Thursday, April 12, 2012

Superstitions explain baseball exclusivity

Trust, quirkiness, long and repetitive seasons garner rituals, routines

By Nathan Shoup, Sports Columnist

Seattle Times sports columnist Jerry Brewer once told me baseball players are his least favorite athletes to speak with.

This raises a question: Why have baseball players garnered the perception of being non-inclusive?

The short answer: Some baseball players simply don’t like the media.

The long answer: Well, by definition it is going to need explaining. 

In any team sport, there is an extreme level of familiarity between players. However, the comfort amongst baseball players in particular creates a specific circle of trust.

Once included in this in-group, individuals’ quirkiness comes out of hiding. Those involved in sports have a specific name for this quirkiness: superstition.

Baseball players are creatures of habit. Seasons are long and repetitive.

The Major League regular season alone spans half the calendar year. Pacific Lutheran’s baseball season lasts more than three and a half months, including 40 games. And that’s excluding playoffs.

Throughout the grind that is a baseball season, players create routines and rituals that play out the whole season as a source of good luck.

Former major leaguer Jason Giambi is best known for his involvement in the steroid era. Unfortunately for Giambi, he will also be remembered for admitting to wearing a gold thong when in a slump.

Adding insanitariness to insult, the thong had been used by several other teammates when they too were becoming familiar with the walk back to the dugout.

Seattle Mariners closer Brandon League and catcher Miguel Olivo have a special handshake they perform after League successfully records a save.

Specific or special handshakes are one of the staples of baseball superstitions or rituals.

Don’t believe me?

Watch the Lutes baseball players shake hands on the field after a victory. You will witness a collage of handshakes unparalleled in any sport.

Another well-documented baseball superstition is the rally cap. Trailing late in a game, particularly the ninth inning, it is common to see improperly worn hats in the dugout of the losing team. The belief is that the change will provide a spark and start a rally.

Any way of wearing a hat besides the traditional straight forward look can be considered a rally cap.

South Carolina’s rally caps.
During their runto the 2011 College World Series Championship, the South Carolina Gamecocks used a montage of rally caps that included dances ranging from rowing a boat to the infamous
“Bernie.”

Most would think that hitting the ball and getting on base would be the best way to mount a rally, but hey, that’s baseball.

Team superstitions aside, there are several individual superstitions as well.

Lute pitcher first-year Trevor Lubking throws the same five-pitch sequence warming up for each inning: fastball, change-up, curveball, fastball and fastball.

Outfielders senior Jaron Iwakami and sophomore Jacob Hoffman, who each pulled hamstrings last season, help stretch each others’ hamstrings before each game.

Last season, pitcher sophomore Max Beatty would tell pitcher junior Nathan Eisenhauer before starting that “he was going to get shelled” in hopes that the reverse would happen.

So why are baseball players perceived as exclusive?

Long answer made short: It is a quirky sport, with quirky athletes and quirky superstitions made acceptable through close bonds between teammates.