Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Baseball Rituals Hit ‘The Spot’

By Taylor Wilson

John Evans points to proof of The Spot.
Not to over-state the obvious, but my wife thinks I am crazy. She especially comes to such conclusions when we go to baseball games. (Note we have attended nearly 100 or so youth league games since March. This does not count minor league visits or games on TV or radio. That said, Beth thinks I am crazy pretty much ’round the clock.)
“Why do you want to park in the same spot all the time?” she asks pondering my parking near the ball field.
Our son looks at me and rolls his eyes...knowing full well, his baseball team has been on a winning streak. “Baseball is full of superstition, Mom! Don’t you know!?! It’s a lucky spot!”
Yep, for good or bad, I have converted the youngster to the superstitions, rituals and taboos that run rampant in baseball, for both players and fans.
“NEVER...EVER step on a foul line, unless you are making a play,” I once warned him.
Now, my wife is no stranger to diamonds, well, at least those made of dirt.  Why she, herself was a wild and likewise kinda-crazy softball player that would not stop when making a turn at third base, even if  battleship anchors were tied to both ankles! Beth’s played more games than most. Still, she is not sold on sports magic, mojo or mumbo jumbo. Maybe it is because she majored in psychology...and knows it all a waste of time, if not mind? She probably suspects such things can make one crazy.
But again, myself? Well, I fall on the side that fate can be swayed on a diamond. It all carries over from my own days as a player. I remember playing one summer season where I knew our team’s string of wins HAD to be connected to drinking orange Sunkist. Because of it, I think I wore a perpetually-orange peach-haired mustache. I was certain the beverages got me and my fellow players all the way to a state play-off, where we got pummeled, yet might have won...had I not substituted Orange Crush (which is irony at best considering the latter drink’s name and result/score).
These days, as a mere fan (and maybe a outlandish fan, note aforementioned game numbers this spring and summer) I still carry with me the concept that there is some sort of magic linked to your team’s baseball success. Fan is short for fanatic, you know?
Of course, my ritualistic choices are made with suspicion that, "Hey, it just might work.” If it doesn’t and the team loses? Well, it’s solely because I made the wrong choice in ritual; it has nothing to do with players or coaches. Rituals carry that kind of weight.
And on that fanatical foundation is where I stood at a recent youth league tournament where my son was playing. Our team was trailing by several runs in the championship game, and in addition to all other game-on rituals, I was walking around looking for a lucky spot to stand. By the way, this is perfectly normal in a cross-your-fingers, don’t-talk-about-a-no-hitter, wear-the-same-color, eat-only-chicken-pre-game, keep-your-fielder’s-glove-in-a-Wonder-Bread-bag, wear-a-rally-cap, carry-a-four-leaf-clover kind of way. Of course, I know well, no matter the charm, ritual or juju, one still has to test the water of fortune, from game to game, especially to change one’s luck after a loss or while in a bad situation. So I experimented with several places to stand and watch the game. My efforts were seemingly to no avail...nothing would go right, no matter where I stood or sat. So, I kept moving and looking and trying to draw a smile from Fortune.
Then I saw it. There on the ground was a perfectly round circle of dead grass about the size of a garbage can lid, not far from where the other sane non-superstitious parents/fans were sitting. I think it was created when someone left a garbage can sitting on the grass in 104-degree heat. Heck, it even looked like a spot! Why overlook the obvious? So there I stood and mumbled the words, “Beam me up, Scotty” like Star Trek’s Captain Kirk. (Catch phrases can also be lucky.)
It worked! We got a base runner followed by two more. Eureka! But just when I thought it was working, one of our players flied out. I promptly did what any other sane baseball fan would do; I recruited a friend to stand in The Spot. Remember, experiment!
Also acknowledge that baseball fans, no matter how crazy you are, there is always somebody out there that is better at it than you are. And there appeared my friend, John Evans. He seemed as nice, likely, gullible and crazy as the next guy. So I put him on The Spot.
“Just try it out,” I coaxed, and muttered another “Beam me up, Scotty!”
Now John, like my wife, knows the cheese fell off my cracker long time ago. Our sons have been longtime teammates. He is also kind of used to me putting him on the spot in more ways than one. One year, when leading a coach-pitch team I was kicked out two times for various indiscretions such as NOT saying a word and NOT getting off the field after the ball went in to play.
At that tourney it got to where, John would simply shake his head, take the ball and say, “What have you done, now?!?” By the way, he was undefeated in coach-pitch relief. We long debated whether the team would win for their fallen/discarded coach (me), or because John finally proved to be someone that could throw them something they could actually hit? I think it is because I was drinking orange Sunkist!
Anyway, familiar with being my backup of sorts, John stood there on The Spot for the remainder of the game...which turned out to be the better part of an hour! The longer he stood there, the better our team seemed to do.
So he couldn’t leave. Fate locked him in. But I stood beside him and muttered the beam-me-up catch phrase, and tried to keep others from coming up and “crowding” The Spot. (You know there is only so much mojo that can go around!)
John’s wife Susan even helped, though I am not quite sure she became a true believer. She did herd little kids away from The Spot or maybe more appropriately: she kept them away from the two crazy guys practicing baseball voodoo.
Somewhere along the line of our good luck, John did mention a restroom break. But Susan and I both agreed he would simply have to sacrifice for the benefit/fortune of the team.
“Just try not to think of waterfalls or lawn sprinklers,” I encouraged.
“Beam me up, Scottie,” John replied.
You know, I am not quite sure, but John might have actually been hopping (maybe it was the excitement?) on The Spot when our team made the final out—for the WIN!
Oh, there was a mixture celebration (and relief, from John)...for the victory as much as for a round, dead patch of grass that had obviously helped a lot. And John, now able to move from The Spot, and I discussed making and marketing a do-it-yourself “Win With The Spot Kit.” We could sell good fortune! It would allow crazy baseball youth league fans everywhere to go to ballparks and create a lucky Spot of their very own . We figured the kit could include a garbage can lid and a bottle of herbicide. RONCO here we come: “Yes, you get ALL this, but wait, there’s MORE! For just $10 (plus shipping and handling) you get NOT ONE, but TWO GARBAGE CAN LIDS!” Sure, the discussion included a vague mention of destruction of property liability...killing grass in Adamsville, etc., but we could iron that out later.
And with our kids’ team set to compete in the state tourney in Adamsville, Tenn., marketing strategies could wait. We also pondered going over in advance and killing a few round patches of grass on the championship fields for luck in the tourney ahead.
            Ah, nonsense you say.
Maybe you’re right. After all, as the song says, “Luck is believing you’re lucky, and having just a little bit of faith.” Others simply say luck is hard work, which is also sound advice. And of course, weeks of hard work and practice by players and coaches might have been a BIG part of the win, too? I have no doubt that’s true...but still, I just can’t shake the superstitious suspicion that having a John(ny) on the spot was a good thing, too.

NOTE: Have any baseball or sports-related superstitions? I’d like to hear ’em. E-mail me at

Also, to learn more about baseball’s strange way of working mojo among fans and players (and why), you might want to read more via this link It is by George Gmelch and offers a somewhat logical view as to why baseball folks are caught up in superstitions. Another fun read (with audio) about fan rituals is this story from NPR :

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