This kid’s good: spotting and nurturing talent

In August 2009, on a visit to my native New Jersey Shore, I watched the Lakewood Blue Claws win a minor-league baseball game. The Blue Claws play in Class A, which is three levels below the major leagues. The vast majority of players at that level will never make it to the majors.

But one player, the Blue Claws’ catcher, caught my eye. In the top of the sixth inning he positioned himself perfectly, received a throw, and tagged out a runner who slid directly into him. It was a smart play, and the catcher showed quick thinking and grit.

A few minutes later, in the bottom of the sixth, he lined a two-base hit and scored what turned out to be the winning run.

This kid’s good, I thought to myself.

Travis D'Arnaud tags out a baserunner on Saturday (source: New York Times)

Travis d’Arnaud tags out a baserunner on Saturday (source: New York Times)

The “kid” was a 20-year old Californian named Travis d’Arnaud. I followed his career on the Internet, watching as he moved slowly up the minor-league ladder, got traded twice, and sustained — and recovered from — a couple of serious injuries.

Finally d’Arnaud made It to the major leagues, where he became the New York Mets’ starting catcher. Last Saturday night, in a playoff game, he stood next to home plate, took a throw from an outfielder, and deftly tagged out a runner who was trying to score. It wasn’t exactly the same play he’d made in Lakewood years ago — this time the runner tried to elude him — but it was another smart, solid play.

Then, one inning later, d’Arnaud hit a long home run to straightaway center field.

Now everyone can see that he’s good.

I won’t pretend that I can accurately spot the talent in every young baseball player I see. If I could do that I’d have a secure job working for a professional team. But sometimes I can spot talent in young, inexperienced technical communicators as well as in young ballplayers.

Perhaps you too can spot talent in the people you manage. When that happens, I’d say:

  • Ask yourself what it is about the person that makes you see their potential. If you see things like intelligence, pluck, a capacity for handling stress — the same kinds of things I saw in Travis d’Arnaud that first time — then trust your instinct. You’re probably looking at someone with a bright future.
  • Find projects that enable the young writer to use their talents and to grow.
  • Encourage them by recognizing the good things they do — be specific — and offer to be a mentor.

Can you share a success story in which you saw potential in someone and then watched them blossom?

In what other ways do you identify and encourage young people who show promise?

7 thoughts on “This kid’s good: spotting and nurturing talent

  1. Pingback: Discover: Monday Around the Horn « Blogs

  2. ugurakinci

    Larry, I really liked your article and shared it with Admin Council of STC Wash DC Baltimore chapter since we do have a mentoring program currently in its second year. You’ve raised good points about mentoring that I’ll be thinking about. Thank you very much for this well-written and interesting post.

    1. Larry Kunz Post author

      Ugur, I’m glad you found this helpful enough to share. STC Carolina chapter has a mentoring program too, but I don’t think many people are availing themselves of it. Do you think it would be helpful if we experienced writers actively suggested the program to promising new members? Or should the new members take the first step?


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