Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Superstitions and River Rats

By Pauly
San Francisco, CA

I'm always afraid to write about baseball because I don't want to be a jinx. No one wants to be a jinx and become a social outcast and pariah, like the weird kid in grammar school who everyone avoided at lunch time because he smelled like cat piss.

Baseball is a game wrapped in superstitions and rituals. Wade Boggs ate fried chicken before every game and if he didn't he was doomed to go 0-5, so he made sure he ate fried chicken -- no matter what. During winning streaks, players won't wash their uniforms or socks. Players won't step on the foul lines when running off the field. And everyone in the dugout doesn't even talk about or recognize a no-hitter when it's happening.

Superstitions are utterly stupid, because once you give in to a superstition, your life becomes ruined because you become enslaved by your biggest fears of breaking whatever ritual you created to make yourself feel less anxious. Yet, I only adhere to one -- I never carry around $50 bills. Grubby told me about it in 2004 when I first got into playing poker in casinos. Since then I refuse to touch $50s and if one crosses my path, I get rid of it as soon as possible.

I used to have another ritual which occurred whenever I traveled. A quick backstory -- I have a recurring nightmare that I die in a plane crash -- so, to assuage my fears, I rap my closed right hand on the outside of the plane just above the doorway before I enter the plane and I'm greeted by the flight attendants. I dunno when that ritual started, but I stopped doing it a couple of years ago. So if/when I die in a plane crash, I don't want that added extra pressure following me into the afterlife because I didn't quell any superstitions before I stepped onto the plane.

I'm supposed to smart enough to know that whatever I do will alter the future, as much as I'd like to think I can affect the outcome of a game or prevent a plane crash. Even though I know my actions, like writing about the Yankees on my blog, won't affect the game, I have been silent for a few weeks because I don't want to be bogged down with guilt that I jinxed the Yanks. No one wants to be a jinx.

Yeah, I won't adhere to any sports-related superstitions, yet I still wear my Yankees visor backwards when they're in desperate need of a hit. Some habits never die, even if it's a silly superstition. Then again rally hats are waaaaaaay more inventive than that fucking insane Rally Monkey that the L.A. Angels of Anaheim uses to fire up the crowd.

As much as I usually don't give a shit what people think about me, I hate to be known as a jinx among my sporting peers, because some of the most random people are slaves to superstitions, especially die-hard sports fans.

There are some personal exceptions because I get more and more superstitious and intense whenever there's large sums of money on the line. Take this summer for example -- I was working in Las Vegas during the NBA playoffs leading up to the Finals against Miami. I had bet big on the Dallas Mavericks to win the entire Championship along with individual bets on each game they played en route to the title. I was kinda forced to watched one game with AlCantHang at McFadden's Pub (formerly the Tilted Kilt) inside the Rio Casino. I never go to that joint anymore, yet we had to watch the game there due to lack of space in the sportsbook and adjoining bar, which were packed with fans and bettors. Alas, I went to the pub with Al because we had no other alternative... yadda, yadda, yadda.... the Dallas Mavs came from behind in one of the most exhilarating games I had seen in a very long time to cover the spread. I made a lot of coin that day and a new superstition was born. For the rest of the series, I wanted to watch every game with Al at McFadden's.

Sweating the NBA playoffs at McFadden's
with AlCantHang and Michele (aka the Cougar)

The one time we broke the streak and skipped McFadden's, the Mavs didn't cover (incidentally, when I watched Game 7 of the NHL playoffs with my colleague Lance, my bet on Vancouver shit the bed because Al wasn't with me!). As much as I know that neither myself, Al, or McFadden's will affect how many three pointers Dirk Nowitzki will drill or how many fouls the refs will call -- I still wanted to cover my ass and placate any potentially superstitions that induce a spike in sport betting anxiety. That means sometimes giving in to superstitions -- whether it's wearing a "rally cap" or watching a game in the same place with the same people.

I guess that's why I've been saving any baseball commentary for an email thread with my brother, Jerry, and the Rooster. The infamous "NYC sports thread" has been going on for a few years now with the topics centralizing on all things sports in New York City -- lots of Yankees, Knicks and Jets chatter with a smattering of Miami Hurricanes football, hockey, boxing, UFC, and English soccer.

Yesterday, no one had faith in AJ Burnett. The locker room prankster is beloved among his teammates, but he's struggled down the stretch. AJ was scheduled to take the mound in Game 4 against the Detroit Tigers with the Yankees down 2-1 in a five-game series. The Yankees were on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs with all hopes resting in the shoulders and right arm of their weakest link in the chain. AJ achieved perfection ten years ago when he tossed a no-hitter, but his best days were way behind him. As a bettor, I frequently bet the OVER (combined run totals) in AJ's games and never dared betting on the Yanks whenever it was his turn in the rotation. I had no faith in him during the season and had even less confidence in the playoffs.

Even my mother, who is nothing close to being a religious person, knew the writing was on the wall. She all but declared the Yankees dead on arrival at the start of Game 4 and sent me a text message stating the only hope the Yanks had was to "pray for them."

Wow. When a native of the Bronx is looking for spiritual help, you know it's a bleak.

That text stunned me. My mother had not-so-secret disdain for AJ Burnett. I'd estimate that 75% of the text messages she sent me over the last two years occurred on days when AJ pitched and usually resembled something like... "AJ sucks."

No one had confidence in AJ. The bookies in Vegas set the line with Yankees as the dog. Everyone lost faith in AJ. The bookies. My mother. Everyone calling into the Mike and the Mad Dog radio show. The guys in my email thread. Even me.

The wiseguys in Vegas bet the Yankees, because they love betting dogs in the playoffs, especially on the brink of elimination. They knew AJ was on the mound and bet the Yankees anyway. That takes huge balls from my perspective as a fan -- but they viewed the situation differently. They probably knew that AJ would be on a short leash and Girardi would yank him before they got into a real jam, and at some point it would come down to the Tigers bullpen holding off an offensive surge in the late innings. I had similar inklings, which I told my brother yesterday morning -- that I had a feeling that AJ would get rocked early on and eventually get yanked in the second inning after giving up two runs, before Phil Hughes out out the fire and pitched five solid innings in relief as Yanks come from behind to win 7-4.

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

Curtis Granderson bailed out AJ Burnett big time with the bases loaded. If Granderson doesn't catch up to that long fly ball and chase it down for the third out to thwart a Tigers rally in the first inning, then it's 2-0 or potentially 3-0 Tigers. At that point, the lynch mob would start chanting AJ's name and he'd be dead by the seventh inning stretch.

Right place, right time. Or as Yogi Berra succinctly stated -- "Hit 'em where they ain't."

But the ain't in that instance was Granderson on his horse and running down the ball to center field. That was the first of two sensational catches he'd make in the outfield (second catch is pictured above), solidifying what everyone who watched the Yanks everyday already knew -- Granderson's outstanding catches symbolized the Yankees season, because he bailed them out in more ways than they'll ever know.

After Granderson's first inning heroics, AJ Burnett better be naming his next kid after Granderson or buying him a Lexus or taking him out to steak dinners every time they're on the road, because if Grandy doesn't make that catch -- AJ Burnett gets whacked. He'd go missing for a few weeks, before his corpse was found floating in the East River, with chunks of his bloated face eaten up by river rats.

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