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  • Prologue:
    I came out of my month-long executive training with a "leadership challenge" I had developed there. It had to be a serious stretch, and mine was way beyond that. It was ridiculous - far beyond my pay grade and position for me to be able to have any kind of an impact on making it happen. But, I had a lot of passion for it, and implementation would have major public health implications. Everyone at the training institute loved it, and I was encouraged to pursue my challenge.

    Three months back on the job, implementation of it really seemed hopeless. I had just dreamed way too big. "What was I smoking down there", I wandered? My regular job had so many day-to-day challenges, I just threw myself into them and forgot all about the big challenge, declaring it officially "dead-in-the-water" to my executive coach.

    A funny thing happened to it on the way to the "dead-dream graveyard"... events conspired, the planets aligned, a new administration came into the White House, and suddenly - my idea grew legs and took off! Before I knew it, I was on this inter-agency workgroup to implement my challenge, and the next thing I knew, I was being asked to speak at a major White House public meeting and listening session, all about my challenge. Kathy took one look at my ratty old suits a couple days before the event, and immediately said "We're going to Men's Wearhouse".

    The event was amazing. Someone was "tweeting" about me before I knew what that even meant! I was to be the final speaker, following two Cabinet Secretaries, 4 Senators, 3 Congressmen, and 4 colleagues on the working group. I had to follow all of them.

    My agency second-in-command had said, on our way to the event - "Pete, you're the last speaker before we break into the Listening Sessions, so you really need to nail your speech and set the tone for the sessions." (No pressure!) I apparently did really well - all of the major players were there, and I got a lot of positive feedback. It was a career highlight, no doubt. I had this "instant celebrity" thing going on in the hallways at work for the next few weeks - "Pete spoke at the White House - wow, how did THAT happen?" "Who knew?" It all seemed a bit unreal to me - almost like it had been someone else who did that. A strange sensation.

    The Story:
    Ah, but life does have its way of bringing us back down to earth when we need to be, doesn't it? Three weeks later, on a day when I was wearing my "White House suit" to work, I had a softball game that night after work. Roger was meeting me at the metro parking lot, and we were car-pooling it to our game. I'd planned to do a quick change in my van, but was parked right by the bus stop, and a lady was standing there waiting for a bus, so I figured I'd change at the ballpark. Roger showed up, and I stowed my gear in his car and we headed out to the ball field, about 10 miles away.

    When we got there, I realized I'd left my baseball pants in my car back at the metro - Oh crap! I hoped we'd have enough players show up that I could just manage the team, and not play. Only 10 showed - I'd have to play. It was raining - maybe the game will get postponed. The umpire was bound and determined to get that game in. Damnit! I had to play - in my White House suit pants. "I'm not going to slide" I announced.

    I was doing o.k. through the 3rd inning, just slightly muddy pant-leg bottoms. I was up at bat. The field was really getting bad, as the rain worsened. I smacked a hard grounder to shortstop, and took off running down the line towards first base to try to beat out the throw to first base. The ball and I both arrived at first base simultaneously on a bang-bang play. The bag was wet and slick, and the first baseman's foot slipped across the base, right into my running path.

    Running at full speed, there was no time to react - as I tripped over his spikes, I was sent hurdling through the air headfirst, about 12 feet past the bag, where I landed forehead first in a big puddle of mud! My glasses were buried somewhere in the glop, a big welt immediately began to raise up on my forehead that I'd landed on. Adding insult to injury, the umpire called me "out"!

    Beneath the brown mud pack that was now my face, glowed a bright red rage as I momentarily completely lost my mind! Fortunately, my guys kept me in check so I didn't do anything stupid...well, any more stupid than playing softball in the mud and rain in my $600 suit pants. My suit pants!!! Holy crap! They had been blue pin-striped - they were now a completely brown!

    At least I was able to play the rest of that game without worrying about them - they were completely shot to hell already, what else could happen to them. I dove for a ball in right field, sliding on the wet grass. I didn't even care anymore!

    Next day, I took the suit to the cleaners, and with a sheepish shrug just said, "do what you can with the muddy pants, o.k.?". The cleaner guy just looked at me and said, ""No problem!" Through the miracle of dry cleaning, that suit came out looking like the new, $600 suit it had been 3 weeks before!

    Epilogue:
    It took me about a year, and many subsequent wearings of that suit, to tell this story to Kathy. My new team, the "Diamond Dogs", is playing on that field this Wednesday. All the other teams know it as "Wakefield Park, Field #4". To anyone who was there that fateful night, it is and always will be known affectionately as "Face-Plant Field", in honor of my 12 foot head-first dive into the mud in my white house suit pants!
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