The connecting crack of a bat, or a baseball thunk-ing into a catcher’s glove make me smile. Though I can’t judge a curve ball from a slider, I’ve been a baseball fan since the days Earl “Holy Cow!” Gillespie called the play-by-play on the radio for the Milwaukee Braves. Yes, the Milwaukee Braves, back when my hometown ended the National Anthem singing, “…and the home of the Bravessss.” As a kid I memorized Teresa Brewer’s “I Love Mickey” off a vinyl—hey, even though Mantle was a dreaded Yankee, it was a baseball song. The old Ken Burns PBS BASEBALL series stands proud in my DVD collection. Bull Durham is one of my all-time favorite movies. Can’t wait to see 42 when the film comes out next weekend.
The Braves bailed out of Milwaukee long ago, and so did I. Now I cheer for the team representing my zip code: a Mets and Yankee fan when I lived in New York; a Dodger fan now (though I check Angel scores too.) I’ll watch a game from anywhere in the stadium from the nosebleed top decks to the baseline field boxes. I was in the Dodger Stadium left field bleachers when Kirk Gibson smacked his game-winning home run in the 1988 World Series.
Along with the Zen atmosphere at the ballpark, box score stats to track, the thrill of a good game, crowd watching and hot-dog-eating during a slow game, and the always hope for a winning rally in the bottom of the ninth to surprise us all—baseball comes with a superbly bizarre stack of superstitions that fit right into the occult theme of my Mind for Murder Mystery series. Writing a baseball game into my new novel HEX ON THE EX was a natch. And so much fun.
How wild was it researching baseball superstitions dating back to the early 1900s? Mind-twisting. Some players eat the same meal before every game. Only use lucky bats. Wear lucky gloves. Shower in uniform after a loss to erase evil spirits. No showering or changing clothes during a winning streak. Never step on the chalk between third base and home plate. Repetitive warm-up rituals on the mound. Odd dances at the plate. Curses and lucky charms.
Of the three books I read on baseball superstitions, Mike Blake’s The Incomplete Book of Baseball Superstitions, Rituals, and Oddities provided the most entertaining facts. According to Blake: former Boston Red Sox batting leader Wade Boggs is a chickentarian, claiming, “I believe, for me, there are hits in every chicken I eat.” Ex-Cubs slugger Leon Durham had his mother pray over his bats. Oriole Ken Singleton always picked up three pebbles before batting, tossed them over his shoulder, and dug in “to remind me that I have three strikes and that I should be selective.” Tony Gonzales, Cuban-born Phillies outfielder, dressed a doll in the opposing team’s uniform then stuck it with pins or bashed it with his bat.
Cardinals Pepper Martin & Ducky Medwick, Yankee Lou Gehrig, White Sox fielder “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, and Cub Fred Mitchell collected women’s hairpins as good luck charms—finding a hairpin on game day was a winning omen. Personally, I hadn’t seen (or noticed?) a hairpin for years. The day after I read about the superstition I spotted a hairpin on the carpet at the gym. You better believe I kept it, along with the five others I found since then.
The baseball game chapter in HEX ON THE EX wound up being a blast to write, with many of my favorite scenes. I even snuck in the history of the Chicago Cubs’ Billy Goat curse. If you have a free afternoon and a yen for roasted peanuts, call me. Let’s go out to the ball game.
And if a hairpin falls in your path, pick it up. This could be your lucky day.