TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME
Norm Govoni talks about baseball, the classroom, and why the scoreboard only tells part of the story.
By John Crawford
Want to know what Norm Govoni’s philosophy is for learning and life, not to mention baseball? Visit his office and look up. Step through his door, though, and you’ll first be struck by how packed his Malloy Hall office is. Govoni has taught at Babson for 42 years, so things have had a tendency to accumulate through the decades. Journals, books, trophies, baseballs, bats, hats, Moxie soda bottles, Matchbox cars, and a punching bag are stuffed, piled, and crammed into the space. “It’s a little cluttered,” admits Govoni. His office also feels a bit like a candy store, for lined up on a table, Govoni keeps jar upon jar of snacks, from peanuts to pretzels to sweets. “It is all there for students and colleagues,” says the professor of marketing and assistant baseball coach. “My door is always open.”
Among all the papers and paraphernalia, a sign hangs from the ceiling, dangling above his desk. It carries an important message: “The scoreboard tells only part of the story.” This is essentially Govoni’s mission statement, and it’s something that he tries to impart to students both in the classroom and on the baseball diamond, two places where he has made a big impact.
During Babson baseball games, Govoni typically is found standing near the on-deck circle. “You’ll always see me in the same spot,” he says. “I like it better than sitting in the dugout.” He came to the game of baseball as a boy, when he first played organized ball and was a fan of the old Boston Braves. He later played in the college and amateur ranks. “Baseball is such a good game,” he says. “There’s no such thing as a bad day at the ballpark.”
When talking to players, Govoni doesn’t dwell on the scoreboard. Yes, winning is nice, but he tells players to respect their opponents, the umpires, and the game itself, and he preaches the importance of giving your all. “You try to win, but you’re winning by just being out there giving 100 percent,” he says.
The message is similar in class, where Govoni remains energized by the subjects he teaches and the students he encounters. “They keep you young,” he says. “They keep you on your toes. I feel blessed to have the opportunity.” Nowadays he’s excited by the sports marketing class he developed a couple of years ago. For the course, Govoni has recruited an impressive list of guest speakers, including a sports agent, a Boston Red Sox executive, a sports columnist, an ESPN commentator, and a former NFL All-Pro. “The speakers are dynamite,” he says.
In class, Govoni tries to stifle the obsession with grades that drives many students. Earning a good grade is great, but the veteran professor knows that’s not as critical as appreciating and embracing the intangibles: work ethic, passion, and character. These are the qualities that truly matter. “Carry these with you your whole life,” he tells his students. “Your success is tied to a whole lot more than GPA.”
Being both a coach and a professor can make for a chock-full calendar. A typical day for Govoni might include teaching in the morning until 11:30 and then an hour later boarding a bus to New London, Conn., or Keene, N.H., or Gorham, Maine. The Beavers play a game, and afterward, they climb back on the bus to ride back to campus. By the time they return at 8 or 9 p.m., Govoni is wiped out, though the game’s beauty sustains him. “Baseball is very much a sensory experience,” he says. “It’s the sound of the ball hitting the bat, it’s the pop of the ball in the catcher’s mitt, it’s the umpire barking calls, it’s the constant chatter.”
Govoni has coached at Babson for 20 years. In season after season, he bonds with players as they ride buses to games, travel to Florida on spring break trips, and play ball under the sun. “I so much enjoy the camaraderie and togetherness,” he says. “They’re so good to be around. We all have the same mission, to be the best we can be.” Staying in touch with many former players, he attends their weddings and meets some regularly for dinner. When he sees them with their own children, he marvels at time’s passage. “Not too many years ago, they played for us,” he says.
Govoni is such a fixture of the baseball program that its field was named after him and his late wife, Terry, who passed away in 2005. Terry liked to keep score at Babson’s games, where she was a regular. The couple was married for 41 years. “She was very special,” Govoni says. Ask him what his favorite item is in his crowded office, and he’ll point to a snapshot of Terry and him at Babson’s field. It was taken between pitches during a game, as Govoni rushed to Terry’s side so the photographer could snap them together. Now that fleeting moment captured in the photo sits right by his computer.