The appearance of available

hope and catcherAll she wanted was a picture with a baseball player.

All he said was, “I don’t have time for that right now.”

He was sitting in the bullpen. He’s the catcher that helps the relief pitchers warm up. For the first six innings, he sat on the end of the bench. Except when he walked to the dugout and then walked back.

He was anything but busy. He had nothing but time.

Except for a 15-second picture with an 18-year-old.

I know that you are going to say, “but he has to concentrate, he has to stay in the game. If he looked like he was having fun, posing with the fans, flirting with the girls, it would hurt his chances to move up from Class A baseball.”

I agree completely.

But notice that he is sitting right next to the fence where Hope is standing. This new ballpark in Fort Wayne has been created so that fans feel close to the field. It’s not even feeling close to the field; it IS close to the field. The bottom row of seats is at the same level as the playing field. You can touch the players.

You feel like you are part of the game. There is the illusion of closeness, of transparency, of immediacy. During the game, however, it is only an illusion. A physical wall is replaced with a distance.

It would be better, in many ways, to have more of a barrier. It would protect the players from expectations of accessibility.

I guess as a dad, I should be glad. And we did, after all, get our picture.

But I also learned something about seeming to be accessible if I’m really not. Assumed openness disappoints customers…and readers.

13 responses to “The appearance of available

  1. I’ve never understood actions like this. If I were an owner, I’d DEMAND that my players make time for things like this.

    Baseball has always thrived because the players seem like such real people compared to the freaks of nature that play basketball or football. We’re connected.

    Sad to see this guy doesn’t realize that.

  2. You got your picture, just not when you wanted it. I call that successful, and the guy being accessible. Call me in the middle of the night for something and I’ll usually say I’ll get to it in the morning. Am I a dick? I don’t think so.

  3. Dont blame that on the player. They can be fined for signing autograph / taking pictures at certain points during the game. Most of the small league players actually love the attention because they dont always get any compared to the stars…
    I do get your point but its not really the players fault

  4. I think that you all are illustrating my point, even as we try to understand it. At root, it isn’t the player’s fault. At root it isn’t the owner’s fault. At root it isn’t our fault (ours? how could it be ours? Oh, because we expect so much access.)

    At root, this is a consideration of a clash of values: player – focus on game. owner – get people into park. architect – get people close to field. fans – get close to players. baseball – put 18 year olds into the spotlight to handle attention most adults can’t.

    And anyone building something, anyone creating an appearance of something (in this case, availability) has to think through the implications.

    In this case, a simple sign explaining the need to focus would help.

    After the game? The players were very available for interaction, though by then we weren’t interested.

    And, for the record, the franchise does a great job with the overall experience.

  5. I just think you’re crying over nothing. You got what you want in a reasonable amount of time.

    “After the game? The players were very available for interaction, though by then we weren’t interested.”

    I’m glad you were so happy that they gave you a photo, even though you only wanted it during game time. That just shows you are demanding and fickle.

  6. Chris –

    ah, but now the question: how long does it take me to respond to you? How willing am I to continue to converse?

    My post is as much about a culture of being available as opposed to appearing available as it is about that baseball game.

    Many organizations are working hard to have the appearance of availability but are not willing to have the real presence, to be willing to actually be available.

    I fully appreciate the irony that I got the picture that he couldn’t give. I agree that I have the capacity to be demanding and fickle. I agree that I am, in that, a reflection of the current culture of immediacy.

    The answer? Be clear about the boundaries, the actual amount of accessibility that you have.

  7. Jon –

    This comment is inaccurate:

    “He was anything but busy. He had nothing but time.”

    Draw an analogy to just any other office environment. When you’re at work and being paid by an organization you are by definition required to be performing your role that you are paid to perform.

    For a bullpen catcher that is being ready and available for pitchers to warm up. You have to be ready at a moment’s notice. If the manager calls down to get a pitcher going because things are suddenly going south in a game, the bullpen catcher has to be there ready to go. It’s not a game. People’s livelihoods are based on these decisions and events.

    Consider the bullpen catcher as the new admin. At the very bottom of the ladder. But they still need to be doing their job. Maybe changing the water bottle in the kitchen isn’t important to everyone; but it still needs to be done. And people get upset if you’re not doing your job. Same goes for the bullpen catcher.

    If the admin is busy chatting up the FedEx guy don’t think that goes unnoticed by management. Even if the admin is just waiting for a phone to ring or opening mail.

    The experience designer of the ballpark and the architect aren’t to be blamed. Crowds want to be closer, they want a more intimate setting. Many sports have embraced this and as guests into a work (or any) environment we accept that there are certain norms to be observed and in sports there is a barrier that has to be maintained during a game because we are spectators, we are not invited to participate.

    For example, there are fewer more open venues than a golf course. Nothing separates the gallery from Tiger Woods on a given hole. And a lot of his time is spent walking and waiting. But guess what? He doesn’t sign autographs while the other guys are putting, why? Because he’s working and you’re a guest, not a participant in the game. Same with basketball. If you sit court side you don’t mosey down to the end of your team’s bench and ask for an autograph from the players, even the ones that aren’t going to be playing any time soon, for an interaction.

    Same goes for other environments. Just like we don’t talk in movies and we don’t feed the animals at the zoo, there are norms that are observed and in place for a reason at these events.

    I guess my point is that it’s our responsibility to understand the context of the environment that we are in. We can’t be disappointed when an environment doesn’t operate the way we want it to.

  8. Morgan – I could quibble, I think, about the golf analogy – there are golfers who do acknowledge the crowd while walking up the fairway. There are office settings where chatting with the FedEx guy is a great thing (ours, for example).

    Part of the story here is that the park, once it creates the clear accessibility, could help people learn what the parameters are by explaining.

    And the bigger part of the story is this: if you are creating a culture (as we are online, at least) where your values are authenticity and transparency and accessibility, then let everyone know how far you are willing to go, where the limits are.

    Or you will disappoint someone. And someone will, however unjustifiably, respond.

  9. Jon,
    I couldn’t agree more with your comment.

    We can split hairs on the examples but no example is ever perfect. I think there’s a difference between a tip of the cap and and a howdy and a stop and let me get a picture with you. And of course there’s a difference between chatting with the FedEx guy and having it be a detriment to your work. But regardless, I do agree with your bigger point.

    When we’re creating a community or culture or experience, we have to be sure to give people clear clues on what they should expect. Prominent commenting policies, clear disclosure about privacy, etc. are all important parts of that.

    Thanks for your thoughts on the matter!

  10. I find I must periodically give a disclaimer on Facebook that my friends should not take it personally because I don’t do apps there. I always wonder if being on Facebook creates the expectations that one is available to “play” there too.

  11. that, friend Amy, is a very insightful comment. I had never thought about that, but feel the same way.

  12. Wow, I hadn’t come back to read the insightful comments. What strikes me is this: a bunch of people are defending the baseball player. I’m so surprised. Or maybe I’m not.

    Peace.

  13. I think your point is well made. if you are going to be accessible then be accessible.

    I think the honesty here is why this story rings true. In your perception the player wasn’t busy. if he had said ‘look kid i’d love to but we’re not allowed to take pictures now. catch me after the game.’

    honest, open, transparent.