Lessons learned from the baseball field

In baseball, when a batter steps in against a tough pitcher, he or she has a daunting challenge. Depending on the speed of the pitches, the hitter can have less than half a second to recognize the ball, make a decision to swing, and then react. Fortunately, most players have spent years honing their skills, so their athletic reactions are ingrained. Batters also know that if they fail, another teammate will be there to pick up the slack.

Successful hitters must also know about disruptions and how to react to the unexpected. They might initially expect a fastball but, when a curveball comes, they must be ready to change course in a split second.

Thousands of Rakuten employees got to see this hard work, skill and perseverance in action on April 19, as they took in a professional baseball game between the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Orix Buffaloes at Tokyo Dome as part of Rakuten Group Day.

The Rakuten Golden Eagles playing the Orix Buffaloes at Tokyo Dome
The Rakuten Golden Eagles playing the Orix Buffaloes at Tokyo Dome

The game went back and forth, with the two teams battling for the lead. The contest eventually went to extra innings and, although the Eagles lost, their “never say die” attitude clearly impressed the crowd of spectators. Their teamwork work did, too.

Hard work, perseverance and dealing with disruptions are also hallmarks of corporate life. For a successful manager or employee, “curveballs” can come from many directions. Like baseball players, they must be ready to react.

Also like in the sporting world, corporate success requires teamwork. Everyone must pull their weight, much like on the baseball diamond, where each player contributes in a different way. One player might be the ace pitcher. Another might be called upon to lay down a sacrifice bunt or hit a home run. In baseball, as in corporate life, everyone can make a unique contribution.

In a large company, teamwork and self sacrifice are important attributes, according to Rakuten’s Tomoya Ishikawa of the creative and web design department, who also attended the April 19 game. When asked what lessons he thought could be learned from baseball, he said, “having the same goal as a team, and trying to achieve that as a team.”

A winning attitude is another lesson, according to Yasafumi Hirai, Rakuten’s executive vice-president and CIO. He said fans at Rakuten Group Day were able to learn a “winning spirit.”

This is the seventh year the company has held Rakuten Group Day, and Narumi Watanabe has attended every one. The group manager of internal communications said another major benefit of the event is that employees can connect with colleagues from other parts of the company.

“The business departments can often operate separately from one another,” she said. “But a lot of employees can learn about synergy through this event, and we can also get a sense of the customer’s mindset.”

“It really builds a bond,” added Hiroto Ohka, an executive officer and business manager of Rakuten’s mobile business unit. “Everybody is working on the same page, cheering for one team. It’s a fantastic experience.”

Editor’s note: Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles

The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles is a baseball team based in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, that competes in the Japanese Nippon Professional Baseball Pacific League. The team was formed in 2005 and is owned by Rakuten. It won the Japan Series in 2013.

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