Calling ballplayers superstitious is like calling ministers religious. It's an implicit trait of the game itself, both as practical and characteristic as the very stitches on the baseball. Certain behaviors have become tenets of the game: Don't step on that foul line. Shun pitchers tossing no hitters or face the consequences. Down three in the ninth? Watch the fans and players alike don twisted lids and call 'em rally caps.
But more commonly, these idiosyncrasies reside with the individual. A batter's pre-pitch routine is sacrosanct. Chipper Jones has always stepped to the plate to the strains of "Crazy Train". Wade Boggs pre-gamed with chicken. A-Rod commissions horse-portraits*. And the list goes on. In fact, I bet there isn't a single major leaguer who doesn't adhere to his own ritual, no matter how insignificant or unpublicized it may be.
But sometimes, superstitions are borne out of periods of struggle. As soon as a player introduces some eccentricity that stokes production, he'll grab hold and not let go–at least until the next time he posts an 0-20 series. Slump-busting curios are plentiful at the major league level (remember that mental image of Jason Giambi in a gold thong that you can't un-see?) Thankfully, we South Carolina baseball fans are familiar with slightly less psychologically scarring fare.
(Read on after the jump!)
Two years ago, things looked grim for the Yardcocks. An 0-2 ouster in the SEC tournament and an early deficit in our first regional game had team/fan morale at a season low. But during a rain delay, Robert Beary (a vital cog in last year's CWS) taped a ball to a bat, and the Avatar Spirit Stick was born. Who knows if this unholy hybrid directly impacted our play, but results don't lie. The piece was exceptionally visible during our miracle run, serving as a lighthearted B-Story to the decidedly more emotional and inspiring Baylor Teal narrative.
Flash ahead to the present, and the Yardcocks have found their new superstitious centerpiece. I usually reserve fish fearing for Jaws screenings and River Monsters marathons, but the 2012 squad has shed a whole new light on the concept. Reptar, third baseman LB Dantzler's beloved betta fish, is the new face of Gamecock baseball.
You've heard the story by now: Auburn roadtrip was upcoming, and Reptar's normal fish-sitter was out of town. Dantzler was left with no option other than taking the beast along. Since then, the Cocks have been red hot. We won't know if Reptar--named for a dino-monster from the 90's cartoon Rugrats--will guide the Cocks to post-season glory, but for now, it sure makes for a fun story.
While Reptar has captured the hearts and hopes of Gamecock nation, I wouldn't say he's quite carved out his permanent spot in program lore. But he's at least caused enough of a stir to have his merits weighed against the Spirt Stick in a little Gamecock Superstition Face Off:
There's something mysterious and symbolic about physically binding a baseball and a bat during a rainstorm in order to conjure team-wide success at the plate. But lighting candles and chanting at the Spirit Stick during that rain delay was kinda dark, no? Meanwhile, Reptar's story is pure and innocent. Just the tale of a young man and his fish. The lean is Reptar.
As of today, The Stick (11-1) had a longer run, but the competition was also better and the pressure was higher, especially after the CWS-opening loss to Oklahoma. The Cocks were coming off two SEC sweeps before Reptar (9-1) publicly entered into the fold. The Stick, on the other hand, will always be viewed as the catalyst. Reptar will get his chance to lead us to that miniature plastic aquarium treasure chest in Nebraska. For now, Spirt Stick reigns supreme.
Edge: Spirit Stick
An impossible situation for the stick. Reptar is small and wistful. The stick looks like a tumorous snake-mummy. A symbol only a fan-base could love.
It's a tender subject, but we've got to acknowledge that betta fish only live 2-4 years in captivity. I can't find any intel on Reptar's age, but his time with us is limited. True story though: a couple I know owned betta fish that lasted seven years. Seven! If a betta year equates to 25 human years, that's a downright geriatric fish. Still, Reptar may be gone (but not forgotten) by the time Dantzler graduates. Meanwhile, try as one might, you simply can't flush a fungo bat.
Edge: Spirit Stick
Reptar has a Twitter feed, t-shirts, and a hashtag. All very nice, but The Spirit Stick yawns through your tweets. Here's a hashtag: #EnshrinedInATrophyCase. Knight takes rook.
Edge: Spirit Stick.
Final Tally: Spirit Stick takes it, 3-2.
I remind you that this all changes with a CWS run for the 2012 team. Reptar will have the chance to supplant the Avatar Spirit Stick as the defining Gamecock baseball superstition. But for now, he's a footnote if the Cocks don't return to Omaha.
*I like to imagine this as less of a superstition and serves more as proof that A-Rod is weird, and that he'd still own centaur portraits if he was a grade school teacher or car salesman.