A One-Handed Fistbump

The overcast skies and cool weather in Washington, D.C., on April 31, 2011, could barely restrain the indulgence of a few holes of golf. He deserved it, after all. He had categorically endorsed an unwavering plan of action with an assembly of principle players at an 8:20 AM meeting on the 29th. Next, he had boarded a private plane and flown to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he honored those struggling with the devastation of the tornado four days before. Finally, he had enthusiastically returned to D.C., kissed his wife and two girls upon re-entering the mansion foyer, shared a light family supper, and then attended a more formal dinner with a board of associates. So much activity in such a short time necessitated a conscious coffee break. That and he needed to divert his mind from thinking of the elite team of Navy Seals who would be ascending the grey, concrete walls of Osama Bin Laden’s substantial fortress in Abbotabad the next day, a position of which only he, his generals, and the choice squad of fighters were aware.  Thus, President Barack Hussein Obama II inhaled, swiveled his driver to the right, and followed through, teeing off.

I was able to observe such a polished performance at the turn of the year. Theo Epstein, the Boston Red Sox’ former general manager and currently the new President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs, was being interviewed by a local radio station during lunch hour at the bustling downtown steakhouse where I work. WGN talk show host Brian Noonan, who sat to his right, was quick to introduce his guest before inquiring about the move from Beantown to the City of Big Shoulders. Two minutes later, the readily-answered topic was doffed like a pair of old jeans to approach other, more germane subjects. Meanwhile, I was running around the sunken-in dining room, lifting the empty plates of happy diners, many of whom were wearing Chicago Cubs jerseys and t-shirts, then carrying these to the white-washed dish room in the rear of the restaurant. After three rounds of plate-clearing, I rested against the wood-paneled back wall, listening to my female co-workers swoon over the handsome new face in Chicago sports.

A third of the way into the program, Mr. Epstein was asked an arresting question by Mr. Noonan’s co-host, Dave Kaplan, who sat to the left. It had to do with the new president’s desire to “change the culture of the locker room.” Now, not being a sports fan, this idea perplexed me, so I turned away from the other, lustier conversations and listened. There was talk of pride, conduct, fan relations, and “togetherness”, a branch of familial esteem. Then, these comments turned an unexpected corner and became focused on how losing that culture within one unit can lead to lack of accountability and to rot, eventually. A name was finally tossed out as an example. It was a significant moment that I took in, before returning to the task at hand.

The following morning, I learned that the man who served as the paradigm for this loss of culture within the Chicago Cubs was traded to another team. My breath temporarily stopped as I realized I had witnessed a bravura performance by Mr. Epstein the day before. For, when Mr. Kaplan had asked his creditable question and Mr. Epstein had seamlessly vowed to resolve the troublesome issue, the player was at his Wrigley Field  locker, clearing it out for his replacement.


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