Braves utility man Elliot Johnson always places a piece of Super Bubble grape-flavored bubble gum in his mouth when he runs on the field to play defense. When his team is batting, he discards the grape and replaces it with Super Bubble watermelon-flavored bubble gum because, he says with absolute certainty, "The hits are in the watermelon gum."
The hits are in the watermelon gum. It is preposterous, of course, but Johnson seems to believe it, which, in the crazy world of baseball, is all that matters. He got a couple of hits in a minor league game a few years ago while chewing watermelon gum, so now it is his best chance to get two hits tonight. Johnson acknowledges that it is also "an oral fixation, to some degree," but after this many years, he is superstitious about it. And superstitions remain as alive today as they were 20 years ago when Turk Wendell pitched without wearing socks and chewed black licorice every inning on the mound (and brushed his teeth after every inning). Oh, and Wendell would not step on the mound until his catcher was in a crouch.
"When I got to Atlanta this year," says Johnson, who began the season with the Royals, "they didn't have the flavored gum that I need. I was pretty upset. But one of the clubhouse kids found some for me at a store, and I was as happy as could be." He laughed, but he wasn't kidding when he said, "And that first night, of course, I got a hit."
He got the hit because of the gum. Baseball is the hardest game in the world to play, so excruciatingly difficult, in fact, that players will do anything to make them feel like they have a better chance to get two hits tonight off Justin Verlander or get Miguel Cabrera out in a key situation. It's all about feeling comfortable, prepared and confident, and if the right gum or the right pair of socks or freshly brushed teeth is going to give a player a better chance to succeed, that's what he's going to do.
It's the ultimate game of skill and luck, and its players always are searching for good luck.
"Baseball is a very funny game," says Luke Scott, an outfielder for the Rays. "If one little thing doesn't go right, it can throw you off. If you don't complete your superstition, it can throw you off and make you look like you've never played the game before."
"It is taboo to talk about it. Players are superstitious about being superstitious," catcher John Baker says. "It's like, 'If I let you in on my little secret, I might not get a couple of hits.'"
So instead of calling it a superstition, players now call what they do "a routine." But it's semantics; the fact remains that they do these weird things day after day because they feel they have to or else it will bring them bad luck.
Superstitions aren't for everybody, of course. But sometimes, it seems that even a player who tries to disavow the value of "a routine" doth protest too much.
"You can spend a lifetime talking about players' superstitions," Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche says. "My only superstition is to have no superstition. I don't wear the same thing, or eat the same thing, if I get three hits. I can wear any of the eight pair of cleats that I have in my locker. I borrow people's bats all the time, different models than the ones I use. It doesn't matter. I am jealous, to some degree, of the guys that get in the same routine every day. I have never been able to do that. I tried, then I finally quit trying. But I don't want anything holding me back. I don't want anything weighing on me. What if I wanted to go to my son's game, but I missed it because I have to go to the same sub shop for lunch every day at the same time? How am I going to explain that to my wife?"
Former pitcher Scott Erickson used to wear all black on the days he pitched and spoke to no one on those days -- "We called it the 'Day of Death,'" teammate Kevin Tapani once said -- but most players aren't as obvious about their superstitions or routines. They don't publicize them; they might even try to disguise them. But we have found a few, and we have unofficially determined that these superstitions or routines can be classified in five distinct categories: Random Acts of Strangeness, Food and Drink, Hygiene, Uniforms, and, all by himself, Cardinals reliever Randy Choate.
The Random Acts of Strangeness Players
"He says he's not superstitious. He says this is all part of his routine. … Yeah, right," Choate says with a laugh. "He always has to be in the same spot in the bullpen with two outs in the fourth inning of every game. Then, in the fifth inning, he always digs a hole at the front end of the bullpen mound, then he spits a half of a cup of red Gatorade into the hole. It has to be red. He also likes to put his sleeve in my coat jacket every night in the bullpen. I'm not sure why. … And they say I'm all screwed up?"
Maybe it's a reliever thing.
"[Veteran reliever] Kyle Farnsworth hated it when anyone flipped him the ball," LaRoche says. "So, every chance I would get, I'd flip him the ball. He would let it hit off his glove, fall to the ground, then he would throw it to the umpire and ask for a new ball."
Then there's former Tigers reliever Jose Valverde.
"'Papa Grande' would always come out of the bullpen with a mouthful of water," Tigers reliever Phil Coke says. "He would spit it out, an equal amount to each side, then slap his thigh with his glove. With his hat in one hand and his glove in the other, he would run to the mound. On the way, he would never step on any line on the field. I mean, not just the foul line, any line. When the grass is cut diagonally, he'd never step on a line in the grass."
Maybe it's a pitcher thing.
"Every night before I pitch, I have to play Nintendo hockey," Rangers left-hander Derek Holland says. "Every night before I pitch, I have to watch the movie 'For The Love Of The Game,' the Kevin Costner movie. I watch the same part every time but never the whole movie. I've never seen the whole movie, and I never will until I retire. People tell me how it ends, but I don't care. I won't watch it until I retire. But I have to watch it every night before I pitch. It's what helps get me ready to pitch."
If it's not a movie, it's a song.
"I know with Andy Pettitte, guaranteed, on the days he pitches, he will listen to the entire 'Rocky' soundtrack," says Scott, who was a teammate of Pettitte's with the Astros. "That's like clockwork. It pumps him up. There's no one around, just him and Rocky."
Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter says of former teammate Bobby Abreu, "At 6:30 every night for a 7:05 game, Bobby would put his headphones on and play that 'September' song, you know, 'Do you remember, the 21st night of September.' … Same song every night, but only when he was starting. He had to listen to it before every game. After he listened to that song, he'd be smiling. He would be all happy; he would be slapping everyone's hand around him. It's what he needed to get ready to play that night."
Marlins utility man Greg Dobbs, a veteran of 10 major league seasons, shakes his head and says, "What I don't understand are these guys, right before the game, that have their headphones on. And they listen to the same song over and over again. The same song! It's like they are in a trance. The same song for 162 consecutive games! I don't how they do it without going crazy. It's nuts! [Closer Steve] Cishek does that. [Reliever] Mike Dunn does the same thing. I feel like going to them and saying, 'Dude, listen to something else, please. It's not going to hurt you. You will be fine.' But it's what they need; it's what they do. They think I'm strange with what I do. And I think they are strange."
Reds third baseman Todd Frazier doesn't listen to music. He sings and chants before every game he starts.
"Part of my routine every day is to go into the trainer's room and do the roll call," Frazier says. "So, if [pitcher] Alfredo Simon is in there, I'll walk in and sing and clap, 'Alfred-o, Si-mon.' Then he has to raise his hand. When he raises his hand, I stop. Then our trainer, Paul Lessard, will yell, 'What's wrong with Frazier?' and whoever is in the trainer's room will yell together, 'He's a bum!'
"[Reds coach] Billy Hatcher taught us the song they used to sing about the Big Red Machine. They called it 'Red Hot.' So every day, I put this red-hot cream on my arm, and I sing a rap song that goes something like, 'Because we're the Reds, we're red hot.' I do that three times, and we're ready to go play. But the last thing I do before I go out on the field every night is go to our masseuse, Mickey. And I sing to her, 'Hey, Mickey, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind, hey Mickey, hey Mickey.' And she says, 'Thank you, let's go.' And we're off to play."
The last thing Chipper Jones did before every game "was to play computer solitaire until 6:55 every night, then he went straight to the dugout," LaRoche says. "It's what got him ready."
"[Padres outfielder] Carlos Quentin does all sorts of things," says White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, a former teammate. "He has this spray. He calls it an 'aura spray.' It helps him feel better about himself; it gives him some kind of an aura. He doesn't spray it on himself like cologne. He sprays it up in the air, then walks under it so it just kind of falls on him, like an aura. He brings his own sheets when he goes on the road to a hotel. He has special sheets -- like wearing a bracelet -- only the sheets cover his whole body for good luck."
The last thing White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn does minutes before every game is "take four pieces of sugarless gum as I stand on the top step of the dugout. Everyone on our team knows I do this. I chew them into a nice ball, then I spit it out. Then -- using my hand as a bat -- I swat the wad of gum out toward the field. Everyone on our team gets out of the way because they know I'm swatting my gum wad out onto the field. Tonight, [Orioles third baseman] Manny Machado will have to start the game by walking down the third-base line and tossing a big wad of gum off the field. I don't know why I do that. I have forever."
What Dunn has never done, he says, is stand in the on-deck circle.
"I don't like the feeling of having the warning track under me," he says. "It's not the same consistency of dirt that there is in the batter's box, so I don't want to feel that before I go to the plate. I stand on the grass where it's soft. I have never been in the on-deck circle."
Neither has the Royals' Alex Gordon.
"He will not. He always stands on the grass next to the circle," says the Braves' Elliot Johnson, a former teammate. "You can see his footprints. He wears down the grass, and they had to resod it because he won't stand in the on-deck circle dirt. The groundskeeper has to hate him."
The batter's box always has been a place for rituals, from Mike Hargrove (known as the "Human Rain Delay") to current ESPN analyst Nomar Garciaparra (who adjusted his batting gloves, tapped his toe, etc., after every pitch) to the Giants' Pablo Sandoval (whose pre-at-bat routine is legendary, with his toe tap, his helmet adjustment, his sliding toward the pitcher). But all hitters have a routine.
"The only thing that I do the same way every time is enter the batter's box. I've done it the same way since I was 15 years old," Baker says. "I draw three lines in the dirt. The first line I draw is where I place my back foot in the batter's box. Then I draw a sweeping line across the batter's box. Then I draw a third line for my front foot. The way I enter the box is as OCD as it can get. If I somehow was not allowed to enter the box the same way I always do, then I would make the effort to step out and then make an effort to do it again."
It's a comfort thing, Baker says.
"It's all about being able to do something with your eyes closed," he says. "Take Pablo Sandoval. When he gets into the box with his elaborate toe tap and the tapping of his helmet, it doesn't matter if he's in Venezuela, Cuba, Philadelphia or Canada. It gives him a sense of peace in the box. From a physiological standpoint, in a pressure-filled situation when the crowd is really large and the game is on the line and you start to sweat, your heart rate will speed up significantly.
"But when you enter the box and get in your comfort zone, your heart rate can go down 10, 15 beats. It's like Nomar. His toe tap and his adjusting his batting gloves reminds him of his days at Georgia Tech, or in high school, when he was only playing. This wasn't work, and he wasn't under this kind of pressure. Sandoval is Nomar with … maybe less need for a psychologist."
The Clothing and Uniform Superstition Players
The Tigers' Torii Hunter says he has had "a thousand superstitions, but most of them don't last very long. If I get a few hits eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, then I keep eating them. But when I stopped hitting, I switch to … turkey sandwiches, or whatever."
Then he smiles and says, "But my thing has always been clean shoes. At 6:40 for every 7:05 game, I clean my shoes. I take my Mr. Bubble spray, and I scrub them until they are sparkling clean. When you look good, you feel good. When you feel good, you play good. When you play good, they pay good.
"If I, say, hit a double in the first inning, I have to slide into second. Now I have dirty shoes. I am so irritated. I can't wait to score now. So [Miguel Cabrera] singles me home, and as soon as I score, I run to get my Mr. Bubble and I clean my shoes. Then I feel so much better. My shoes are sparkling clean. The clubhouse guy can clean my shoes, but no one can do it as well as I can do it myself. He might clean them, but he won't see that little spot over there. I'll see it. I'll make sure it's clean."
Shoes and socks are equally important, it seems.
"The only thing I have to have right is my socks," Red Sox catcher David Ross says. "We are winning this year, and I'm wearing an American flag on one sock and the stars from the flag on the other sock. I always, always wear the stars on the right foot. But I did it wrong one day and we lost, so I'll never make that mistake again. The stars have to be on the right foot. If we lose a game, I don't want it to be my fault for wearing the wrong socks."
Dunn says, "Socks are important. I wear NBA socks. They're thick, and low. I don't want anything tight on my calves. I hate that. Every spring, I'll get six to 12 pairs of NBA socks."
Red Sox DH/outfielder Jonny Gomes says, "If there's anything that comes in twos, like shoes or socks or batting gloves, I always have to put the right one on first. If in an emergency situation, I wake up in the middle of the night, and without thinking, I put my left shoe on first, I will realize my mistake, and I will sit down and put my right shoe on first, then my left. When it comes to twos, the right has to come first. It has always been that way."
For some players, the entire uniform is crucial.
"Every game I pitch, I lay out my uniform the same way," the Angels' C.J. Wilson says. "I lay it out in the order in which I'm going to get dressed. So I'll have my sleeves placed under my jersey. I'll finish it by putting my hat on top of my spikes. It's like when you were a little kid, you laid out your uniform on the foot of your bed the night before your game. This way, I am ready to go at 4 p.m. for a night game. I started doing this when I once went to the bullpen to warm up and I forgot my hat. I thought, 'What am I doing?' This is a checklist I do before every start. When I see everything is in place, I'm good."
For Rays outfielder Sam Fuld, the number on the uniform is the most important part.
"Five is my favorite number," he says. "It always has been. I wore it in little league, American Legion, everywhere. Now I can't set my alarm clock unless it's on a five or a multiple of five. I can't put a microwave on any time or heat unless it is five or a multiple of it. I'm a five guy."
Baker used to catch closer Huston Street with San Diego.
"Huston got a bunch of saves in a row last year, maybe 20 in a row, and for the entire time, he wore the same 10-year-old sweatpants, a polo shirt and shower shoes, the kind they give you during spring training," Baker says. "He is part owner of a clothing company. He makes $9 million a year, and he wears the same clothes three weeks in a row. Something is wrong with that. But for the very superstitious, when you look at them and they appear to be doing something that seems so wrong, then something must be going right."
Jason Motte says, "I always smell my hat. I don't know why I do that. Whenever I take my hat off, which I do all the time, I always smell my hat. Guys ask me, 'What in the world are you doing?' And I say, 'I have no idea.' But it works for me. It makes me comfortable."
And therefore, he is not changing the routine.
"I've worn the same undershirt since 2011, and I've worn the same underwear -- it has holes all over it -- since I got to pro ball," Storen says. "But to me, in baseball, that's normal. I wear the same necklace when I pitch. I never wear a necklace when I don't pitch. I just like the way it hits my neck when I throw. I like the way the sleeves of my undershirt grabs my arms. We are creatures of habit. The littlest things are important to us."
Including … underwear?
"Some guys wear the same underwear for three weeks when they're going good, and it's noticeable -- if you know what I mean -- to his teammates," Baker says. "Three weeks in a row?"
But … underwear?
"Our guy here, [catcher] Chris Snyder, looks a lot different, and prepares differently, before games when he is playing," Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy says. "Only when he is starting, he walks around in the clubhouse before the game wearing only really tight underwear, nothing else. I've run into some of his former teammates this year, and they ask me, 'Hey, does Snyder still walk around in that really tight underwear when he's playing?'"
The Food and Drink Superstition Players
"See those guys?" he says. "They take Oreos before every game, and each guy breaks apart an Oreo, and the one that has the most cream it in wins. I have no idea what it means to win. I have no idea what they are doing, but they do this before every game. And to them, the breaking apart of an Oreo signifies how the game is going to go tonight."
Food and drink are crucial to a player's day and his routine. Wade Boggs collected 3,000 hits and made it to the Hall of Fame, eating chicken before every game.
"My dad used to have me take exactly as many swings off a tee as Wade Boggs did. But I didn't eat chicken before every game. I don't like chicken," veteran outfielder Matt Diaz says. "I used to eat cold cuts. I would have a ham and turkey sandwich before every game after batting practice. Yellow mustard was preferred, though I would go with brown if I had to. And tomato. It's no wonder I didn't lose any weight, eating a hoagie before every game."
"In 2011," Storen says, "I had a grilled cheese and milk every day. Then I worried about nutrition."
Nutrition has always been extremely important to the Rays' Scott.
"In the morning -- I mean, every morning -- I have a half a glass of water, a glass of orange or grapefruit juice and some Green Vibrance, a joint Vibrance," he says. "I don't eat for 30 minutes after that. Then I have three to six eggs, Ezekiel bread and an avocado. For lunch, I will have some type of mammal flesh: deer, venison -- ground or in steaks, or I'll have part of the cow that was butchered for me. Or I might have chicken or wild game. I eat at 5:30 p.m., but not a big meal, maybe some strawberries, pineapple, bell peppers, celery sticks, carrots. And I always have a protein shake during the game in the third, fourth or fifth inning."
The Angels' Wilson is equally diligent about his eating.
"I eat the same thing for breakfast before every start: a vegetable omelet with an English muffin. But it has to be a certain type of English muffin, one without butter because I'm allergic to butter," Wilson says. "I find a lactose-free English muffin, with almond butter and a smoothie. On days I pitch, I'm not going to do anything to upset my stomach. I don't want to get a Code Brown in the third inning. The bathrooms, you know, at most major league ballparks are really, really bad. And I had a bad time in the Toronto bullpen one night.
"Plus, I know all the hotels on the road. I know what they have for room service, and I know all the places near the hotel that serve what I can eat that won't upset my stomach. I don't want any more Code Browns. I should be a sponsor for Pepto-Bismol."
It is a slightly different eating regimen than that of Lee Smith, who saved 478 games during his 18-year big league career.
"Lee Smith, I was told, liked to sleep for the first few innings of every game," Wilson says. "I was told they'd wake him up with a cheeseburger in the fifth inning: 'Lee, time to go!'"
It's not just food. It's drink, too.
"In the second inning of every game, I have to have a cup of coffee," Diaz says. "As a bench player, I have to do it then. I don't want that first cup to come in the fifth; I don't want to be jittery if somehow I get called on to pinch hit right after that first cup. It has to be coffee. But I've gone to the clubhouse in the second inning to get a cup, and the pot is empty. Then, you do the best you can and get a Coke. At that point, you have to lie to yourself and make yourself believe a Coke is coffee. It's OK to lie to yourself in times of need."
Mike Dunn says, "I have to have a Red Bull in the first inning. When I'm in the bullpen, I always share a bag of sunflower seeds with A.J. [Ramos]. But he always has to open the bag. Always. Then I take a handful of seeds. If I don't take a handful, he nudges me, as if to say, 'You have to take a handful.' It's what we do to get us ready to pitch."
And if it isn't drink, it's gum. Elliot Johnson isn't the only one with a gum fetish.
"People think I have chew in my mouth, but it is bubble gum," Motte says. "But I don't chew it. I put two pieces of bubble gum -- always plain-flavored Dubble Bubble -- in my mouth before I pitch. If I go two innings, I'll change the gum after the first inning. I don't know why I do it. It worked once, so I keep doing it. I think it's the sugar. But I don't chew it. So, every time I pitch, I have chewing gum in my mouth every pitch that I don't chew.
"Pretty strange, huh?"
The Hygiene Superstition Players
Who knew players take showers as often as they do?
"I take four showers a day," Storen says. "The first thing I do when I get to the park is shower."
The Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman has what teammate LaRoche calls "a hit shower."
"He will only take a shower at the same shower," LaRoche says. "If someone else is using it, he will wait. If he's in a 0-for-10, he may have to smooth his way into that particular shower, and someone will move aside for him. There are a lot of things that guys do that they're not real proud of, but they'll do it because they think it works. That shower seems to work for Zim."
Adam Dunn, a former teammate, says, "When Zim was in the middle of his 30-game hitting streak, I went up to him in the shower and said, 'Dude, scoot over, I need some of that water, man.' There are a lot of hits in that shower. Guys will go wherever the hits are located."
Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips says catcher Ryan Hanigan "showers at the same nozzle every day when we're at home. And when we go on the road, he counts the number of nozzles until he gets to the same number that he showers at at home."
Hanigan refutes that but says, "I take two showers before every game. There are so few places where you can be alone before a game. That's why I go in the shower. That's where I go to get totally locked in for the game. But I don't want it to control my life."
It controls Diaz's pregame routine, though.
"When I was in the minor leagues, I started something. I would run off the field after batting practice and take a shower," Diaz says. "Once, I ran into the shower and there were two other guys in there before the game. I just looked at them and said, 'Pregame shower guys, huh?' And they nodded yes. Look, I don't want to play feeling nasty. You take BP in 100 degrees in Atlanta, you get nasty. So, I have to take a shower before the game. I would rather miss a meal. I would rather play hungry than not take a pregame shower."
Diaz laughs and says, "It's all about the mechanism. The LSU coach [Skip Bertman] used to flush the toilet after his team had a bad inning. Then he'd say, 'OK, we flushed that away. It's over. Let's go.' It's the same thing with me. Let's flush away a bad BP by taking a shower. A mechanism became a habit, which became a superstition, which became a need."
If it isn't a shower, it's a hot tub.
"[Reliever] Scott Downs had a routine. He loved the contrast. He would go in the hot tub, then the cold tub," Wilson says. "Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold. One-hundred ten degrees to 45 degrees. He felt it was the best way to flush the bad stuff out of him. I couldn't do it; it was too cold. He used to pay guys like $1,000 if they could spend a minute in the cold tub. No one could."
It's all about looking good and feeling good.
"I have a thing about brushing my teeth. I'm kind of OCD about that," Orioles first baseman Chris Davis says. "I've always been that way. And I don't know why. I would never, ever forget to brush my teeth right before a game. But if I ever did, I'd be on the field, in the top of the first inning, and I would be saying to myself, 'Man, I forgot to brush my teeth!'"
Rays manager Joe Maddon says, "I think because all the games are on TV, guys want to look good in front of the camera. A lot of guys take showers before the game. They put perfume on. They get their hair cut all the time. There's a barber in the Boston clubhouse every time we go there. I've seen guys dye their hair before a game, get their eyebrows trimmed."
And, sometimes, more than their eyebrows.
"I played with Todd Helton," Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday says. "Whatever is working for him, that's what he stays with. I have seen him start a game with a full beard, and if he hasn't gotten a hit, he will go to the goatee in the fifth inning. And if he still hasn't gotten a hit, by the end of the game, he is clean shaven."
"If I have a hitting streak going, I am not getting my hair cut. No chance," Elliot Johnson says. "I have no idea why that is. But if I have a growth going and I'm hitting, it stays. My longest hitting streak is 10 or 12 games. If I get to DiMaggio, I will look like a hippie."
Yet, despite all the showers, cologne and haircuts, Hunter says, "I have seen guys piss on their hands before games. It's a superstition. How in the world can that bring you good luck?"
The Randy Choate Superstition Player
"Superstitions?" Motte says. "You have to talk to Randy Choate. He's messed up."
Choate, 38, is a left-handed reliever for the Cardinals. He is as odd as it gets when it comes to superstitions and routines. And he makes no apologies.
"I do things to help rid myself of the anxiety of facing [Joey] Votto or [Jay] Bruce tonight in a crucial situation," Choate says. "I have only been this way since I started doing the job I have now [situational lefty], the last five years or so. When I go to the bullpen to start to throw, I will pick up every bubble gum wrapper and every cup that might be in my sight before I start to throw. I like to have things clean around me. When I first came here, some of the guys looked at me like, 'What is wrong with you?' But now, if I just start warming up and a loose cup blows near me, someone will pick it up and throw it away for me. I appreciate that."
Mike Dunn, a teammate of Choate's when he played with the Marlins in 2012, says, "If there are pumpkin seeds on the ground when he's around, he'll go pick them all up. I've seen a napkin blow near the mound when he pitches, and he'll come off the mound, pick it up and put it in his pocket. His work area has to be as clean as possible. We were at Citi Field recently, and the wind was blowing trash over the field. I thought to myself, 'Randy wouldn't be able to pitch right now.'"
But it's not just a clean pitching area.
"When I come to the mound, I have to pick the ball off the grass, not the dirt," Choate says. "If it's on the dirt, I have to kick it to the grass, then pick it up. If a teammate or an umpire throws me the ball when I first come in to pitch, I intentionally drop it on the grass, then I pick it up. Then I have to walk around the mound and then kick the [rosin] bag at the back of the mound. Then I throw seven warm-up pitches. Only seven. I'm an even-numbered guy. I wear No. 36. Everything in my life is even numbers except how many warm-up pitches I throw. It's always seven. It's never eight; it's never six. Seven. Always."
There is more strangeness.
"When we throw the ball around the infield after an out, I always have to catch it from the third baseman," Choate says. "If it's the first baseman's turn to throw it to me, I will turn my back and wait for the third baseman to throw it to me. They laugh. They tease me. But this seems to work for me.
"When I come into a game, if I enter from the bullpen down the left-field line, I have to run in between the third baseman and the shortstop. When I enter from the bullpen down the right-field line, I have to run between the first baseman and the second baseman. One time, Daniel [Descalso] -- we were about seven runs ahead at the time -- decided to move to a certain spot to see if I would run all the way around him on my way to the mound so I would still be running in between the shortstop and third baseman. [Cardinals manager] Mike Matheny said, 'No, stop! Stay where you are! Don't do that! We don't want to mess him up!'"
Choate smiles and says, "If I give up a hit or a walk, a mess-up in my routine is not the reason. I don't blame that for anything. But I'm not taking any chances. I'm not the same OCD at home. I'm much more relaxed and less uptight. I just like to have everything in order."
That includes packing his equipment bag.
"I have to pack a certain way. I pack my own bag," Choate says. "They tell me, 'This is the big leagues; there's someone here to pack your bag.' I know, but I have a way to do it. Everything has to go in a certain way. Sometimes, some teammates will stand there and watch me pack my bag. I ask them, 'What?' and they say, 'We just want to see the process.' I like being organized. But when I pack my bag, I always put dirty spikes on the outside of my bag, in the outside compartment. They always go in last. Always. I don't know why. I'm very clean and tidy, but I always put my spikes in last, and they have to be dirty."
Mike Dunn says, "I started to pack my own bag after watching him. My teammates came up to me and said, 'Choate, and now you? The clubbie is supposed to pack your bag.' I know, but Randy does it so well. Also, have you seen his locker? Everything is perfectly placed. When he comes to the ballpark on the road and the clubbie has set up his locker, Randy will look at his locker and say, 'NO!' and I'll sit there and watch him redo his entire locker. If the coat hangers aren't all the same -- meaning not the same color, or one has a little hook inside and the others don't -- he would have it replaced. All the hangers have to be exactly the same."
At least Choate has some company in the White Sox's Konerko.
"Come look at his locker," teammate Adam Dunn says. "It's always the same. He's got his cellphone here, arranged this way. He has his watch here, and right behind it is his wedding ring. It's always the same. Sometimes I'll mess with his locker and move things around, even an inch, and he'll come and find me and say, 'Quit messing with my locker.'"
So while we're talking, Dunn, just to be annoying, moves Konerko's cellphone a few inches, as well as his watch. When Konerko returns to his locker, he notices both immediately and quickly corrects it.
"When my locker is not right," Konerko says, "it is like, 'Aaaaaaahhhhhh.'"
He should meet Randy Choate.
Of superstitions, the Giants' Jeremy Affeldt says, "No one wears a thong anymore for good luck."
Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe we just don't know what everyone is wearing under their pants. But we do know that players believe their routines are crucial to getting two hits tonight.
"We recently saw Miguel Cabrera," LaRoche says. "When he got to first after taking an 0-2 pitch and just stroking it right field, I asked him, 'Teach me something; tell me how you do this.' He said one word: 'Routine.' I told him, 'I'm going to need more than that.' He explained his tee work. Everything he does is based on his routine, which he does every day. Same thing. He kept preaching that. I always wonder if I'd be better off doing that."
David Ross says, "We are all creatures of habit. We do crazy things. When we get out of our routine, we don't know what to do. A rain delay messes everyone up; we're not sure what to do. When the offseason comes and our routines end for the season and I go home, I have to ask my wife, 'So, what is my role here? What am I supposed to do now?'"
Adam Dunn says, "In the big leagues, every day is Groundhog Day. Every day is the same. It has to be. Every day, I know exactly what I'm going to be doing at 4:15. And it works for me."
Jonny Gomes says, "All these quirks that we have is to make us better players. It makes us concentrate more on what we're doing. But the irony is, it really is our way of taking our minds off the game. That's why [the Orioles'] Nick Markakis has to tap his bat on the top of his foot after every pitch. It's why [Arizona's] Martin Prado writes a novel in the dirt with his bat every time he comes to the plate.
"Have you seen [A's closer] Grant Balfour? He does something with the chain around his neck when he pitches. He is always worried where the clasp is around his neck. He adjusts it on every pitch. Watch him. One of the best closers in the game, and his clasp has to be correct. It has to be. Have you seen [Tigers DH] Victor Martinez? Every time he walks to the plate, he has one finger in his ear flap in a way like he's talking on the phone, like a CIA operative who is making a top-secret call."
Gomes smiles and says, "You can't explain this stuff. We are all screwed up. That's what the game does to us. And that's why the game is so awesome."