Pregame: Superstitious Anteaters
Senior Christian Ramirez steps up to the plate – swipes his bare left hand in the dirt, circles his right hand twice, steps forward with his left foot, steps with his right, kicks his left foot, then his right and finally makes the sign of the cross – a routine he has been performing since his days of Little League.
You need not be a die-hard sports fan to know that America’s pastime is steeped in rituals, repetition and routines, all in the name of superstition. In a sport where success derives from the ability to replicate physical motions, it is not a surprise when players stick to quirky routines once they pinpoint success.
In his New York days, pitcher Roger Clemens would walk from Yankee Stadium to the neighboring Monument Park before home games to visit a statue of Babe Ruth. He would wipe his forehead, and then place his hand on the forehead of the late, Great Bambino.
Stadiums are full of athletes sporting beards during playoffs, and most players can be seen hopping over the baseline when running on or off the field.
UCI is no exception, and the ’Eaters perform a sets of rituals prior to and during the game. Game day routines begin long before arriving to Cicerone Field, and the players’ routines span from always eating the same thing to stretching in the same fashion before every at bat.
For sophomore pitcher Andrew Thurman, game days always begin at 8:00 a.m. with the same breakfast: four eggs and a banana. After the traditional Flame Broiler lunch, he heads to the field and suits up: he puts on the left sock before the right, quadruple-knots both shoes and heads to the mound.
After catching the first throw to warm up, he steps on a sprinkler head next to the bump and says the Lord’s Prayer.
Like Thurman, pitcher Nick Hoover has a routine on the mound.
“I always pitch with a certain type of bubblegum,” said the senior sociology major.
With a pack of “Groundball Grape” always in his left pocket when he throws, Hoover and another teammate both believe the flavor yields ground balls as opposed to hits.
Pitcher Crosby Slaught’s tradition happens off of the mound after throwing. Once back in the dugout, the pitcher who is 6 feet 5 inches on the season, enjoys a Snickers candy bar.
Sophomore left-hander Jimmy Litchfield will never be seen without sleeves, despite sweltering heat and humidity and junior Evan Brock can be seen bobbing his head to his walk-out song before every inning he throws.
Senior Tommy Reyes spends his time in the on-deck circle watching what makes the opposing pitcher effective. While visualizing his at-bat beforehand, the second baseman pulls on his left batting glove before the right and bends down to touch his toes.
While some superstitions might go unnoticed, not all ’Eater rituals are quite as quiet.
Last season in 100-degree heat, when UCI faced off with the University of Virginia in the Super Regionals, seven ’Eaters gathered in a circle with a cup of water in hand. In an attempt to cool off, the players engaged in what has become a pregame ritual for the first time. Litchfield, Brock, Hoover, Mitch Merten, D.J. Crumlich and Phillip Ferragamo took turns splashing each other in the face with the water before the national anthem. There’s nothing like some water to the face to get pumped up for a game. The ’Eaters recently brought back the tradition after a winning streak.
Brock did not only conceive the water throwing routine; the pitcher also helps his teammates prep for a game with massages in the dugout. Senior Jordan Fox, who leads the team in hits with 58, is the lucky player who receives his first. The team agrees the ritual is good luck, and every time it takes place, Fox gets at least one or two hits during the game.
As baseball notoriously inspires game-day rituals, the ’Eaters are not alone in their superstitions.
While most players hope to see just how far they can take the game, they’ll do whatever it takes to get there.
“Control the things that you can control,” said Ramirez. “Don’t try to do or be something that you’re not. Just do you, and whenever you’re on the field, control the things that you can control.”
When describing why he loves being in a stadium, Reyes said, “The atmosphere, the feeling, the energy, the crowd … everything. Everything is so crisp.”
So if putting on one shoe before the other or taking off one’s hat in the dugout means playing a little bit longer in a stadium, the ’Eaters will do whatever it takes regardless of how quirky, eccentric or strange it may seem. Even if getting the first hit of the game means a cup of water to the face.