Top 10 Baseball Player Rituals

iStock / IPGGutenbergUKLtd
iStock / IPGGutenbergUKLtd

I tend to be a little superstitious. For instance, when I make changes to my files, I'll use normal, ascending nomenclature for each consecutive draft (e.g. _02.doc, _03.doc, etc.) However, before sending my agent the final draft of a novel, I'll always change the nomenclature to one of my lucky numbers, like _27 or _72, even if I'm still only on draft _14. Yeah, writers are a strange bunch.

Turns out, Baseball players are an even stranger bunch. Surely you've seen Nomar Garciaparra ticking through his batting glove rituals, or how Mark "The Bird" Fidrych used to talk to his baseballs. But these are the obvious, well-documented ones. Patrick Saunders, over at The Denver Post, recently wrote about (mostly Rockies) players and their crazy rituals. Stan Grossfeld, at the Globe, threw some light on some other players' quirks. And our own Ethan Trex wrote about athlete superstitions. Between the three, I've mashed up my Top-10 list.

10. Moises Alou

Most baseball players wear batting gloves to absorb some of the shock of making contact with the ball and to improve their grip on the bat. A handful eschew gloves in favor of a barehanded approach, though, most famously outfielder Alou. Alou does have a system for avoiding calluses and hardening his skin: he urinates on his hands throughout the season. New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada also employs this superstition to aid in his gloveless approach at the plate. The trick may be more gross than helpful, though: a 2004 article in Slate questioned the value of this superstition since urine contains urea, a key ingredient in moisturizers that actually soften the skin. (Trex)

9. Wade Boggs

A former third baseman, primarily with the Boston Red Sox, Wade ate chicken before every game. He took exactly 150 groundballs during infield practice. He also had a fixation on time. At Boston Red Sox night home games, he ran wind sprints at precisely 7:17 p.m. Before each at-bat, Boggs would draw a chai — the Hebrew symbol for life — into the dirt of the batter's box. (Saunders)

8. Turk Wendell

Among Wendell's more notable quirks was his requirement that he chew four pieces of black licorice while pitching. At the end of each inning, he'd spit them out, return to the dugout, and brush his teeth, but only after taking a flying leap over the baseline. An avid hunter, Wendell also took the mound wearing a necklace adorned with trophies from animals he had harvested, including mountain lion claws and the teeth of wild pigs and buffalo. When compared to these superstitions, Wendell's other little oddities (drawing three crosses in the dirt on the mound, always throwing the rosin bag down as hard as he could, and insisting figures in his contract end in 99 as a tribute to his jersey number) don't seem so strange. (Trex)

7. Larry Walker

The former Rockies star was obsessed with the number "3." He set his alarm for 33 minutes past the hour, took practice swings in multiples of three, wore No. 33, was married Nov. 3 at 3:33 p.m., and bought tickets for 33 disadvantaged kids when he played in Montreal, to be seated in Section 333 at Olympic Stadium. (Saunders)

6. Clint Barmes

Once, Barmes sprained his ankle and had it taped up. He began hitting so well that once the ankle healed he kept on getting it taped. In the minors, Barmes ate a Subway sandwich for lunch and hit well that game. He ordered the same sandwich at the same Subway for more than a week until he cooled off. (Saunders)

5. Kevin Rhomberg

Rhomberg played just 41 games in parts of three seasons with the Tribe from 1982-84. But in that short span, the outfielder managed to assert himself as possibly the big leagues' most superstitious player ever. Rhomberg's most peculiar superstition was that if someone touched him, he had to touch that person back. Although this compulsion was not as much of a liability as it might have been in basketball or football, it still led to some odd situations: if Rhomberg were tagged out while running the bases, he'd wait until the defense was clearing the field at inning's end to chase down the player who'd touched him. Rhomberg also refused to make right turns while on the field, because baserunners are always turning left. So if a situation forced him to make a right turn, he'd go to his left and make a full circle to get moving in the correct direction. (Trex)

4. Jason Marquis

In the minors, if he spit on the field, he had to make sure it wasn't on the mound. If he did happen to spit on the dirt, he wiped away the spit with his shoe. If his team was ahead and he was in the dugout, Marquis always unbuttoned his jacket when there were two outs in the ninth inning. (Saunders)

3. Coco Crisp

Center fielder Coco Crisp does the same ritual during every at-bat. "I pick up dirt, spit on my hands," he says. Then, coiled in the batter's box, he wiggles his fingers as if they've fallen asleep. "I don't wear batting gloves. I move my left hand. It relaxes me and helps my timing. I stomp my front foot down. It's a habit. I'm not that superstitious, although sometimes I skip over the line." (Grossfeld)

2. Yorvit Torrealba

Before leaving the dugout for an at-bat, Torrealba takes a drink of water from a paper cup and tosses the cup. If the cup stays right side up, he figures he's going to get a hit. "I know for a fact that I'm going to get a hit, probably a double. At least it's worked a few times," he said.

In the on-deck circle, Torrealba spits out his bubble gum and tries to hit it with his bat. If he connects, he's confident he'll get a hit. (Saunders)

1. Jason Grilli

In his Little League days, Grilli put a two-sided baseball card in his shoe. On one side was Ken Griffey Jr.; on the other side was Nolan Ryan. On the days Grilli pitched, Ryan was face up in the shoe. On other days, Griffey faced up.

"I guess I thought it would somehow absorb their abilities, gain some of their super powers," Grilli said.

Back when Grilli was a starting pitcher, he ate linguini with clam sauce before every start. Grilli did, after all, pitch for Italy in the World Baseball Classic this spring. (Saunders)

103-Year-Old Julia 'Hurricane' Hawkins Just Set a New World Record for the 50-Meter Dash

Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins participates in the 2019 Senior Games,
Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins participates in the 2019 Senior Games,
All images copyright NSGA

Here she is, as the Scorpions would say, rocking the 50-meter dash like a hurricane. On Monday, 103-year-old Baton Rouge native Julia "Hurricane" Hawkins set a new world record in her division—the women's 100-plus—by completing the 50-meter dash at the Senior Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in just 46.07 seconds.

Amazingly, this isn't the only world record Hawkins holds: In 2017, the former teacher set her first world record (which she still holds) by finishing the 100-meter race in less than 40 seconds. "I thought it’d be neat to run at 100, and do the 100-yard dash,” Hawkins told KRQE. Although family members say she has always been active, she only started running fairly recently—lacing up her sneakers for the first time at the age of 101.

Hawkins, who credits the sport with keeping her mind and body sharp, says she has no plans of slowing down any time soon. Her preferred method of training? Walking around her garden. "I have an acre of land and I have 50 kinds of trees, and I’m working on them all the time,” Hawkins said.

While the "Hurricane" nickname is certainly befitting, the world-class athlete has a better suggestion: "I like the flower lady better."

Aside from maintaining her personal health, Hawkins has a more noble goal each time she picks up the pace. "I hope I’m inspiring [other people] to be healthy,” she said, "and to realize you can still be doing it at this kind of an age.”

[h/t KRQE]

4 Reasons Why Climbing Everest Is Deadlier Than Ever

Prakash Mathema/Getty Images
Prakash Mathema/Getty Images

On April 18, 2014, an avalanche killed 16 Sherpas on Mount Everest, making it the deadliest day in the mountain’s history. But one year later, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake triggered another fatal avalanche that killed more than 20 climbers and shut the mountain down for the 2015 season. During this year's season, at least 11 climbers have died on Everest experts say.

At 29,029 feet, Everest is known for its dangers; that's part of the allure. But in recent years, tragedies have spiked, and frozen bodies scattered across the mountain are an eerie reminder of the growing hazards. So why is the world’s tallest mountain claiming more lives than ever before?

1. Climate change makes Mount Everest unpredictable.

Everest tragedies are nothing new; since 1990, at least one climber has died in pursuit of the summit every year. But each climbing season, Everest is getting more unstable. Kent Clement, a professor of outdoor studies at Colorado Mountain College, argues that climate change is possibly the most imminent risk for climbers.

“As temperatures rise, Everest’s thousands of feet of ice and water are becoming unstable, making the mountain even more volatile,” Clement said.

Collapsing seracs—50- to 100-foot columns of ice formed by intersecting glacier crevasses—are a growing threat. Seracs can stand perfectly still for decades, then spontaneously fall over, killing those nearby and, in some cases, triggering avalanches further down the mountain. Case in point: The deadly 2014 avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas was caused by a serac collapse in the Khumbu Icefall, the most dangerous section of the route up Everest's southeastern face.

As you’d expect, climate-related risks are the new norm. A study in the journal The Cryosphere [PDF] predicts that Mount Everest’s glaciers could shrink by 70 percent this century, making currently unstable sections of the routes even more so.

2. Human biology is at odds with high altitudes on Mount Everest.

Climbers ascending the Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest
Prakash Mathema/Getty Images

In addition to natural disasters, Everest climbers face a number of life-threatening health risks.

In high-altitude settings, there is less oxygen in the atmosphere, and oxygen doesn’t diffuse into a climber’s blood as well as it would at sea level. That can lead to serious medical problems. The two most common illnesses on Everest are high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), in which constricted blood vessels cause fluid to leak into the lungs' air sacs; and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE), in which fluid leaks from blood vessels in the brain, causing headaches, neurologic dysfunction, coma, and eventually death if not treated (and in some cases, even when treated).

“Altitude illness impacts people in different ways, and we don’t really know who is susceptible until they have altitude illness,” Christopher Van Tilburg, an expert in travel medicine and a physician Oregon's Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, told Mental Floss. “High-altitude pulmonary edemas can hit people suddenly—even highly trained, fit mountaineers.”

3. Neurological and psychological factors can impair Everest climbers' judgment.

Another health risk that affects a climber’s cognition is hypoxia, which is simply when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. According to Clement, hypoxia can drastically impair judgment, making it one of the most dangerous Everest risks.

“The higher you climb, the more your judgment gets impaired,” Clement said. “It’s amazing how hard it is for smart people to do simple math and memory problems at high altitudes.”

In addition to causing treacherous missteps, hypoxia can drive climbers to push harder and go farther than they normally would—but not in a good way. These “cognitive traps” often happen when a climber gets closer to the top and replace logic and safety with stubborn determination, putting everything at risk to reach their goal. Another word for it? Summit fever.

According to Clement, the cure is setting a strict turnaround time: an ironclad moment when a climber promises to turn around and forego the summit to save their life. Turnaround times are decided before setting foot on Everest, and should be agreed upon between climbers, guides, and expedition leaders. But hypoxia, exposure, and inexperience can encourage climbers to ignore the protocol.

“Every time you ignore your turnaround time, you’re putting yourself at risk,” Clement said. “Professional guides are also supposed to follow these rules, but they get stuck in cognitive traps, too, because the more clients they get to the top, the more clients they’ll have next season.”

4. Medicine can reduce—but not eliminate—Mount Everest's dangers.

Any climb above 19,000 feet—the altitude known as “the death zone”—will have associated health risks, but there are treatments that can help climbers survive. Medicines include acetazolamide (sold under the brand name Diamox), a diuretic that helps prevent a mild edema, and dexamethasone (brand name Decadron), a steroid used to treat a brain edema and reverse the symptoms of acute mountain sickness. The only true fix for acute mountain sickness is immediate descent.

The best way to stay alive on Everest is proper training, fitness, and organization, but even those steps can't guarantee safety.

“Training doesn’t really offset objective hazards like rock falls, ice falls, avalanches, and earthquakes,” said Van Tilburg. “And while we have medicine for altitude illness to help people acclimatize, we don’t have medicines for the myriad other risks on Everest.”

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