The catcher typically has the most thorough understanding of baseball tactics and strategies of any player on his team. “The Tools of Ignorance” is merely an ironic expression for the pieces of equipment associated with the catching position in baseball. They’re the catcher’s gear that provides a shell of protection in a most vulnerable position situated behind home plate. Similar to the role of the wicket-keeper in the sport of cricket, the catcher can see the whole field, and is therefore in the best position to direct and lead the other players in a defensive play.
The last time I was an athlete as part of any organized team sport, I was a mere teenager playing little league baseball in Clifton, New Jersey. I was a catcher. I had originally chosen this position because it looked simple enough - sit my lazy ass behind home plate and catch the ball that was being thrown to me by the pitcher. Strapped into plastic protective gear on my legs, wearing a chest pad, metal mask, helmet, a giant target of a glove, and of course the cup to protect the privates. These truly were the Tools of Ignorance. I had no idea what I was getting into. The older we got as a team, the faster the pitches were coming at me and the bigger the batters were that were swinging in front of me. My last season of little league was the one before I officially entered junior high school. We were now the “big kids” in the league and our team was no team of champions by any means, but we were in fact a championship team.
The catcher is usually the first to notice the tendencies, quirks, and peculiarities of each home-plate umpire, as well as opposing team's batters' nuances. Call it signal detection and analysis or just an innate ability to "call the game" - which is catcher-speak for deciding the type of pitch delivered to home plate. It's the catcher that gives signs to the pitcher for what pitch is to be thrown. Forecasting the play ahead. Although the pitcher has a responsibility to throw with reasonable accuracy, the catcher must be mobile enough to catch or block a wild (errant) pitch.
Preventing stolen bases, by throwing the ball to second or third base to allow an infielder to tag a baserunner attempting to reach the base, is an art. It takes skillful hand-eye coordination with the speed, agility, and most of all the foresight to know exactly when and how to make a successful pick-off of an inattentive or incautious baserunner. In 1976, I found myself the catcher for the Clifton All-Stars. It was the culmination of years of after school practices and often embarrassing games, but this final season of Little League for me was a game changer. I had honed my skills at forecasting, signal detection, and targeted strategies to win. In that last game of the season, and of my Little League career, my instincts were correct and I threw that kid out who was trying to steal second base, and the Clifton All-Stars became the Western Division City Champions. Ignorance may not be bliss after all.
It’s funny, but I’m not in Marketing, and I’m not in Consumer Insights. I’m not a “researcher” per se, nor a sociologist in any way. I guess you could say I’m a cultural anthropologist in the foresight space. Futurist? Sometimes. Designer? Always. This is, after all, a piece about awareness. Awareness, plus a little design (thinking), equals that ideographic approach to qualitative research. However, my approach has always been more ‘boots on the ground.’ From the streets of the most inspiring cities around the world, in the trendiest neighborhoods, this is where you observe cultural shifts that drive change. The diamonds in the rough are easy to spot - if you've got your eye on the ball.