STORY BY MICHAEL WENDLANDT
As March Madness is coming to its close, Opening Day of America’s national pastime is just a short week away. That’s right, baseball season is upon us and that means that sports will get a lot more zany, quirky and interesting.
Many players simply avoid stepping on the foul lines and have routines on the mound or in the batter’s box, while some others take it to the next level.
By now, I’m sure that many of you have heard the story of Daniel Norris, the top prospect and starting pitcher in the Toronto Blue Jays system.
He lives in a 1978 Volkswagen van during the offseason, cooking on a hotplate and spending his days at the beach. This is despite the fact that he got a hefty signing bonus thanks to his 95-mile per hour fastball.
Now that he’s looking to enter the majors, however, he has to move into an apartment per team request. It is the more ‘professional’ thing for him to do.
But he’s not the only quirky major leaguer, or even the weirdest. Baseball is a sport full of ritual and routine, and some players take it to the extreme.
Hall of Famer Wade Boggs ate the same meal for his entire career (on game days). Boggs played in 17 seasons, collecting over 3000 hits and he ate fried chicken before every game.
Think about the farm that had to provide all those meals, but that’s not all he did.
He would run his wind sprints at exactly 7:17 p.m. and took exactly 150 ground balls before a game. Still, it appears that the dedication paid off, as he is now immortalized in Cooperstown.
Similar to Boggs, another superstar is superstitious about numbers and times, and that is All-Star outfielder Larry Walker.
Playing for 16 seasons, this great hitter was obsessed with the number three. He would wear the number three or 33 on his uniform. His practice swings had to be a multiple of three, and even got married on November 3 at 3:33 p.m. One of his contracts amounted to a total of $33,333,333.
Another legendary character in the history of baseball is Mark Fidrych, who became known as “the Bird,” for good reason.
Fidrych was a great pitcher for about two years before injuries wrecked his career, but during his brief time in the limelight he became a legend for his antics.
He would sculpt the mound before an inning, talk to the ball and flap his wings after a strikeout. He was the definition of quirky in the American League in the 1970s.
Another oddball who may have been a little too obsessed with his routine was Turk Wendell.
His quirks could be in a whole other story, but a standout aspect of his persona is his adherence to personal hygiene. Between innings of games the pitcher would always brush his teeth, making sure those pearly whites were spotless before retaking the mound. Attention to detail didn’t help his career too much, however, as he was always known more for his oddities rather than his fastball.
These quirky players can draw their roots all the way back to the turn of the 20th century, superstition running deep in the history of America’s pastime.
Hall of Fame second baseman Eddie Collins, a career .333 hitter and probably the best hitting second baseman in the early days of baseball would keep a piece of gum on the button of his hat before every at-bat. If there was ever two strikes against him, he would rip that gum off of his cap and start chewing furiously.
During one game, some of his White Sox teammates pulled a prank on him. They decided to put pepper on the gum, forcing him to call time-out and wash his mouth so he could actually make it through his at-bat.
These are just a few of the thousands of baseball quirks and superstitions. The love for this game is so strong and it helps that the characters are still present. Current Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer has revealed one superstition: That he won’t reveal his superstitions to anyone. Think about that and enjoy the season.