By Cam Mather
I recently watched the movie “Moneyball” and I thought it was a great movie. I really like Brad Pitt. I think he’s underrated as an actor because he’s so darn good looking. Sometimes we assume that good-looking people aren’t as intelligent or as talented as people who are less attractive, which is something I can empathize with… …. I’m just kidding, honestly.
If you haven’t seen Moneyball yet, it’s about the Oakland A’s general manager’s attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget. I have a weird relationship with baseball. For the last 14 years since moving to the woods I have had absolutely nothing to with it. I haven’t watched a single game. I haven’t even watched a sportscaster reporting on the scores.
But 20 years ago it ruled my life. I started Aztext Electronic Publishing with my cousin Dave who was more interested in sports than I was. We were approached by a customer about running a computerized “fantasy baseball” business. He had entered into an agreement with a company in California for the Canadian rights to their game. People had been running fantasy leagues for decades but they had been very basic. “Scoresheet Baseball” was much more sophisticated. Customers joined in leagues and held a draft, where they picked their dream lineup from players in the major leagues. Each week they sent us their batting and pitching lineup. And each week we downloaded the stats from Major League Baseball and the computer “played” games for them. The computer program looked at each batter and pitcher lineup, and based on their actual performance that week in the big leagues, determined the likely outcome of the match up.
Customers loved it. When we first began running it, Dave was able to complete the work involved in a few hours. But as more players joined it became more and more work. Dave eventually left Aztext to pursue other opportunities, which left me running Scoresheet Baseball on my own. Well, not exactly on my own since I often convinced Michelle to help me to input the lineups that we received each week from the players.
Then on Monday nights I would download the stats and run the games. This was often problematic with lots of errors and stress. Once the games were finished I had to print out the results for each customer. Each set of results was about 7 pages long. We printed these on a dot matrix printer. You might not remember dot matrix printers, but they were loud and they used a “tractor feed ” and continuous feed paper. Tractor-feed printers have two sprocketed wheels on either side of the printer that fit into holes in the paper. As the wheels revolve, the paper is pulled through the printer. In other words, they often got jammed!
Eventually we needed to have two printers going for 18 hours straight, which meant that they had to print all night. If I got the games printing by 10 or 11 pm I was lucky. At first I was running the business from an office 10 minutes from home and so I often had to get up in the middle of the night to drive in and check the printing. Too often I would discover that the paper had jammed, or run out, and I couldn’t afford to lose too many hours of downtime because our customers were so crazy for their results that we’d hear about it if they received their printouts later than usual. Once all the games were printed we then had to separate the results into a report for each player, tear off the tractor feed strips from each side, fold them and put them into an envelope. We also had to stick an address label on the envelope and run them through a mailing machine. I’d have several boxes of these envelopes to take to the post office where I would try to get them out in Tuesday’s mail.
Like so many things I do it was a stupid amount of work, and an enormous amount of stress. But I continued to convince myself that someday there’d be a big payday with this concept. We added a fantasy football game and a hockey game to try and increase revenue but eventually I realized that it was way too much work for the payback and so I sold it back to our partner for a ridiculously small amount of money, given the amount of work that I had put into it.
Eventually I had moved the business back into the house and I can still remember laying in bed on Monday nights only half asleep so that I’d be able to hear when one of the printers firing away in the basement had stopped. Business people do some pretty stupid things sometimes with the hope of a payback down the road.
I think this is why my lack of interest in baseball has become so complete. I was traumatized by the whole experience. It seemed great when I was involved in it. We even went to a couple of major league games. As I recall we had great seats right beside the field for a Toronto Blue Jays/Kansas City Royals game and when a foul ball rolled right by us my 7’8” cousin leaned over the boards and grabbed it. Of course as soon as he grabbed it we were mortified thinking maybe it wasn’t foul.
The compelling thing about “Moneyball” is that the character played by Brad Pitt decides to try a new approach to managing the Oakland A’s on their limited budget. He is mocked and criticized but he doesn’t back down. His job is on the line but he stays committed. As he says to his Assistant Manager, they’re “all in”.
It seems to be the way my life has worked out. While running Scoresheet it dominated my life. When we moved off the grid, there was no going half way. There was no electricity grid to fall back on if things didn’t work out. Sink or swim, it’s amazing what you’re capable of when you remove the safety net.
And now at 52 I’m gearing up to run a CSA and supply a dozen local families with produce from my garden this summer. It’s not like selling vegetables at a stand in town. Last summer, if people didn’t buy my stuff I just took it home, no harm done. With a CSA there are expectations. It’s quite terrifying actually. But after dealing with civil servants recently I’ve seen what happens when there is a disincentive to accomplish anything. Stuff just doesn’t get done. If there’s a fallback position, it’s way too easy to bail. When you’re “all in” success is the only option.
If I were smart I’d just keep doing electronic publishing, putting together corporate reports and doing company’s websites. I can do that. I have those skills. And working on my computer provides a nice break from the heat of the day. But the real challenge lies out in the garden. There’s never a dull moment at Sunflower Farm!
For more information about our CSA this summer, please visit; www.sunflowerfarm.ca