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The baseball player and the job seeker: a parable - February 19th, 2014

The baseball player stepped up to the plate in the first inning. He struck out, swinging at a curve ball. He came up again in the fourth – struck out again on another curve. In the seventh inning, it was the same story: down swinging for a third time. Another curve!

Long game. Interminably long to our batter, y’know? The pitcher had his number, for sure, and wouldn’t relent. Long game.

He was due up third in the bottom of the ninth with the game in a scoreless tie. As the leadoff batter stepped up, our three-time strikeout victim, realizing he might be the last guy up in what was, to this point, a dismal game, walked over to his batting coach and asked, "What have I been doing wrong?"

Coach put his arm around the batter’s shoulder and answered, "Two things. The first is, you're too far back in the batter's box. That guy struck you out on curve balls each time. His curve moves in and down on you, right into your weak zone – inside at the knees. Your power zone is up and in the middle of the plate, right where the ball would be if it didn’t break. So move up on him, one step closer to the mound, and you won't let his curve break so much. You’ll get to it before it breaks so far. You’ll get it where you want it."

Just then, the first batter flied out, and with the second batter stepping up to the plate, our protagonist quickly ran out to the on-deck circle, left there to think about his coach's advice: move one step closer to the mound, don’t let the pitch break so far, don’t let it leave my power zone. Got it.

He repeated this mantra, trying to burn it into his subconscious. One step closer, one step closer, one step closer.

As quickly as the first batter was retired, the second batter popped out on the first pitch, and now our man's last chance for redemption was staring him in the face. Bottom of the ninth, two outs, nobody on, scoreless tie. It was now or never. Show time.

With coach’s words echoing, he stepped into the batter's box and, hardly noticeably, moved one small step closer to the mound. But hey, wait a minute. “Coach said there were two things I did wrong,” he remembered. “What was the other?”

All of a sudden, his trance-like focus on coach’s advice was disturbed. He asked the ump for time, stepped out of the box, and quickly turned and looked for coach in the dugout. Tense as our batter was, he found coach calmly leaning against the dugout wall, arms folded across his chest, smiling an almost Buddha-like smile, like he knew something our batter didn’t know. Coach looked remarkably confident, given a tense, two-out, bottom of the ninth scenario, with a three-strikeout victim up again. Coach gave him a slight, nearly imperceptible nod.

He nodded back and stepped back in the box. As the pitcher wound up, certain his curve would do the trick again, his eyes made contact with the batter's eyes, not noticing, however, that there was a small difference in the distance between them. The pitcher did not notice that one step.

The catcher gave the first sign, as if he had to, but everyone in the stadium knew it was going to be the curve, the same curve that made the batter look bad three straight times. Catcher set his mitt low and inside, same target he set in the first, fourth, and seventh innings.

So, confident, the pitcher wound up and tossed his curve ball again. But this time, instead of landing in the catcher's mitt, the ball landed deep in the right field seats. The crack of the bat was unmistakable: home run. Game over: 1-0.

As our hero circled the bases and jumped into the welcoming arms of his teammates gathered around home plate, he looked into the dugout and spotted his coach at the end of the bench. Moments later, with pandemonium and euphoria giving way to post-game locker room routines, our hero again saw his coach enjoying the scene, still leaning comfortably against the dugout wall, still smiling. Walking over to him, he said, "OK, coach, you said there were two things I was doing wrong. We sure fixed the first one, but what was the second?"

Calmly and softly, knowing the question was on our hero’s mind and that it would come up soon enough, coach smiled and answered, "You waited too long to ask what you were doing wrong."

That, my friends, is the situation with far too many job seekers. The plain lesson from this parable is, find a coach before the bottom of the ninth. Too many job seekers, striking out too many times in the early innings, get into funks because they can’t get out of. They never move that one step closer – or whatever other adjustment(s) they have to make – and their games don’t have quite the same endings. Getting a hit in the first inning changes the game entirely.

Your career is a game of hardball. Who's your coach?

Career Coach Eli Amdur conducts workshops and one-on-one coaching in Job Search, Career Planning, Resumes, and Interviewing. Reach him at or 201-357-5844. Please visit and "like" him at