The story of the little girl, a baseball and what really sticks

A long while back, I heard some guy tell this story on the radio. I never really caught his name or the reason he was telling the story, but it left a lasting impression on me. So in the ancient tradition of storytelling (including a little artistic license for each subsequent teller), I’m passing it on to you.

I’ve always had a love for baseball. So when my daughter was born, as some parents are known to do, I looked forward to the time when I could share that passion with her and–just maybe–inspire the same in her. From the time that she was quite young, we would pass many a summer Sunday afternoon snuggled up on the couch together eating popcorn and watching baseball games on television. As she grew a bit older, we added the ritual of going out in the backyard to play catch after the TV game had ended. So it should be no surprise that I looked forward to taking her to see a live, big-league game someday.

As it so happened, a new minor-league baseball team came to our town when my daughter was about seven years old, so we made big plans to go to our first real baseball game together. When the day finally came, it turned out to be perfect weather: clear blue skies, 75 degrees and a gentle breeze. We had great seats on the third baseline. The field was a vibrant green and perfectly groomed. I eagerly pointed out the position each player was playing and together we cheered each hit, diving catch and homerun. We shared hot dogs and soda and peanuts. We sang along while the organist played “Take me out to the ballgame”. And to top it off, our team won.

As we headed across the parking lot to our car after the game was over, an elderly gentleman approached us with a baseball in his hand and turned to my daughter. “Excuse me,” he said, “but I caught this foul ball today and I come to these games all of the time, so I already have a few. Would you like to have it?” With wide eyes, my daughter gratefully accepted the ball and we both thanked the gentleman as he turned to go. It was the ending to a perfect day.

Years later, when my daughter was home from college, we were reminiscing about things we had done when she was a kid. I recalled my fond memory of that first baseball game we attended together and, out of curiosity, asked her what she remembered about it. She immediately responded with, “I remember that old guy that gave me the baseball!” Not the game itself, not the shiny new ballpark, not the players or the hot dogs or the organ music, but some random guy we bumped into in the parking lot.

Which made me think: sometimes the most meaningful things about the events we go to end up being experiences that weren’t necessarily on the program—it’s the personal interactions we have with other people who are attending the same event. Many times those exchanges lead to unforeseen learning, opportunities and lasting connections—all unexpected benefits of just being in close proximity with people who may start out as strangers, but they share a common interest with us.

It occurs to me that this is certainly an under-valued aspect of live events. And as experience designers, it’s worth giving some though to how we can build events that will facilitate those connections that lead to unpredictable but memorable conversations–to increase the chances that each attendee will take a few new “baseballs” home with them when they leave. What’s your favorite story about how you’ve seen this happen?


About Peter Straube

educator, event producer, experience designer, and explorer View all posts by Peter Straube

5 responses to “The story of the little girl, a baseball and what really sticks

  • Joan Eisenstodt

    A random act of kindness isn’t it? A chance encounter that adds a life-long lesson. And so it is we call it “networking” when we really mean allowing people to connect in ways that are meaningful for them. WE have to provide the right setting – the time — literally the amount of time — to help this happen.

    My examples have all been because the lights were on (v. low or almost off) and the rooms were set in ways that allowed participants to see each other, to catch that “meaningful look” when an idea is sparked in someone else. The person at the front (facilitator or speaker) didn’t squelch conversations that bubbled up. And I was observant to see who was being engaged by ideas and then either passed a note (really!) or quickly found those persons after a session to talk. Friendships and professional relationships were born.

    Real experience designers are aware of all around them and create many different places for connections.

    Thanks for starting this interesting thread.

    • Peter Straube

      Joan, I like your re-frame of “networking” to mean “allowing people to connect”. And that’s one of the fundamental powers of events that I’ve been writing about here! I’m also intrigued by the spread of event apps that are facilitating the process of “finding” people who are engaged by the same ideas that we are. Still room for development there.

      Your comment about watching your audience to see who either “passed a note” or quickly found others to talk with afterwards reminds me of my experiences with teaching in the college classroom; I’m sometimes ambivalent about students having side conversations during a class session (same goes for live-Tweeting, I suppose, although college students aren’t much into that so far). What I’ve noticed is that those students may be missing what’s being said in the moment and might lose the thread of the conversation, BUT–most often they are talking about something that was just said…they’re engaged and processing the information in a way that is personally interesting to them. Managing that balance can be tricky, but I’ve learned it’s not something to totally discourage. Maybe passing notes in class isn’t such a bad thing after all!

  • Joan Eisenstodt

    With due respect to my friend, Susan RoAne (The Mingling Maven and fan of networking), I’ve found the term to be so outdated or misused or both. “Networking”, as practiced at most meetings, is usually done over drinks and food in rooms that are too noisy for any conversation and w/o sufficient seating for those who need to or want to. Breaks between sessions are too short (sometimes only 15 mins.) and there is rarely somewhere convenient to sit down and talk. We have speakers during meals so there goes that time. AND then we wonder why people are frustrated!

    I like the idea of apps that connect us; I prefer serendipitous connections from a glance, a shared idea, an overheard conversation.

    Classrooms – and meeting sessions – as we now know them are tricky. Often any kind of interaction with others is discouraged and that, to me, is not good for those random connections. I also think we need to help adults learn that it’s ok to talk with strangers — that in many situations, one will learn and may have, like your daughter did, a life-changing encounter.

    Let’s stop being so rigid in what we do!

  • Joan Eisenstodt

    One more thing: Open Space Technology really does encourage those encounters and conversations. We need to use it more and use it better.


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