Yale infielder Zachery Bradley ’06 likes free-flying balls. And he does not mean baseballs.
It started after one particularly forgetful morning on a game day in his sophomore year of high school. Sox, pants, shirt — all found their rightful place on his body. But for some reason, the boxers did not make it. That day, Bradley played better than ever. Never again would he feel the compulsion to wear underwear on game day.
As long as his bat can swing unhindered, he is on top of his game. He is in command when he goes commando.
“If we’re in the locker room, [my teammates] can tell,” Bradley said.
Call it ritual, call it habit, or call it plain old luck; Bradley is certainly not the only athlete who relies on superstitions to play his best. Babe Ruth made sure to touch every base when he hit a home run, and Michael Jordan wore the same University of North Carolina shorts under his uniform every time he played.
Yale athletes have their own hang-ups, from the mundane to the odorous.
“I think it just comes down to getting yourself in the right state of mind,” men’s hockey player Joe Zappala ’06 said. “Everyone has their own thing to get them to that point.”
Zappala, who is a winger on the Yale team, likes to “lubricate” his muscles by eating a box of raisins before leaving for the rink. His teammate’s mother told him the raisins loosen up his muscles — a theory Zappala cannot confirm.
But whether the raisins actually do their job or not, they have become pre-game habit, something Zappala cannot perform well without.
“Eventually, you almost feel like you’re missing something if you don’t,” he said.
Bad things do happen when superstitions are ignored. Pitcher Matt Fealey ’06 had a good luck charm that seemed to come and go on its own.
Fealey found an action figure — a fat little guy in a tank top and sunglasses — his sophomore year of high school and began pitching well after he put the figure in his baseball bag. For a while, he even kept the toy in his pocket. But the little man was lost over winter break Fealey’s freshman year in college. When Fealey returned, he had arm problems and ended the year with an injury.
“I wonder where he is right now,” Fealey said, bemoaning the fate of his little friend. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Andrew Sullivan ’05 plays in the notoriously superstitious position of kicker on the Yale football team.
“All kickers rely on luck at some point in their life,” Sullivan said.
A barefooted kicker, Sullivan feels the brunt of physical impact in his feet when he lobs the ball into the air. But Sullivan makes sure his feet are always smiling.
“I draw a smiley face on my feet every time,” he said. “It started as a joke, but now I can’t stop doing it.”
Needless to say, the smiley face gets a little smudged by the time Sullivan has finished his job.
Sullivan also does his warm-ups in the same order every time he plays, a superstition common to many athletes.
Like Sullivan, swimmer Kristin Ophaug ’05 does the same stretches before every race. But she goes one step farther and uses the same razor every time she shaves at the end of the season, a common practice among swimmers to give them the extra edge in the pool.
While superstitions play a large role in helping athletes get into the right mindset, they often originate as the end of the wrong mindset.
“In sports, you go on a bad streak, and when you break out of it, you attribute it to something,” Fealey said. “People get anal about them.”
Others, however, reject the idea of superstitions all together.
Michelle Quibell ’06, a member of Yale’s national title-winning women’s squash team, said she used to retire outfits if she played badly in them.
“I have stopped doing that now, though, because I’ve learned that being superstitious is more detrimental than beneficial,” Quibell said.
Baseball player Bailey Jackson ’06 has a superstition that is certainly detrimental to more than just himself. If he throws a good game, Jackson will refrain from showering for the following week.
Needless to say, his teammates are not fond of this habit.
“No one likes having their locker next to him,” teammate Bradley said.