By Tam Nguyen / NGUOI VIET
In sports, sometimes that’s the only way to go. Dodgers’ Brian Wilson (from l.), A’s Josh Reddick, Red Sox’s David Ross and Mike Napoli have helped the popularity of beards and baseball grow this fall. Photo from New York Daily News. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky getting ready to play in the locker room. Photo from NHL.com
Superstitions. Rituals. Call them what you want. But in sports, they are real, and in the baseball postseason that we’re currently in, highlighted more than ever.
Some players will never step on the white line when walking on the field. Talk to the pitcher when he has a no-hitter going. Eat the same thing before every game. Spit on their batting gloves before each at-bat. Put on their uniform the exact same way, every day. Once the playoffs start, not shave until the final out of the final game of the year.
Sometimes the ritual leads to success, such as a hit or a win. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. But don’t try telling an athlete, or a fan, to give up the superstition.
Fan Jackie Dinh believes in the superstition of the “rally cap.” When her team, the Atlanta Braves, played the Los Angeles Dodgers last week at Dodger Stadium, the Braves trailed 4-3 in the top of the ninth inning, squandering a one-run lead the inning before. She transformed her Braves cap into a rally cap, turning it inside out.
“It is like an unwritten rule where we have to do it,” she said. Alas, it didn’t work this time, as the Dodgers held onto the lead to sweep the National League Division Series and advance in the postseason. For the Braves, it’s wait until next year.
The fan superstitions can be subtle and go unnoticed by some, but to the fan, the ritual is a must. Take Ivan Gomez, a New York Jets fan who watched his team play the Atlanta Falcons on the big-screen TV at a sports bar a few Mondays ago. Before each field-goal attempt, he turned his beer bottle so that label would face the same way as the laces on the football.
He said when he turns the bottle, the Jets usually score. “The one time I didn’t turn the bottle, we lost the game,” he said. On this night, it’s a good thing he turned the bottle; a 43-year field goal by the Jets’ Nick Folk with 1:54 left on the clock proved the deciding margin in the game, which the Jets won, 30-28.
It isn’t just fans who have the rituals. Superstars have them, too. NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone, who took more than 13,100 foul shots over his 19-year career, used to spin the ball, then bounce it, then mumble to himself before taking a shot. No one knows for sure what he said, but it worked; he made nearly 75 percent of the free throws. Fellow Hall of Famer Michael Jordan used to wear his shorts from the University of North Carolina under his professional uniform shorts for good luck.
Even “the Great One,” hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, followed a ritual throughout his storied 20-year career. Gretzky, best known for winning four Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers, always dressed the same way before each game: the left shin pad and stocking; the right shin pad and stocking; pants; skates – left one first; shoulder pads; elbow pads – left one first; and finally the sweater, or jersey, with just the right side tucked in.
There are others, such as Westminster High School football player Dat Tran, who follow the Gretzky model when it comes to dressing.
“I know people think I’m crazy, but it works for me. If I don’t follow the order I will have a bad performance,” he said. “I started doing the same routine since pee wee football, and it works for me to keep cool and not be so nervous.”
As for me, I’m a believer. I have my own routines. As a fan of the Anaheim Ducks, I won’t eat food that has duck in it during the season. Before settling down, I never would date a woman who followed a team in the same division or conference as my favorite team. And when I played high school football, I dressed in the same order, made sure I was the last one out of the locker room before kickoff and the start of the second half, and even went so far as to put on the mascot’s uniform head – and roar – for good luck.
Call me crazy if you like, but it works for me. And I am sticking with it.
Dodgers’ Brian Wilson (from l.), A’s Josh Reddick, Red Sox’s David Ross and Mike Napoli have helped the popularity of beards and baseball grow this fall. Photo from New York Daily News.
Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky getting ready to play in the locker room. Photo from NHL.com