Superstitious athletes, coaches seek edge by showering with socks on, taking chocolate milk in coffee, wearing same outfit for five years
Whether it’s Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz adjusting his batting gloves between pitches or Husson University first baseman Chelsea Brennan wearing a necklace, athletes can be a superstitious lot.
Slumping baseball or softball players are always changing their bats or their stances. Maybe even their batting gloves.
Other times, they may change their pregame ritual or pregame meal.
They are looking for that mental edge, that little boost of confidence that may lead to a victory.
“The mental part of the game has grown so much,” said University of Maine softball coach Lynn Coutts. “As we try to train [athletes] and help them, if they’re a little obsessive in certain areas, we try to go with it. It can get a little crazy but whatever makes them feel good, if they believe in it, I’m all for it.”
Coutts’ players do their hair and makeup before games.
“They have to make sure they look good. If they look good and feel good, they play good,” said Coutts, who isn’t superstitious.
“It’s a mental thing. It puts you in the right mindset,” said Husson softball coach Kristie Hawkins, who styles her hair the same way, wears the same ribbon in her hair and kicks the dirt in the third base coach’s box similarly every inning.
Some of the athletes begin the superstitions when they are in high school.
When the Presque Isle High School girls basketball team visited Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island on Dec. 27-28, they stayed in a hotel between games.
The Wildcats beat Ellsworth 70-42 the first night but took on MDI the next day in a battle of undefeated teams.
“The hotel room was kind of gross so we showered with our socks on [after the Ellsworth game],” said Presque Isle sophomore guard Taylor Williams. “Then we beat MDI. So when we played MDI at home, I took a shower with my socks on.”
Presque Isle won again, this time 65-50. Those are MDI’s only two losses.
The Wildcats also follow a ritual in their pregame huddle as they put their fists together and say “Team,” but junior Hannah Graham is the only one who follows that by saying “Presque Isle Wildcats.”
And she said she is also the only one who puts just her right forefinger among the fists in the huddle.
Perhaps superstitious head coach Jeff Hudson has rubbed off on Williams and Graham.
“I always park in the same space for all of our home games,” said Hudson. “One day, somebody had parked in my space. We won that night but we played poorly. So the next day, I got there at 8 a.m. to make sure I could park in that space.”
That was the day his Wildcats topped MDI.
Hudson added that if fans check out his Eastern Maine tournament apparel over the last five years, “I’ve always worn the same outfit.
“It may seem stupid but, mentally, I’m a midget. It helps me,” he said.
And who can argue with success. Presque Isle has won 62 straight games.
Superstitious behavior in Presque Isle also spills over to the hockey team, where Jillian Flynn, a female goalie for the boys team, wears two purple hair ties.
“I used to wear one but I left it on my nightstand and someone threw it in a box with my other hair ties. When I looked in the box, there were two purple hair ties among them so I didn’t know which was my lucky one. So now I wear both,” explained Flynn.
Husson University and UMaine players and coaches also follow an assortment of rituals.
Husson infielder-pitcher Kayla Merrill of Bethel forgot to put in her contact lenses before a game last season. But it certainly didn’t deter her from having a memorable performance.
“I went 3 for 3. So I didn’t put them in for the rest of the season,” grinned Merrill, who went on to hit .344 for the North Atlantic Conference champions and NCAA Division III Tournament team.
UMaine assistant women’s basketball coach and former Cony High School star Amy Vachon used to always eat French toast on game day in high school.
Husson baseball coach Jason Harvey used to take two steps into the batter’s box and tap his bat on the place twice.
UMaine men’s hockey defenseman and captain Brice O’Connor drinks a cup half-filled with coffee and half-filled with chocolate milk before every game and his teammate, center Devin Shore, has a coffee with two creams and two sugars.
Shore isn’t a coffee drinker.
“I only drink it on game days,” he said.
O’Connor is one of the most superstitious players on the Maine hockey team.
“After we stretch in the locker room before a game, I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” said O’Connor. “And right before the start of the first period, I eat a banana.”
He never uses a new roll of tape to tape his stick — the older the roll, the better. He won’t start getting dressed until there is 60 minutes on the clock and he always puts on his right skate before his left skate.
“If I don’t play well, I ask myself what I did differently. It bothers me. I’ve gotten worse since high school [when it comes to being superstitious],” said O’Connor.
Has being superstitious been beneficial?
“It’s gotten me this far,” he grinned.
Shore and the other members of the sophomore class high-five each other before a game. He also has a handshake ritual. He first shakes the hand, glove-on, of Ryan Lomberg. Then he shakes Dan Renouf’s hand and, finally, he shakes hands with Ben Hutton.
“And Ben always goes on the ice before I do,” said Shore.
Hutton kisses the inside of his jersey on the Maine emblem before putting it on.
UMaine’s men’s and women’s basketball players also follow superstitions.
Sophomore Liz Wood always showers, blow dries her hair and has teammate Sophie Weckstrom braid her hair before leaving for the game.
“But if I’m not able to do that, it doesn’t affect me mentally,” said Wood.
The Maine women’s basketball players always sing the Stein Song in the hallway before a game.
Maine sophomore center Anna Heise said it is of the utmost importance to sink her first shot in warm-ups.
“So my first shot will always be a layup because it’s the easiest shot. I might even just stand underneath the basket [to ensure I make it]. If I don’t make it, it makes me nervous,” she said.
Zarko Valjarevic, a junior forward on the Maine men’s basketball team, gives himself a much more daunting challenge in the pregame warm-ups.
“I have to make five three-pointers in a row,” said Valjarevic, who will also change shoes depending on whether the team wins or loses.
He said these rituals “make me feel more confident and help me stay focused.”
Maine senior forward Ashleigh Roberts said she used to be very superstitious until she realized “that if you focus too much on [the rituals], it takes your focus off the game. I had to get it out of my head. Now I don’t do anything special.”