Thursday, February 10, 2011

SMALLS TALK: The Superstitions and Quirks of a Ballplayer

Every ballplayer has a routine. Following a repetitive daily schedule for seven months, it's only natural for guys to figure out what works for them, and stick with it. It's a comfort thing- you want to make sure everything is prepared and taken care of off the field, in order for outside factors to be minimized and success to be achieved on the field. Whether it's a type of sandwich, a song, a prayer, or a particular way to get dressed- a player finds what works for them, and that becomes their daily routine.

But when does a routine turn into a superstition? And where do you draw the line between superstitious and obsessive-compulsive?

A routine offers consistency and comfort because of its familiarity- it's reliable, and it takes out all variables. Around the 7th inning of every game, I eat a protein bar in the dugout- it's become a routine of mine simply because I find myself needing energy around two hours into a game. It doesn't magically grant me any extra home runs, but it leaves me feeling nourished and prepared to finish the game strong.

Superstitions add the element of karma into a routine- these actions are thought to help your performance, but offer no real reason. Touching a sign on the way out to the field, performing a certain handshake with a teammate, kissing your bat- these are all unrelated to how prepared or ready a player is for a game; they are done with the hope that good karma and luck will follow.

My in-game actions blow superstitions out of the water, however. I've always had some obsessive compulsive habits, but on the baseball field, where so much attention is geared toward luck and karma, I drive myself crazy. I'm always doing something, and everything I do has a reason. While superstitions are done to promote good luck, my obsessive compulsive actions are done to fight off bad luck. Yes, I've got some issues.

I do everything in evens- multiples of six, if there's time. Running out to the outfield grass, I take an even amount of steps in my jog. And if it doesn't work out naturally? I drag a foot to get an extra toe down- I'm pretty sure that counts. Once in the OF grass, I turn my jog into a back pedal to face home plate, and then turn back into a jog out to my position. Why? I only look at the fence an even amount of times.

Chase a fly ball into foul ground? On my way back, I cross the foul line back into play, then touch both feet back in foul ground (to offset my first time in foul territory, of course) and then head back to my position. It's pretty bizarre stuff- even I find it weird.

But I do it. It may be superstitious, or perhaps even OCD, but it's something that settles my mind. In some crazy way, by doing these things I'm convinced I've put myself in a position to succeed- the world is on my side, all supernatural activity is in order. I know, I'm out of my mind.

Jogging on and off the field, I never touch the foul line- or even the base path dirt for that matter. When I put my hat and glove down in the dugout, the hat always sits to the left of my glove. While heading to the plate, I step into the left-handed batter's box, step back out quickly, and then back inside to get ready to hit.

My bats are always in the top right slot in the bat rack, just as my helmet sits in the top right helmet hole. When a player comes in from scoring, I greet him with two quick pounds or high fives - I've actually gotten pretty good as disguising it to avoid questions or weird looks.

Before every game, I put four sticks of Extra spearmint gum into my mouth. Only have three pieces left? No problem, I rip one stick in half while still in the wrapper- Boom, I have my four pieces. I'll chew this gum the entire game, and if I get thirsty, I place it on the edge of my cup brim while I drink my Gatorade, because, let's face it, mint gum just ruins any sports drink. After an even amount of sips, I empty any remaining liquids with two swings of the arm, put my gum back in my mouth, and deposit the cup in the barrel- making sure it's sitting upright in the pile of waste, of course.

In the field, before every pitch I blow into my throwing hand twice, bend out the pinkie of my glove twice, and punch the leather palm twice. Let's face it, I'm a freak.

And on days when I don't need the sunglasses I had brought out to the field, I ask a pitcher (or someone not in the lineup) to wear them on their hat; but I don't just ask anyone- I'll ask someone who's been playing well recently. Only one or two guys know about this one- needless to say they're flattered when I place my shades on their head.

I'm a pacer in the dugout during close games. I find myself picking wrappers and cups off the ground and putting them in the trash- or at least fixing the cups so that they're upright.

As I write all of these little quirks out, I can't believe how ridiculous most, if not all, of them are. The truth is that they've become so second-nature throughout college and pro-ball that I really don't even notice most of the things I'm doing.

Don't worry, I respect classic baseball superstitions, as well. I don't shave or get a haircut after a hit streak reaches 10 games, I would never mention a no-hitter while in progress, and I make sure no bats are ever crossed in the dugout. Unfortunately, my mind doesn't allow me to end the nonsense there.

I spend the entire game doing countless little superstitions, and although they drive me crazy or make me look foolish at times, they give me comfort. In my mind, I've taken care of all outside forces- nothing is against me, I have peace of mind in the batter's box.

That's all any player wants, really- peace of mind. No stress, pressure, worries- I want to be cool and relaxed at the plate- and if it means fidgeting and counting steps for three hours, well I guess that's just the price I have to pay.

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  1. I'm sure you're not the only one with crazy superstitions like that. Whatever makes you comfortable at the plate or in the field is what you should do. It's no different than having a rabbit's foot or a some other lucky thing.

    Maybe I'm biased because Nomar is my all-time favorite player.Either way though, superstitions are part of the history and culture of baseball. Without them, it wouldn't be as fun a game to play or watch.

  2. What do other people say after watching this in action? Does anybody even notice?

  3. This is great stuff. It reminded me of my track days again. Like how my friend and I would touch her "lucky rock" before every meet or how I had to have the bed closest to the door in the hotel for away meets. I even had this weird breathing whistle while getting ready in the starting blocks for a race. Same thing every time. I too have to chew gum for EVERY sporting even I participate in even if it's just pick up.
    I was never "allowed" to shave the day of any sporting event or my performance was affected. If my Dad showed up to an event, I was guaranteed to have a great day (it was rare that he showed up but it never failed that I'd perform well when he was there).

    I think no matter how good or bad an athlete is that these quirks are just a part of the sport.