Knock it out of the park

Oct 09, 2022

If you swing for the fence, remember the fans, watch for curveballs, and rally your team, your firm will be successful.

Bottom of the ninth. Full count. Two outs. Bases loaded. McNally steps up to the plate. The windup. The pitch – and the crowd goes wild!

Every child who steps on that hallowed diamond knows this scenario. It’s every backyard, every sandlot, every kid’s dream. All those feelings came flooding back to me as I stood on the mound of Powder Springs Park, the very field where I grew up playing ball. Only this time, as the memories rushed back, I was holding a set of design plans in my hand, beginning a journey to re-design some of the park where I developed my love for the game.

From this park – through high school and travel-ball, all the way to Division I – baseball defined my life. Plans quickly changed when a blown elbow and a love for math steered me toward a career in civil engineering. It was time to hang up the glove and spikes. Standing on the field again that day I realized that we never lose the dreams and character we developed playing under those lights, and it’s these ideals that still drive my designs to this day. So, here are a few of those lessons:

  1. Swing for the fence. If you’ve played baseball, you know the best time to hit one out of the park is early in the count because that’s when you get the best pitches to hit (plus, who really wants to bunt anyway?). It’s no different with a park project. Come out with your best foot forward. Don’t go into the meeting telling the client what’s affordable, or what seems most practical, or what’s easiest for your project budget. Step up to the plate, grip it, and rip it. In other words, dream big and think outside the box (or the fence) with your project.
    Going above and beyond and paying close attention to detail is what sets you apart. If the game was played by just pure talent, I would’ve never won a game. It was the preparation and attention to detail that allowed me to be successful. I use this strategy in engineering as I prepare for a meeting, drawing from past experiences.
    Of course, if you’ve ever watched a baseball game, you know even the best players don’t hit a home run every time they’re up to bat. But they still step up to the plate. Don’t let the fear of striking out stop you from swinging. Mistakes happen, it’s part of all aspects of life, but if you run from it and always leave the bat on your shoulder, it will never take you anywhere. Learn from your mistakes and take another swing.
  2. It’s all about the fans. There is a lot of pride in design, but I try to never set my goals for the project above that of my clients and end-users – because, in the end, it’s all about them. When I begin to work on a park project, or any project for that matter, I always envision how different users will interact with, and throughout, the space. To create a place that helps people create memories and feel welcomed, I recommend considering ways to incorporate creative placemaking into the design. For example, secluded areas for quiet conversations, wide pathways to accommodate a family, or lighting that creates a safe environment. Make your bathrooms easy to access and maintain. Or, design places with unique architecture, local public art displays, or distinctive signage that encourages photos and memories (and marketing for your community).
  3. Watch out for curveballs. Greg Maddux is the best pitcher the world has ever seen. Did he throw fastballs all day? No! There will always be curveballs, and I like to identify those early and plan for them. To do this, meet with your client and develop a risk register to help avoid striking out on a job. Questions to ask during this phase include:
    1. What are their concerns?
    2. What could delay construction (permitting, land acquisition, public engagement, politics, etc.)?
    3. What may increase costs?
  4. At Croy, we work to develop plans early in the project process in case we encounter the unexpected: large amounts of rock, bad soil, or high construction costs. If you plan to hit the curve, you’ll be ready to swing as soon as it leaves the pitcher’s hand.
  5. Rally the team. You can’t do it alone. In baseball you’re relying on the other eight guys out there with you on the field to win the game. And don’t forget the rally caps and cheers coming from the dugout, too. From the parks director and his team, surveyors, engineers, architects, and contractors, we all work together in unison toward the ultimate goal of getting the job done. This means communication and collaboration are key to bringing a project to life.
    At the end of the day, we have to remember that a run is a run, and a win is a win. A sacrifice bunt is just as good as a base hit, and creating teamwork within stakeholders helps everyone to check egos at the door and remember the point of the game.
  6. Love the game. When I left the game, I thought my days with baseball outside of spectating were over, but who knew getting into civil engineering would get me right back into it? Designing parks and baseball fields where I spent the majority of my childhood life has been such a unique and unbelievable opportunity; it has kept that love of the game burning inside me. I got to dust off that old glove and slip right back into those stinky cleats.
    My college debut was a memorable one – from first pitch to last with a burst of adrenaline and no runs while I was on the mound. I’ll never forget it. These are the memories I hold on to as I design parks. I think of other young aspiring players making memories with their teammates, coaches, and fans. The rush of knowing scouts could be watching you. The playful cheers in the distance of little siblings on the playground and by the concession stand. Can you see it all now? A park is so much more than just grass and dirt. It’s memories. Life lessons. A lifestyle, even. Some families spend their whole summer at ballparks. That’s not to be taken lightly.

If we swing for the fence, remember the fans, watch for curveballs, and rally our team, we will be successful. Because that’s what the game is all about. And I love it.  

Scott McNally, PE, is a site development department manager at Croy. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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