As a woman running a sports facility, I’m often overlooked. Though I hate being called, “the help” or “just the receptionist,” it’s rather nice being able to fly under the radar. There’s a lot tangled up in business ownership, especially if you intend upon doing it the right way. And my husband and I want to do it right, but when you’re mired in the details of pandemic-style business building, it’s easy to forget your “why.” Sure, a secure retirement, building something better than what you’ve seen, working with amazing people, and having a presence in the lives of young players matters. But when you’re submerged in the entrepreneurship acid bath, the “why” needs to reverberate personally.
When I’m at the office, I have the ability to float in and out of the workout facility, unannounced and usually unseen, likely because I’m also a mom. Motherhood grants women with an innate ability to move about with little noise or distraction and pick up on the smallest details. We often lose them, though, those little details, which is sad because sometimes they are utterly amazing. Recently, I was sidetracked from the daily slog by an amazing professional baseball player named Matthew Swain.
It’s hard to miss Matthew, he’s a striking guy — handsome with a boyish grin, piercing eyes, and towering height. Hailing from Stone Mountain, Georgia, Matthew is currently in COVID purgatory as a minor leaguer with the Minnesota Twins organization. He cannot formally play his beloved sport so he does what any fierce competitor does while being forced to pause – he works tirelessly, without wavering in his focus.
My morning arrivals are usually met by spilled coffee exiting my car and the sounds of Matthew practicing on the mound. At 6’7”, his legs are taller than I am in entirety. Watching him pitch is like witnessing a graceful explosion. I have to admit that I’ve never loved baseball, though my son does. But, one day while watching Matthew pitch and amid the mental juggernaut I was running, my son looked at me and said, “Shhhhh. Be quiet mom….listen to him. Listen to his breathing and the sound the ball makes.” And in that moment, the sport that I’d watched with little awe, became completely breathtaking.
Matthew completely stopped my world from spinning. The balance sheets, the attorneys, and landlord issues became non existent. For 15 minutes, I was rendered unable to break away. With each pitch, Matthew presents himself as if he’s reckoning with something far bigger than he his, something otherworldly or almost spiritual. His breathing slows and becomes somewhat mechanical; his eyes fixate on their target as he physically readies himself. Matthew takes a final deep breath and then it’s as if his body explodes – glove raises, throwing hand back, and his ball takes flight in a millisecond. The sequence is a conflict of slow motion and fast forward. Matthew is so tall that his legs nearly come off the pitching mound as he’s reached full extension and releases the ball; it’s a beautiful mixture of gazelle and jaguar. And I’ll be damned….my son was right. I could hear it. The ball. That close, you can hear it slicing through the air in a glorious harmony of physics.
From that moment on, I’ve made it my mission to extend a hello to Matthew. I also stop to watch him. He’s become an anchor in my daily routine. He greets me with smiles and we’ve had chats about the state of the world around us. Politics, COVID, racism, and more. He’s articulate, thoughtful, and substantive. Deeply substantive. By all accounts, the people that raised Matthew did it right – on every level. He’s kind, funny, intelligent, and can hold a meaningful conversation with a complete mom-stranger picking his brain about baseball in a ways he’s likely never anticipated. Matthew is young enough to be my son – most of the people that come through here are. After many conversations, I can tell you that he’s what every mother prays her newborn child to be – strong, kind, resilient, hardworking, articulate, and focused.
Entrepreneurs will tell you that building businesses is embedded in our DNA, that it’s who we are. We build what we know and we find experts to help us figure out what we don’t. Matthew has unwittingly become one of the baseball experts in my arsenal; there are plenty, each of whom has a unique focus. As far as Matthew is concerned, I’m honed in on his experience at Development First. I watch him for what works, what doesn’t, and for ways Development First can continue to separate itself from the masses. In watching Matthew, I’m learning another aspect of what full-time athletes need to do their job.
I’m not a scout, I’m actually rather new to understanding baseball as a sport. Baseball as a business, now that’s a different story. Personally, though, I think Matthew is nothing short of phenomenal, and in the world of high-stakes athletics, it’s long-past time people look at what it takes to get to the top. What it really takes. Take a long hard look at the Matthews of the world and be grateful they are there to walk the path and show kids today what athleticism really looks like. When COVID ends, take the time to go out and support those athletes, attend minor league games, hit the concession stands up for a cold beer and hotdog. Are these treats overpriced? Perhaps, but beers and hotdogs are a crucial component in the ability to pay minor league players. Whatever Matthew becomes, it will be something remarkable, of that I am sure. But for right now, the craft be pursues is nothing short of an artform.
So, to you, Matthew, you’ve reminded me of my “why,” and on the hardest days of business ownership this is a most priceless gift. For your role in this journey, I am entirely grateful. To Matthew’s family, friends, coaches, and support crew – you’ve done it right. All of it.