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My Superstition Story


When I was a senior, there were two guys on my high school team that had been on the team since they were sophomores.  They also happened to be our top two pitchers.  As we practiced prior to the season, they told everyone that we'd neglected a team superstition the previous year, and that it had cost us dearly.  The superstition, so we were told, was that the first pitch of the home opener had to be thrown over the backstop.  We didn't do it the year before, and we missed the playoffs by one game.  The year prior - they claimed, as the only members of the team who had been on the team then - the team threw the first pitch over the backstop and were rewarded with a postseason berth.  As far as they knew, the same thing happened the year before they were on the team too.  Now, of course everyone was skeptical.  At the same time, these were our top two pitchers.  Why would they put themselves out there like that since one of them was likely to be on the mound for that pitch?

I was a back-up second baseman on this team.  I'd been a starter for a few games the year before, but when I completely blew up (0-5, 5 Ks, 2 errors) in a 3-2 extra inning loss to the defending county champs, I found myself relegated to the bench.  The new starter made the most of the opportunity, and I knew that I would once again ride the bench as a senior unless I found a new position.  When practices began, I asked the coach to let me pitch since we really only had three reliable pitchers.  He wasn't very eager to see what I could do with a 65 mph fastball, so the season started with me backing up at second, having not thrown a single pitch in the preseason.

The game before the home opener, our ace pitcher had thrown a lot of pitches, but the game was well in hand.  We were leading by a comfortable margin with one inning to play, so the coach decided to give me a shot.  I nervously took the mound and proceeded to pepper the backstop with my warmup pitches.  It was really ugly.  Then, a batter stepped in, and the nerves went away.  I threw five pitches and recorded a strikeout and two first-pitch, weak ground balls to the pitcher.  Game over.

The next day was the home opener.  That morning, the coach came up to me and said, "How are you feeling?  I'm going to start you."  Of course, I thought he was talking about at second base.  Nope, he wanted me to pitch!  Well, I wasn't turning down playing time, but I had a delimma.  I was well aware of the team superstition, and as soon as word got out that I was pitching, I began to receive advice from everyone on what to do.  Some thought it was stupid.  Others thought I needed to stand up for the school.  As everyone was practicing, our ace came over and sat down beside me on the bench to convice me to throw the first pitch over the backstop.  The coach saw this and assumed that my teammate was trying to settle my nerves about pitching.  When we had finished talking, the coach - who was not aware of this superstition - came over and sat down beside me.  He said, "Billy, don't worry about a thing.  You just throw it over, and everything will be fine."  As we are RR are wont to do, I took his comments completely out of context and charged full-speed ahead!

The time for the first pitch came.  I wound up and threw the ball as far as I could, then immediately began shaking my hand as if it just slipped.  Everyone was silent, except for the muffled snickers of my teammates and the out-of-character profanities of my coach.  Five seconds pass.  One lone voice on the other bench slowly starts to clap and quietly says, "Good eye.  Good eye."  The rest of the team followed suit.  The umpire, dumbfounded, reached in to his bag and pulled out a new ball.  "Ball one," he said, thinking he was in for a very long day.  It was perhaps the funniest moment I've witnessed on a ball field (although the time I got my whole team ejected was pretty good too!).

Of course, that's not the end of the story.  The crazy thing was, the other team really believed that the ball slipped out of my hand!  They were terrified that I was going to hit them with my 65 mph fastball.  They bailed out on everything I threw at them (including my strikeout pitch - the submarine knuckleball!).  They didn't settle down enough to get a hit until the seventh inning, and I finished the game with a two-hit shutout.  We won big, and that became the norm that year.  We won the county championship, advanced to the playoffs, and became regional runners up.  And, as far as I'm aware, the team has not thrown the first pitch of the home opener over the backstop in these last 17 years and, not coincidentally, they haven't made a return trip to the playoffs either!

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