Classic baseball movies such as Bull Durham, with its voodoo home-run slugger, and actual stories like Hall-of-Fame hitter Wade Boggs eating chicken before every game, make the sport seem a den of rituals and curses.
So with the 2007 Portland Beavers opening their home season this Friday the 13th, is Portland's minor-league team mired in the superstition long associated with baseball?
"I really don't have any superstitions," says Beavers relief pitcher Andrew Brown. Then he adds, "I don't step on the foul line. I don't know if that's a superstition, but I did it once and got shelled, so I won't do that again."
Turns out ballplayers' biggest superstition is not saying the word "superstition." Instead, they say "routine" to describe everything from weird tics to their penchant for rubbing mysterious lotions on their bodies.
"I like to have the same routine," Brown says. "It makes me comfortable. I like to get to the park at the same time, go to the training room at [the] same time and eat at the same time, just so I know where I'm at and where I'm supposed to be—not because if I don't I won't pitch well."
He and other Beavers say they've all heard stories about guys—always other guys—who must point their shoes a certain way, draw pictures in the dirt, do spin-turns coming out of the bullpen or put in a new chew for every at-bat.
Pitcher Jack Cassel says it's "kind of a faux pas to say you're superstitious.... The problem is, if you don't do a superstition, you're like, 'Oh my gosh, I am not gonna be able to play today. I didn't put my stupid socks on the right way.' Everybody's still a little superstitious; we're just in denial about the term."
Cassel went on to confess that he always has a hot shower and stretches 15 minutes before the game, then rubs his lucky hot sauce on his pitching shoulder, pops two Aleves and heads for the bullpen.
Wait—lucky hot sauce?
"It's a Ben-Gay kind of deal I got down in Puerto Rico playing winter ball," he says. "This guy had it in a white jug, everybody was stickin' their hands down in there, and I said, 'What's this stuff?' They called it something in Spanish with suerte [luck]."
Talk about pushing your luck: With the steroid police finally awake in baseball, Cassel is rubbing strange homemade substances on his shoulder? "Oh, I had it checked," he says. "Double checked."
If there's a mantra in baseball, it's "keep doing whatever works." On a hitting streak? Keep wearing the same undershirt. Have some new spikes to break out? Not until you have a bad outing.
Catcher Luke Carlin, who always wears a baseball necklace around his neck, says one morning last season he and his roommate went to the Kingston for steak and eggs. Later that day, his roomie hit a homer and Carlin went three-for-four. "We got up the next morning and went to the same table and ate the same thing," he says. "Did it all season. We probably kept that place open."
Pitching coach Gary Lance says he actually teaches routine to help players "get their mind in a positive space." But his boss, Manager Rick Renteria, laughs about the whole thing and says, "I don't have anything to say about superstitions!
"A guy gets four knocks, and all of a sudden he's wearing the same underwear or socks or eating the same tuna dish every day," he says with a chuckle. "We are creatures of habit, and we want to do everything consistently, and that's fine. It keeps your head in the right place. I always wore the same shoes and shirt, but that's more about comfort."
So what would he say to a player who always wears his lucky shirt or skips over the foul line?
"Atta boy—keep doing it!"