Sprint – don’t jog – out to the mound.
Hop over the foul line – don’t you dare touch that thing.
Throw warm up pitches, and after the last one when the catcher throws to second, squat down and remind yourself to have fun.
After the infield throws it around the horn, catch the ball from the 3rd baseman, slap gloves with him and let out a Ric Flair “Woo!”
Take off your hat, take a wide semi-circle back to the mound, and look out above right center field and think. (“Think about what?” you ask, generous reader. I’ll keep that one a secret.)
Approach the mound, look inside your hat and read quote from Major League written inside. Put your hat back on your head and fidget with it until it’s in just the right place.
Hit the mental play button on Eazy-E’s We Want Eazy to get yourself in a rhythm.
Step up on the rubber, let out a deep breath, and begin your windup.
Phew! Talk about a lot of effort to start a baseball game – let alone every inning. But this is the routine I go through before every single frame I pitch. I have no idea where the hell these habits originated from, but for some reason they stuck, and I perform them before I start hurling lukewarm heaters.
But why do baseball players find themselves bound to a set of rituals like these? How do our minds trick us into thinking that they actually matter? Why are we so scared that if we don’t submit them, we will fail miserably on the field? Though I may not have the super-est of stitions, those mischievous little voodoo-like entities take residence in my brain, and I rely on them to some degree to help my mental preparation.
The way I see it, baseball players are susceptible to superstition by the very nature of the game. It’s an incredibly mental sport (riding on massively swinging mental highs and lows), it requires the ability to manage a high percentage of failure, and it is dependent on sequences of the smallest actions going perfectly right to successfully hit a ball or pitch one. And because of this, we can let the smallest of things get into our heads.
For example, I can strike out a batter – which is rare – and feel a jolt of fire sting my heart with electric joy. Such an incredible high! Then, I can do something slightly different than I did before facing the previous batter (i.e. step on the rubber half an inch further to the left) and throw a ball for the first pitch to the next batter. Then my mental state crumbles to pieces – the fire vanishes, I feel my “giblets” pack their bags and take a vacay back up into my stomach, and allow my psyche to tell me I’m an impotent loser. Such an incredible low. And this transformation takes only about one second. Now, that may be a bit of an extreme example, but silly mental things like that do happen.
How these rituals form is likely a result of how we analyze our success and failure. When we succeed, we ask ourselves “What all did I do before, during, and after it happened?” On the flip side, we ask ourselves the same question when we fail.
Did I take one or two deep breaths before that last pitch? Was a I wearing a different pair of sliding shorts last game? Did I touch the bill of my hat, flex my right butt cheek, lift my left heal up, and look at the short stop’s girlfriend in the stands before beginning my windup? (Yes, some of these rituals can be that sequential and ridiculous).
If the habit “works,” we tend to repeat it like clockwork. But if it fails, we avoid it like the plague!
In conclusion, these superstitions and rituals are pretty damned silly. But hey, if it helps us feel a little more confident in what we are about to do, then why not go ahead and own ‘em. As long as you don’t allow these weird tasks to become mentally crippling and prevent you from overcoming adversity, then there’s usually no harm – unless it involves some sort of ritual sacrifice, then maybe steer clear.
Truth be told, I have a deep appreciation for these rituals. They are but one of many interesting things that keeps this game we love so much so incredibly unique.
So, guys and gals, keep up the weirdness!