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Local baseball and softball players use rituals as part of game

May 13, 2002|By ERIC GALVAN

Sports Writer

Before every game he pitches, Brawley Union High's Brandon Burnett, goes to the mound, throws his arms in the air and flails them around, to which his teammates in the field respond with the same arm- waving routine.

As much as a routine flyball is a part or a three-run home run is a part of baseball, so are superstitions.

No matter how strange they seem, no matter how odd-looking some may be, superstitions have been around since the beginning of baseball.

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Burnett's pitching superstition happens to be the whole arm-waving thing.

"We had been in a slump. We lost a couple of games. Then one day before a game when I was on the mound, I just did it," said Burnett. "Then we won that game and ever since then we've been on a bit of a role. Sometimes the other pitchers on the team don't do it, but I always try to when I'm pitching."

Another of Burnett's superstitions has to do with his offense. While in the on-deck circle, Burnett swings two bats five times, no more, no less. Two bats, five times.

If Burnett were just another high school player barely hitting .200, one may not be convinced his bat-swinging routine has any significance.

But Burnett leads the Imperial Valley League in RBIs, home runs and is in the top 10 in batting average.

Still not convinced?

Usually Burnett doesn't speak of his batting superstition to anyone. But during Brawley's game against Imperial on Friday, an Imperial Valley Press photographer asked Burnett if he had any superstitions he could photograph. Being ever so accommodating, Burnett mentioned his bat-swinging superstition, which the photographer shot.

In that very at-bat in the sixth inning, Burnett crushed a two-run home run over the centerfield fence.

"I hadn't hit a home run in a while. Then the photographer brought it up and took some pictures and I hit it out," Burnett said. "And that kind of makes you think about it. Maybe the superstition does have something to do with it."

Another Brawley Wildcat with a superstition is Matt Smith, who before each game buries a chewed straw in the infield dirt.

Imperial High's Erik Ramirez wears a black velcro strap around his ankle and teammates Dillon Foster and Chris Cabrera both begin chewing Bubblicious at the start of games and continue chewing their pieces of gum throughout the contest, even if the flavor runs out.

"You gotta keep that same one in your mouth. You can't spit it out and get another one. It has to be that same one you started with," said Foster.

Another of Foster's quirks has to do with his baseball spikes. At the start of each game, Foster puts on his spikes beginning with his left one; always the left one first. Well, almost always.

"I think one time I just happened to put my right one on first and I had a really bad game. It just has to be the left one first," said Foster. "I mean, I can put my regular shoes on whatever, right or left first. But with my cleats I have to put on the left one first."

Whether it is high-schoolers, big leaguers or anyone in between, superstitions are universal. Some players consider it bad luck to step on the base lines when walking on the field. There are others who actually sleep with their bats.

It may sound strange, but that's just part of the game.

Career minor leaguer Tony Gonzalez, now an assistant coach at Southwest High, saw his share of oddities while playing professionally and even had his own thing.

Before the first pitch of an at bat, Gonzalez would clean the batter's box with the bottom of his spikes, leveling the dirt, tap the plate twice, step out of the box, hit his spikes two times then get back in the box.

"If I didn't do it, then I didn't feel comfortable. It just made me feel like I was ready to hit," said Gonzalez.

Then there were some of his teammates.

According to Gonzalez, Steven Hosey, brother of Boston Celtic Paul Pierce and first-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants, always did things on his own, never wanting teammates around him.

"It was weird because I was his roommate and everything he did he did alone," Gonzalez said.

James Lofton Jr., who played with the Boston Red Sox last year, actually committed one of baseball's cardinal sins by shaving before games.

"In baseball, in the minors or majors, you're not supposed to shave on game day, cut your hair or clip your nails. It's just another one of those superstitious things. But there he was, shaving before each game," said Gonzalez.

One of Gonzalez's players at Southwest, Alex Caldera, wears a black arm band all the time. It's not just during games that he wears it. He wears it to school on game days, on non-game days, before and after games … always.

But superstitions aren't just for baseball players. Some softball players have gotten into the practice.

Imperial Valley College pitcher Maria Hansen-Perez has a thing with her glove. She never lets it touch the infield dirt, the outfield grass or the dugout concrete.

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