The science of superstitions
The sports world is filled today with high technology.
Computer programs break down athletes' performances to every conceivable level. Professional trainers mold every usable part of an athlete's body. Today, if it's not done scientifically with data, an athlete's performance will suffer.
Well, after you read this, tell me if these athletes were paying attention to technology to enhance their performances.
Let's start with basketball.
Former Arizona Wildcat and pro guard, Jason Terry wears the shorts of his next opponent to bed the night before a game. Michael Jordan wore a pair of his North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform for every game. Rumor has it, he also ordered a 23-ounce steak for each pregame meal. Need energy? Caron Butler of the Dallas Mavericks downs a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew — half of it before the game and the other half at halftime. So much for electrolytes and potassium.
Ted Williams broke down the art of hitting to a science. Hall of Famer Wade Boggs went a little bit further. Boggs believed his hitting success depended on his eating chicken before each game. Yes, 162 times a year he ate chicken cooked 17 different ways, but he didn't stop with chicken. He fielded exactly 150 ground balls at practice, took battling practice at exactly 5:17 p.m. and ran his wind sprints at exactly 7:17 p.m. each night. The man with 3,000 hits and numerous batting titles, also wrote the word “CHAI” in the dirt before each time at bat.
One of the most feared power hitters in baseball was Vladimir Guerrero. He believed he could get extra hits by putting his batting helmet down on the dugout floor before the season. He expected his teammates to spit on the helmet whenever possible. That's why Vlad's helmet appeared to be covered with dirt, but was really covered in tobacco juice.
Modern technology isn't exclusive to baseball. Brian Urlacher eats two chocolate chip cookies before each game. That's a lot better than LSU coach Les Miles. Before each game, the “Mad Hatter” grabs a handful of turf and eats it. He says the grass at LSU's Tiger Stadium tastes the best. Modern dietitians claim it has elements of wheat grass in it.
I'll even bring in NASCAR, for my friend and fellow columnist, “Off Road” Randy Hoeft. No NASCAR driver will eat peanuts at the track. You won't find them carrying a $50 bill either. It has something to do with the new high-powered engines.
When the human body and mind are broken down by doctors, trainers and computers, there has to be scientific data to back it up. Somebody must have forgotten to tell major league reliever Turk Wendall that he played in the twenty-first century.
Many players wear necklaces when they play. Turk wore a necklace made of teeth from wild animals that he had shot. Many players have physical gestures or movements before they perform. Turk stood tall while his catcher was squatting. As soon as his catcher stood up, Turk would assume the catcher's squat until his catcher got settled behind the plate.
While he pitched, Turk needed to eat black licorice. But he knew how bad that could be for his teeth. So when the inning ended, he would run off the mound, leap over the foul line, and brush his teeth in the dugout.
You see, Turk — like many other professional athletes — always believed in the virtues of modern technology. They used all the tools that science gave them to enhance their performance. They were all a little superstitious, too. Maybe science and superstition both have a place in sports — they can co-exist.
In the words of Patrick Roy, one of the NHL's greatest goalies, “I talk to the goal posts every night, because they're my friends.”
John Blabe is the former athletic director and football coach for Antelope Union High School. He can be reached at email@example.com.