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Reading the Room

Out of the Park: Reading the Room – Joel Goldberg Media

Newsletter / May 31, 2023

Welcome back to another edition of the Out of the Park Newsletter. Reading the room is a skill I practice every day. I speak about it often with the audiences I keynote to, but it’s even more important at ballparks. The season can be long and is fraught with highs and lows. Whatever part of the cycle players are in, I remember my personal mantra: Don’t say or do anything that will make players want to run the other way.

Speaking of MLB clubhouses, one of my all-time favorite athletes to cover was Raul Ibanez. He joined the Kansas City Royals for a second stint in 2014 as a 42-year-old, part-time player. At the time, he filled a father-figure role on the team. And after reading the room during one particular slump, decided to lead a players only meeting that gave his teammates a reason to believe in themselves.

His speech was so inspiring that it rallied the Royals to end a 29-year playoff drought. I tell the complete story in my book, Small Ball Big Results, in the aptly titled chapter Reading the Room. But the entire experience begged two great questions: When is the right time to hold a meeting to address a concern? And will the message be received?

reading the room

“You can’t trick the room,” Ibanez responded to my questions. “The room will figure you out. That’s why I think it’s really important to be authentic and to spend time getting to know people, listening to them and observing them before you make changes.”

The crux of his message focused on the young Royals team underestimating the great amount of talent it possessed. “These guys were all winners. It was just getting them together and having a collective vision,” Ibanez told me. “They did all the work.”

Many years later, I asked Raul more about his speech on that July afternoon. The message and the theme of the meeting was clear. If they could see themselves from the opposing dugout the way that he did, they would understand how great they were.

He continued, “You guys have an opportunity to do something legendary. You have an opportunity to do something extraordinary. You have an opportunity to do something that’s going to have an impact on millions of lives.”

Reading the room is about feel. By dialing into the energy of his surroundings, he found the precisely right moment to challenge his teammates to dig deeper. As it turns out, it resonated, and the team went on to realize its potential with two straight World Series appearances.

It’s a skill that’s not exclusive to baseball or its clubhouses. It’s about knowing when to identify the feeling that will maximize its impact…inside and Out of the Park.

Stadium Standout

reading the room

We visited two excellent venues during a long road trip in May. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of indoor stadiums, as I have stated in this space before. Those with retractable roofs are tolerable when they’re open, but when they’re closed, the environment feels stale and stuffy.

reading the room

There are two exceptions to this: T-Mobile Park in Seattle and Miller Park in Milwaukee. Both manage to maintain an outdoor feel, even when inside, thanks to bright light and fresh air that pour through the window paneling.

Padres fans at San Diego’s Petco Park, on the other hand, rarely have to worry about the weather. With one of the most beautiful climates in the country, that ballpark experience is regularly one of my favorites. In fact, I often debate ranking it higher or lower than Oracle Park in San Francisco.

There really is no wrong answer when it comes to those two. Oracle is on the Bay, Petco is in the heart of the vibrant Gaslamp Quarter. The Padres are also stacked with superstars that have made them an early  World Series contender, giving the stadium an electric atmosphere that is hard to beat at this point in the season. We caught them during a slump which fortunately did not diminish attendance, rather just an opportunity for the boo birds to make their presence known. But regardless, it felt like a literal trip to the beach, and will always make my top ten in baseball, if not five.

Local Flavor 

The Royals had a lot of travel in May. But in a break from the norm, instead of focusing on one specific restaurant or destination, I’m giving the top honor to an entire state: Wisconsin.

reading the room

People often think I’m from Wisconsin, which is understandable. I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also worked my first four years of television in the Badger State: Two in a small town in the Northwoods called Rhinelander, and two more in Madison. The people of Wisconsin, known fondly as Cheeseheads, are some of the most fun, hospitable people you will ever meet.

reading the room

On the whole, they love their sports, communities, and naturally, their beer. So a day off in the Dairy State meant a chance to escape with a longtime friend of mind to his cabin about an hour outside of Milwaukee. Along the way, we came across countless watering holes, and if you find yourself in the area, I implore you to stop at any of them. New Glarus’ Spotted Cow is a must, along with any of the famous Fright Night Fish Fry locales.

Mom and Pop bars are everywhere you look, and a look is also usually nearby. The experience in my old stomping grounds rejuvenated me in the best of ways, minus the copious fried food calories.

Rounding the Bases Rewind 

This month, my favorite podcast is actually more of a throwback, inspired by an encounter by two very special people I’m proud to call my friends.

Jason Benetti is without a doubt one of my favorite people in sports, and almost anyone who encounters him feels the same. He is the White Sox announcer, a basketball play-by-play man and also a national football announcer. He happens to have cerebral palsy, but his tremendous popularity has nothing to do with that. Instead, it has everything to do with his off the charts skill and acute ability to build connections by reading the room with curiosity and interest.

reading the room

Jack Weafer is another young man I consider a friend. We’ve gotten to know either through years of seeing each other at Kauffman Stadium. And I can honestly say he knows more about baseball than anyone I have ever met. Like Jason, he also happens to live with cerebral palsy. So when he asked if I could facilitate an introduction, I was more than happy to help.

To no surprise, Jason gladly agreed, and the two spent half an hour together in enthusiastic discussion about baseball, broadcasting and everything in between. Never once did Jason disengage to check the time or suggest he was ready to move along. And as a witness to this encounter, it reminded me what a treasure he is. It was this informal meeting that gave way to my favorite interview of the month, even if it did air more than a year ago.

If you haven’t already, listen here, as well as to all of the newer interviews released during the month of May:

John Kolhoff

Jy Maze

Mary Messner

Dr, Shane Schaffer

Ed O’Malley

Erin Christensen

Mary Esselman

Dr. Brian Davidson

Don’t miss new episodes released every Monday and Thursday, available wherever you get your podcasts.

Would you or someone you know make a great guest on Rounding the Bases?

Apply Today

Dugout Dialogue 

Lorenzo Cain is nothing short of a legend in Kansas City. He was an integral part of the Royals’ championship runs in 2014 and 2015. He’s also the first of many players who will be celebrated as they begin to hang up their bats as we near the ten year anniversaries of those seasons.

reading the room

In May, Lo Cain returned to Kauffman on a one-day contract so that he could retire as a Kansas City Royal. He was known for his big personality and even bigger smile, which made reading the room easy to do. Usually he tried to avoid the spotlight, but it was nearly impossible as someone who was consistently a part of the highlight reels, both offensively and defensively. Cain was a modest player who was often described as the heartbeat of the team. He preferred to remain in the background when possible, so I had a simple rule for getting to him when it was obvious he needed to be interviewed: Let the other guys speak, and don’t wear him out.

On May 6th, he was honored on the field in an emotional ceremony that was filled with tears. It was different than in the past because this time around he soaked up every bit of the attention. While flashing that golden smile, Jeff Montgomery and I sat down with the man called Lo-Lo to to reflect on the many memories made during his time as a Royal, and it will endure as one of my favorite interviews of the year.

Also be sure to check out this month’s interview with Casey Wright, the President of Chief of Staff Kanas City. We discuss the impact of reading the room and how it lends to success, no matter what industry you are in.

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

People often ask if I speak during the baseball season. To their surprise, the answer is yes! Of course my calendar is less flexible so it takes some extra coordination to schedule around games and team travel. But I always try to make it work. I keynoted to Atlas Roofing for the second time in three years in May.

reading the room

Atlas flew members of its Human Resources team from across the country to San Antonio. I kicked-off this multi-day event on a Monday morning with a keynote on Small Ball Big Results. Then I hightailed it back to Kansas City for the pregame show that afternoon. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bit stressful, but the great people and culture at Atlas made it all worthwhile. And I was proud to participate in such an impactful event.

I look forward to the following engagements with incredible groups over the next several months:

Securian Financial Group – Nashville, TN

Johnson Country Community College – Overland Park, KS

SHRM Kansas – Overland Park, KS

Wire Reinforcement Institute – Naples, FL

If you are interested in booking me to work with your organization, please contact my speaking manager, Charlotte Raybourn.

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