Qual Boards and Baseball



Baseball season is upon us. It’s a great sport because you can make a baseball metaphor out of just about anything. Take qualification boards. Qual boards are like tryouts. You think you’ve got the stuff to make it to the big leagues, and tryouts are where you get to prove it.

Most people worry about their first qual board. I wasn’t. I had been standing watch for months, and had…how do I say…a lot of confidence in my abilities. I doubted they could ask me a question that I couldn’t answer or at least bluff my way through. Except maybe engineering, but hey, I’d spot them the engineering question.

Besides, what could they do to me? Fail me? Make me stand watch? Ha!

I strode into the wardroom like Mighty Casey coming up to the plate. With a swagger I strode to my seat. Facing me were the Skipper, the Executive Officer, and the Department Heads. I showed them a hint of a smile and looked them in the eyes, daring them…taunting them. I cracked a few jokes.

“OK,” said the CO, “Let’s get started.” Bring it on. I was in his head…he was going to ask me about Rules of the Road.

He asked me about hurricanes.

Okay, I wasn’t expecting that one. I hadn’t studied hurricane evasion. (Then again, I hadn’t studied much at all, but I digress.) I drew a complete blank. Strike One. My smile faded, quickly reappearing, ominously, on the Engineer’s face.

The Skipper tried to help me by throwing me a couple of softballs, but the synapses weren’t connecting in my brain. The first pangs of panic started to set in, and the Department Heads were beginning to smell blood. I swear the Engineer’s eyes slid behind a protective membrane as he readied for the strike. He asked me to trace the engineering system of the ship.

If you’re not familiar with the term, tracing the engineering system is like drawing out the blueprints of your house from memory, showing where every switch and circuit breaker is located. Include the furniture and describe what’s in each drawer.

I was going to be oh-for-two before we even got started! The panic pangs in my gut had mutated into karate kicks to the stomach, only from the inside. Strike Two.

It just got worse. And worse. I began to swing wildly, missing more than I was hitting. The board members could hardly contain themselves, barely waiting for me to stumble through an answer before hitting me with another question. My mind began to lock up. My throat dried out and my tongue swelled – my responses became unintelligible grunts. Sweat began to run down the back of my neck like the Snake River during spring runoff. At that point, I doubt I could have told them my name if they asked me.


They failed me, then made me stand watch.

Of course, by the time I got up to the bridge, everyone on the ship knew I had bombed the board. No one made eye contact. An awkward silence permeated the space. With icy clarity I realized that now, not only did I lack confidence in my abilities, so did everyone else.

After delaying for a few weeks – long enough for the humility to really, really sink in, the Skipper “asked me back” for another try, which I passed. But it didn’t matter.

A rookie only gets one chance for his first at bat. And in my case, Mighty Casey had struck out.

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