaughter and unlawful imprisonment. Jason was rescued by his aunt, his father’s sister, who already had three young daughters and was in the midst of studies to become a nurse.

Though family came to his rescue, growing up, at times, was tough for Jason. He went through an angry stage and constantly got into fights. When he was a teenager, Jason’s aunt shipped him out of the neighborhood each day for his own good to ensure he received an education at Flushing High School. The aunt recalled that free time never was an option. It could only lead to trouble.

Football filled some of the time. His high school coach recently remembered Jason as a sloppy kid, chubby and with more fat than muscle, but that he had raw talent for such a big guy.

Jason found his niche and worked at it. He didn’t cause any further trouble and he didn’t drink. He concentrated on preparing properly to compete on the field and court (he played basketball in high school, too). He then played football as a star defensive tackle at Syracuse University.

All that work now has paid dividends. Jason, who is just 22, soon may become a household name in New York sports circles. He was chosen by the New York Giants as the 74th player selected in the most recent NFL draft.

From a doorstep and an uncertain future to one of the best franchises in the National Football League, Jason has found the strength to overcome obstacles. Jason is clear and honest with himself when he states that a person never forgets his background. These include all the experiences and what a person has seen while growing up. All of it, the good and bad, he said, helps shape the adult—the person Jason is today and the one he will be in the future.

Jim

More Than Just Another Insurance Guy
Jul 03, 2014Posted by james

Ed Petrazzolo never attended Notre Dame University. But, a few months ago, he was overjoyed to meet Brian Kelly, the head coach of the Irish, during the Notre Dame Club of Staten Island’s 25th anniversary celebration.

That night, Kelly and many others honored Ed for his commitment to his family, his faith, his country and his community. The club presented its highest honor to the 90-year-old one-time athlete and war veteran for “devotion to the ideals and spirit” of the university and for a life that “clearly reflects the values and mission of Our Lady’s University.”

Instead of attending college, Brooklyn-raised Ed fought his way across Europe during World War II as part of the 371st Ordinance Battalion of the First Army. He landed at Utah Beach a few days after D-Day, participated in the liberation of France, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, crossed the Rhine River and helped liberate survivors at the Nordhausen concentration camp.

Before the war, Ed had been a pretty good and promising baseball player. He was a lefty pitcher who signed with the rival Yankees, but his sports career, as with so many at the time, was placed on hold for the war. So were his plans for higher education. When he returned from Europe, he made it to the AAA Newark Bears. But, with a first child on the way soon after, baseball at that time would not have been the best career choice to support his family.

So, Ed became a proofreader and he worked with the New York Journal-American for 25 years. Then, he switched careers to enter, of all things, the insurance business. By then, Ed and his wife had moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island. He became active immediately in that borough’s community affairs, supporting veterans groups, youth baseball camps and activities at his local church. Somewhere during all of this he became involved with the Notre Dame Club.

One of Ed’s fondest memories is not of baseball, his newspaper work, or even his success in insurance. Instead, he remembered a chance meeting with a young Belgian student during the war. The student had been deported for civil unrest and then liberated from a camp. Ed assisted him with clothes and a pistol for protection as the student had to walk miles upon miles to his home.
“I went back again 60 years later in 2005,” Ed told a local newspaper, “and located him and spent some time discussing things. He said he had me always in his mind.”

During his travels through baseball, war, the newspaper business and insurance, a commitment to support others became deeply imbedded within the soul of Ed Petrazzalo. It is fitting that such an institution as Notre Dame has recognized Ed for his life-long contributions to so many people.

Jim

Lady Coaches Reach Milestone Wins
Jun 16, 2014Posted by james

You don’t see them on ESPN, nor hear about them on sports talk radio. The newspapers cover their games, but the focus is on the outcomes, the wins and losses, rather than on the coaches. Earlier this year, though, coaches Gina Maher and Jane Morris did make headlines.

Gina coaches girls’ basketball at Irvington High School in Westchester County. On January 31, the 58-29 win against Rye Neck was her 600th career win as a Section 1 basketball coach. No other coach—for the boys or girls—ever reached this milestone.

Though the victory brought a smile to her face, she was humble in the achievement. She quickly turned the focus onto everyone else—to the crowd, to her family, to the team. She claimed she never scored a point and she never grabbed a rebound, but that she was just blessed with longevity and a staff to help build the program. Bottom line, she said it’s always about the kids.

Not too far away in distance or time, Jane reached a personal milestone in The Bronx on February 11. She has been the Cardinal Spellman High School girls’ varsity basketball coach for 40 years and, with a 61-52 win over Preston High School on her home court, she achieved her 700th victory.

Jane, too, reacted in a similar way. She said all the victories meant a lot to the girls and that they all had fun over the years. She regularly meets many of her older players again, and some of them now introduce their grandchildren to her.

Jane has done so much more than coach the girls at Spellman. She was a player for the school and later on, along with two other women, founded the girls’ division of the Catholic High School Athletic Association. Through her work, huge positive changes have come to girls’ athletics since the late 1970s.

It is so wonderful that, over the last four decades, we have seen so many advancements in women’s athletics on all levels. Let’s remember that we still have so much more to accomplish both in sports and in that portion of life after sports known as business.

Jim

Unorthodox Style Can Be Effective
Jun 02, 2014Posted by james

Not much about Abby Squirrell’s game stands out to a spectator. A six-foot one-inch junior forward for Ossining High School’s basketball team in Westchester County, she is a solid rebounder and puts points on the board.

But, when Abby stands at the free-throw line, everyone in the stands notices her. She uses only one hand for her routine—bouncing the ball, putting it in position and then taking the shot. She certainly has one of the most unorthodox foul shooting techniques anywhere in the game. She also is second on the team in free-throw percentage, making seven out of 10 shots.

Abby’s coach explains that the basketball is supposed to be shot with one hand. The other hand serves as the guide. She just took it one step farther. It works for her and as they say, “no harm, no foul.”

But, what would happen, if during a huge regular season or playoff game, the margin of victory came down to an Abby Squirrell foul shot? A lot of people—teammates, the coach, the fans—would cringe, right?

The coach does not give it any thought. She is the team’s second-best foul shooter. They want her at the line.

Just as with sports, a person always can try something a little different, or unorthodox, in business. Others first may look on with puzzlement. But if successful, they will soon mimic or adapt it.

Do you have an idea or tactic that is a little unorthodox? Give it a try. You never know where it may lead.

Oh, and one more thing—I knew I liked Abby when I first heard about her foul shooting. She also happens to be one of her school’s best lacrosse players!

Jim

A Study In Determination
May 16, 2014Posted by james

Last year, Willie Gabay’s season seemed, finally, to get back on track. Then, boom! Bad fortune struck again.

He had just been promoted to the Hudson Valley Renegades, the short season minor league team of the Tampa Bay Rays that plays in Dutchess County, when he was struck in the face with a ball during batting practice.

This was minor setback for Willie. A few years earlier, he had been cut from his high school team. When asked about it now, he just shrugs it off, feeling the high school experience helped to shape his character and make him a better player. After all, now he is playing professional ball.

Willie did play for his community college team. He pitched well enough to get selected in the 15th round (482nd overall) in the 2012 major League Baseball amateur draft. He throws 90+ miles per hour.

The first season in pro ball on the Rays’ rookie team did not go well. Command issues, especially with off-speed pitches, led to an ERA over seven. Willie worked on his mechanics at an instructional league, where he found a familiar face. A fellow graduate from his high school was a top pitching prospect in the Rays organization. He frequently offered Willie encouragement.

As Willie mastered his pitching mechanics, he improved the command of his pitches. Then, he developed a rotator-cuff injury that slowed his progress. Once that was addressed, he debuted in the Gulf Coast League and quickly was promoted to the Single-A Renegades.

During his first outing, after pitching three strong innings, a circulation problem in his throwing arm sidelined him. Right after that, the ball broke his nose. A little later, some good news came his way—the tests on his arm came back negative.

As we get into shape for another baseball season, I haven’t heard anything more about Willie Gabay. I just hope his 2014 spring training and regular season go smoothly. He sure has the determination to succeed.

Jim

Wrestling With Confidence Makes Difference
May 02, 2014Posted by james

Confidence can be a funny thing. When you have it, you can “will” the body and mind to do things never considered possible. When you don’t have it, bad results quickly can snowball.

Rockland County high school student-athlete John Hartnett lacked confidence when he was bounced last year from a state tournament. He lost the first two matches.

“At states…I got knocked right out—like a one-two punch,” he said at the time. “Wrestling definitely showed me that I can compete with these guys—I just have to keep going to a level higher.”

He rebounded earlier this year, upsetting the second and third seeds on his surprise run to the state finals. Though he lost the last match, he realized that training and commitment got him to the finals. It also increased his confidence. He wasn’t done just yet.

“At one point, I was depressed for like three days,” said Hartnett. “I couldn’t talk to anyone in my house, and the only name that kept popping in my head was [that of the wrestler who defeated him].”

In recognition of his overall accomplishments during the wrestling season, Hartnett received a second wrestling life this year when he was selected as a wild-card entry for the New York State Wrestling Championships. He used the invite as an opportunity to redeem himself.

Hartnett and the wrestler who beat him a few weeks earlier, that name that kept popping into his head, each won their first-round matches. This set up a rematch in the 220-pound Division 1 quarterfinals. Hartnett regained his confidence and came away with a 6-4 decision.

The high was short-lived, though, as Harnett lost in the next round. But, he learned two things about himself. He was able to compete at a higher level, and he needed to continue to work hard to hone his athletic talent.

Confidence in sports, and in business, can be fragile at a young age and even when you are a seasoned pro. What you decide to do after you are knocked down determines if you will regain your swagger to compete at the next higher level.

Jim