Superstitions have a unique place in the world of sports for the people who believe in them. They certainly play a major role whenever I’m watching one of my favorite teams. As a Yankees’ fan, I remember taking a bathroom break when they were trailing the Phillies during the fourth inning of Game 4 of the 2009 World Series. After Alex Rodriguez smacked a two-run homer while I was away, my college roommates asked me to stay in the bathroom for the rest of the game. The next few hours were a little awkward, but after the Yankees came away with a victory that gave them the lead in the series and sent them toward their 27th championship, how could anyone argue with my decision? The bottom line is that I hung out in the bathroom, the Yankees won, and I was convinced that I’d made the right call and, perhaps, brought my team a bit of good luck. It’s moments like these that made me want to look at how superstitions play their part in other people’s lives when it comes to playing, coaching, and watching sports.
A Intro to Superstitions
A superstition is a belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge, that the significance of a particular thing, circumstance, or occurrence will lead to a certain consequence. There are plenty of people who sit in their lucky seat or wear a particular piece of clothing, because they think doing these things may increase a team’s chances of winning. Superstitious athletes have been known to eat the same meal prior to every game or put on their uniform in a certain order.
The North Haven High School baseball team’s Head Coach Bob DeMayo, who used to be a school psychologist, feels that this ritualistic approach provides mental comfort for athletes, often translating to a better performance.
“It’s like the self-fulfilling prophecy. If you act on something that’s not necessarily correct, but treat it in a way that it should happen, it probably will,” DeMayo said. “A lot of times, that superstition is a belief that you have to do something. In a lot of cases, it does work out. With superstitions, if you believe in them so much and act on them, they can come true.”
Of course, not everyone subscribes to this notion. Michael Le, who served as the team manager for Morgan’s girls’ volleyball, basketball, and softball squads, doesn’t have a superstitious bone in his body. Consequently, he wasn’t too concerned about how his actions affected any of these teams.
“I’m not superstitious on my own actions, because I am not really a player, and I also believe that a player has more of an impact on a game,” said Le. “I believe that my actions hold no merit. I don’t believe that where I sit will have an impact on the outcome of the game or how the team plays.”
Many superstitions revolve around routines and repetition. When someone does something successfully, it only makes sense that he or she will repeat the process that yielded those results. Frank Jolly, the president of the Deep River Horseshoe League, has seen how players line up and throw their shoes exactly the same way time after time.
“Some will wind up three or four times with a throwing motion the same way all the time before they release the shoe. Some will lead with either their left or their right foot, but they’ll always do it the same way,” Jolly said. “Everybody does what is comfortable. I’m not sure if it’s all superstition or repetitiveness, but I think those words are interchangeable.”
On the Field
Players are probably the most superstitious of all. Hall of Fame baseball player Wade Boggs always ate chicken before his games. Michael Jordan allegedly wore his North Carolina basketball shorts under his Chicago Bulls’ shorts. Hockey star Sidney Crosby eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich prior to each contest.
Per Head Coach Anthony Russell’s wishes, the members of the East Haven girls’ basketball team always dress the same way when they hit the court.
“Coach Russell is a little OCD, so we all have to wear the same shoes, knee pads, and socks during our practices and games,” said senior Olivia Coyle. “I like it. I love the fact that we’re all [matching with navy blue accessories]. It’s perfect, because I think we’re all a little OCD.”
The Old Saybrook girls’ tennis team takes it to a different level by employing a superstition that’s a little more extreme. During the last three seasons, the Rams brought a small white statue that they called Bruth to their matches, because they believed she brought them good luck.
“We have a, I don’t know what you call it, but it’s Bruth. That’s what we named her. She’s very hard to describe, but we bring her to our matches to confuse our opponents. We thought it would be funny. Before every match, we give her a cookie as an offering and say a prayer with her. The prayer does end, ‘Bruth, pray for us,” said Rosie Rothman, who played for Old Saybrook before recently graduating. “It makes playing more fun and brings us together as a team. It’s something we can do together, and we can all have fun and laugh about.”
However, the Rams’ relationship with their little buddy wasn’t just for fun and games. Rothman said that just knowing Bruth was there provided positive energy for everyone, and that’s why they brought her to each one of their matches.
“We forgot Bruth once, and everyone panicked. We don’t let people forget her anymore. She was always at all of our matches, and we’d move her around if we thought somebody needed some extra support. We’d put her down facing that court,” Rothman said. “It’s weird, but we all think it’s so funny. We have fun with all the little things we do, and it helps, because it relaxes everybody and puts us in a good mood. You can see how that affects your playing.”
North Branford softball Head Coach Nick DeLizio also plays baseball in the West Haven Twilight League, and he’s fully aware of just how weird some of his quirks are. If DeLizio is in a slump, he will sleep alongside his bat. When he’s hitting well, he lets his bat ride shotgun. DeLizio has another ritual for when he’s out in the field.
“As athletes, you never want to break routines. Something I do, after every out, I take my hat off and put it back on. I’ll pull the glove off, as well, and then put both back on. It’s weird. I just noticed it this year that I do that in the field after an out is made,” DeLizio said. “It’s weird, and it’s stuff you don’t even think about. To explain it to someone, you start to think you’re kind of crazy. I don’t even know how it really started, but I got called out on it on the field this year, which was pretty funny.”
As a Coach
Having coached the North Haven baseball team for the past 59 years, DeMayo has his own assortment of superstitions. He’s also seen many of his athletes engage in various forms of superstitious activity.
“Superstitions that involve me in baseball are lineup changes. If a lineup is going well and there may be somebody where, logically you want to make a change, it’s really hard for me to do that,” he said. “Also, clothing that is worn. There are some winning streaks where the socks could walk into the washer themselves. Nothing gets changed and, if it does, I go nuts. Logically, it makes no sense, and I’ve been through the study of superstition.”
As for his players, DeMayo has seen plenty of them hide the razors away during a winning streak, and he even had a kid play with a busted cleat.
“There are many times that they’re worse than I am. We had a kid that broke his cleat during a game, so he duct taped it and wore it like that the rest of the game, which we won. He bought new ones and wore them the next game, and we lost. So the following day, he showed up with the duct-taped cleat,” said DeMayo. “They grow beards, and they don’t get their hair cut. I also let the captains pick which uniforms we wear, and it’s always interesting to see if I could guess which ones we’re going to wear on a particular day, because a superstition always causes it. That’s what I chuckle about the most.”
DeLizio doesn’t really notice any of the quirks that his athletes on the North Branford softball squad might have, but if you watch one of the Thunderbirds’ games, you’ll notice DeLizo sitting on his yellow bucket whenever his team is in the field. DeLizio isn’t exactly sure why he does this; he just knows that he has to.
“As a coach, you don’t pay attention to [athletes’ superstitions]. You’re focused on situations of the game, you’re making the lineup, and hoping your team plays the best it can,” DeLizio said. “For me, I have to sit on the yellow bucket when our kids are in the field. I don’t know why, but I need to sit on the yellow bucket.”
In turn, DeLizio welcomes any superstitions that his players bring to the field. He knows that his athletes are going to play well if their minds are in a good place.
“It’s that feeling of confidence. If they keep doing their thing, they’re going to feel confident playing in the game,” DeLizio said. “Regardless of how strange it may be, every person has something they do that helps them play to the best of their ability.”
On the Couch
Fandom is a huge aspect of why sports are such a big part of people’s lives. Add in the art of superstition, and we believe that anything is possible.
Shore Publishing sports writer John Lecardo is a die-hard Cubs’ fan who suffered through his fair share of heartbreak until they won their first World Series since 1908 last year. Lecardo flipped his script when it came to watching the Cubs during their playoff run. When it started working, he kept going to a well that never ran dry as Chicago reversed its curse by defeating the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the World Series.
“During the Cubs’ run to the title last fall, I turned games off when they were down. When they were losing 5-2 in Game 4 to San Francisco, I went to bed, woke up, and they won, so I started to see if it would work. I tuned them out after LA shut them out back-to-back games, and they came back and won the next three, not to mention I missed all of Game 6 at my fiancée’s family dinner,” Lecardo said. “I didn’t watch Games 4 and 5 versus Cleveland, and they came back. I got so disgusted when Rajai Davis hit the eighth-inning home run to tie it in Game 7, I turned it off. When I woke up next morning, I saw the unthinkable happened. Makes me seem like a bad fan, and I missed out, but it worked.”
Did Lecardo turning off the Cubs’ games lead to their first World Series title in 108 years? Probably not. However, if he believed that his actions had even the slightest impact on their fortunes, that’s good enough for him, and the same thing goes for anyone else who thinks that superstitions play a role in an outcome. At the end of the day, superstitions are an interesting aspect of sports that can bring us closer to the games we love.
“I think superstitions are as important as you make them out to be. They can help you if you have that kind of attitude about them,” Rothman said. “I know a lot of people that don’t rely on superstitions, and that’s fine, too. It’s just one of those things where everybody does their own thing and gets out of it what they want to.”