Baseball, Birthdays, and Luck

I took my youngest to a White Sox game for his birthday yesterday. We go to a Major League game every year to celebrate. Yesterday was just as much fun as ever, even though our Sox lost to the Cubs in a Crosstown Classic. (Let us never speak of it again.)

I have learned that a motivated young baseball fanatic can do things mere mortals find impossible. Each time we go, I make sure we get there an hour or so early. Wayne likes to go down to the row behind the dugout and scope out the players up close. He also has an uncanny knack for getting autographs.

In case you have not been to a game lately, autographs are pretty much a thing of the past. Unless there is a special event, players do not tend to mingle with fans. Yet here comes Wayne a few minutes before the game with not only an autograph, but a picture of him with Omar Vizquel. In the past, he has gotten as many as seven autographs at a time. Some of them will be valuable one day, though no one on the planet has enough money to purchase any of them from Wayne anytime soon.

Of course, many people have an easy explanation–luck. For example, yesterday a highly vocal family of fans of Vizquel cheered until he came over. Wayne fell right in behind them, asking the mother to take the picture. Who could have planned that? Yet here he is with more autographs at 13 than most people get in a lifetime. How come Wayne? Why not the other thousands of fans?

Copyright Wayne P. Noel, 2011. Used by permission.

For one thing, he works a plan. He knows which tickets are the best bets for getting close to the players. He knows which end of the dugout to hang around. He knows how to wait politely and ask politely, and he is not bashful to ask when the time is right.

Is that fair? I mean, don’t any number of other fans do the same things? Don’t those other fans deserve a break? And besides, what makes Vizquel so special anyway? I teach my *** off, certainly a more noble profession than, harumph, baseball. What do I get paid? A tiny fraction of what he makes–for doing something I do every summer for free. Lucky bastard.


Crying “luck” is our last refuge when we can’t see our way clear to act affirmatively. Lady Luck is that tempting mistress who lies sweetly about her ability to influence our lives. She sucks us into a vortex of empty wishes where we spin endlessly, never realizing that it is our own confusion that entraps us–our abdication of effort and discipline in favor of nay-saying and envy. In the end, she devours the best in us, casting off the mangled remains of what was once the most powerful force in the Universe–the human will. We live on, griping at the well-off and plotting to relieve them of their unearned bounty.

There must have been a thousand ways yesterday could have turned out; a thousand paths that could have ended with no autographs. Wayne would have been fine either way. He was just as proud of his efforts as he was the result. I am happy that after years of steady fathering, Wayne is learning that nothing good “just happens.” Call us lucky if you want. Wayne and I know better.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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