Sitting on the Curve

If you’re a baseball fan, you’re familiar with the term “sitting on the fastball.” It usually comes up when the pitcher is “behind” a hitter — maybe three balls and no strikes or two balls and no strikes. At this point, the pitcher really needs a strike, so he’s most likely to throw the pitch in which he has the most confidence, over which he has the most control, the one most likely to find the strike zone.

More often than not, that’s going to be his fastball.

At this point, the hitter is “sitting on the fastball” in the sense that he knows the next pitch is very likely to be a fastball — not a curveball or a change-up or a slider or anything else. And he’ll be right maybe 80 or even 90% of the time.

Unless the pitcher has a 100mph fastball, the fastball is generally the easiest pitch to hit for a Major League player. It might be “fast,” but relatively straight, and hitting it requires timing more than anything else.

In fact, I think it was Ted Williams who once said that hitting is timing and pitching is about disrupting that timing.

If a hitter knows what pitch is coming, he gains a big advantage. (It’s why the Houston Astros cheating scandal is so insidious and why all involved should be permanently banned from the game … but I digress.)

In 2020, we’ve had no opportunity to sit on the fastball. We’re getting nothing but curveballs, change-ups, sliders and more than a few knuckleballs. Things have not settled down enough for us to get into our usual groove, find our customary pace and do what has worked for us in the past. That’s true whether we’re a tackle retailer, a tackle wholesaler, a tackle manufacturer, or even a fishing industry publisher. Our timing has been disrupted.

And since we can’t sit on the fastball like we’ve done for most of our careers, it’s obviously time to prepare for more curveballs, change-ups, sliders and knuckleballs. It’s time to expect the unexpected, to gear up (or gear down) for the next surprise.

It’s a pretty safe bet that the people who do not get surprised by surprises are the ones who get ahead, who stay ahead or who are poised to be the next big success story. We need to be that. We need to see into the future, to guess the next pitch as much as possible and to prepare for the curve.

So what’s the curve? What should we be waiting for in today’s uncertain economic, medical and social climate?

I’d be lying if I told you that I know the answer to that. I don’t know, and I’m distrustful of anyone who tells me that they know. We must all take our best guess from what we see and hear. We can anticipate, and we can prepare. We can take some of our eggs out of that fastball basket and put them into the curveball basket … or the knuckleball basket or whatever. We can look around and see who seems to be succeeding in these challenging times and figure out what they’re doing to stay ahead. Maybe they’re worth emulating, but maybe their fortunes are about to change for the worse.

We can look at who’s really struggling and learn from their mistakes.

But what I think we can’t do is anticipate business as usual. We can’t sit on the fastball and expect normal business in a world where there seems to be no normal anymore.

It’s uncomfortable, and it’s not any fun, but it’s necessary, and it’s important.

If you’re one of those businesses that’s been thriving, congratulations and best wishes moving forward! But beware! What got you through the challenging times we’ve endured so far may not get you through the next phase. Even you need to prepare for the next shift.

After all, it’s hard to hit the curve when you’re sitting on the fastball. We all need to get ready for the curve.