Wade Boggs had to eat chicken before each game he ever played as a major leaguer. The great Wade Boggs relegated to a seemingly futile routine. Nomar Garciaparra conducts a toe tap and glove adjustment prior to stepping into the batter’s box, not just for every at bat, but for every pitch. Former Cleveland Indian and now Seattle Mariners skipper Mike Hargrove had the nickname “The Human Rain Delay” because of all the routines he had to follow prior to taking his cut.
Routines are as much a part of baseball as the seventh inning stretch and Bob Uecker. They are the norm for many baseball players of all levels, even our beloved Penn Quakers.
Bill Kirk is a senior pitcher for the Red and Blue and after having played this game since he was a child, he understands that although the game of baseball is a game of skill, it also at times is a game of luck.
“Baseball success is a combination of great skill and some luck. The aspect of luck is out of a player's control. Well hit line drives are often caught, and weakly hit pitches often fall somewhere for base hits. Pre-game rituals and superstitions are a method of trying to control the luck. They also provide a sense of routine and comfort in otherwise hostile environments,” comments Kirk.
For everyday players the rituals and routines are just that, routine. But for a pitcher, the chance to get on the field comes sparingly. For a starting pitcher like Kirk, it comes once every five days. Keeping a routine on days that he gets the call to take the mound is something Kirk has refined during his time as a ballplayer.
“My rituals have changed throughout the years. As a freshman I used to swim the morning before I pitched and at night afterwards. That was later abandoned because I was tired of waking up extra early. I still swim as much as possible to relax and stretch the upper body. I usually listen to some songs on the Ipod to get mentally prepared and pumped up. More eccentrically, I like to have a Pepsi a half an hour before the game.
“Pitchers are certainly more superstitious. A pitcher only appears about once a week, and has more time to develop his necessary routines. He has far few opportunities to make an impact, and his performance is more crucial for the team's success than is an individual hitter's. This added pressure tends to be alleviated through extra superstitions,” Kirk continued.
He continues about routines of past teammates he has witnessed growing up. “I have played with a couple kids who would wear the same underwear for every game, leaving it unwashed. It wouldn't be washed until they had a bad game, and the cycle would start over.”
Despite all of the Pepsi drinking or under garment-wearing, the fact remains that all players play this game because they love it and they know how to play it. Remove all of the idiosyncrasies and it comes down to being able to clear your mind and focus on the task at hand.
“A player needs to understand that the ritual should have no direct impact. Often times, however, a player can become mentally frustrated and take himself away from his game if his
ritual needs are not met.”
Kirk is fourth on the team in strike outs with seven and opposing batters have managed just a .204 average against the Haddon Heights, N.J. native when he is on the hill. With numbers like that, Billy can keep or discard any routines he wishes.
Written by Mat Kanan, associate director of athletic communications