A “warning track” in baseball is that wide strip of dirt that separates the sprawling turf of the outfield from the home run fence and the stands. It serves as a warning to outfielders drawing a bead on fly balls or chasing down grounders that the fence sits just steps away. Players can get so focused on the ball that occasionally they crash into the fence and injure themselves.
Supposedly, the name comes from the early days of Yankee Stadium when track and field events were held there. That explanation doesn’t sound so far fetched, since I remember monuments to Yankee greats in deep center field that outfielders would run into. The ball would also get caught up in the monuments, bouncing around like a pinball. See “Monument Park (Yankee Stadium).”
I have been thinking of baseball’s warning track as a kind of liminal zone between life and death (i.e., a home run or extra base hit versus a caught ball or out). This liminal zone includes the fence, since a ball that hits it could be live or dead, depending on the play.
The warning track gives outfielders a chance to prepare for either possibility and make the necessary adjustments, physical and psychological. It tells them they are about to hit the wall, literally. Of course, the warning may come mere milliseconds before the hit, but that’s part of the ritualistic fun.
This thinking has led me to consider other ritual acts that serve as a kind of warning about liminal zones, although they do not involve life and death. I have a specific one in mind, and, although you may think it silly, it takes on greater meaning each day at the office. Truthfully, I still work from home, as most of my coworkers do, but it’s still office work, is it not?
I’m talking about Zoom. I have more virtual meetings than I care to admit, and each time Zoom acts as a warning that I am about to enter a liminal zone with the wall of retirement just steps away. I should tell you that when people ask what I plan to do when I retire I tell them “work.” They look at me funny, but that’s because I plan to devote more time to writing, which, according to some readers, would be a welcome goal, especially if I work on choosing my topics wisely (What, you don’t like reading about subway seats?). In any case, I am about to hit that wall and Zoom has served as my warning track. How? In two major ways.
First, it reminds me that I have little energy anymore for meetings, especially when some people like to meet for an hour and even beyond. I’m sorry, but the only thing that should run into triple digits is the temperature in Vegas. I’ve been to weddings that didn’t last that long. Maybe meetings are the new weddings. I’ll have to think about that for another post. There are, after all, the equivalent of groomsmen and bridesmaids. Flower girls and ring bearers may take some thinking.
Second–this is where ego plays a role–I see myself in comparison with the other people on the call, the oldest of whom are usually Gen Xers (41-56). That’s close to me, but still no cigar. In fact, I often have children older than the people on the call. The other day I logged on late to a meeting with a prospective corporate client and found myself face-to-face with a twelve year old (see On Seeing a Photo of Myself).
Seriously, I don’t mean to belittle. Everyone looks that age to me, and when they turn out to be vp’s or married with children (or both), I just nod pleasantly and wish them the best. I try not to make their lives any more difficult while at the same time I thank God that I have had some success in curbing the tongue. Ask me how long that took.
I don’t know how much longer the workplace will include Zoomers to Boomers, but diversity ought to include age as a fundamental factor in job performance, efficiency, communication, and morale, especially within teams. It’s part of corporate culture that businesses today need to address.
Meanwhile, I decided to use an older headshot of myself for all internal and external communications. You know, because I don’t want to go crashing through any walls.
Image credits: feature by Phil Goodwin. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”