HOUSTON - Friday is Game 1 of the ALCS in which the Houston Astros look to take the pennant over the New York Yankees.
Baseball, America’s game, is full of superstitions, starting with the most basic of all: Don't step on the chalk lines.
On and off the field, there are things players and fans alike will or won’t do to try to ensure the win.
Some players refuse to wash their clothes or shower during a big series like the ALCS. Other players have to wear a particular pair of shoes or “lucky” underwear.
Some fans insist on wearing nothing but Astros gear, or at the very least orange and blue on game days.
One of the biggest no-no’s in baseball is talking about a no-hitter while the game is still in progress. That rings true for players, fans and announcers.
The Houston Astros and the New York Yankees might be exercising their superstitions during this championship series, but during the regular season, they’re not the only ones.
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin picks between two pairs of red sneakers based on which ones have been on his feet during hard-to-come-by wins. Brewers catcher Stephen Vogt gets dressed in a specific sequence each day, down to how he pulls on his socks and in what order. Sometimes, Kansas City's Brandon Moss pretends to be superstitious by going with a good-luck bat.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin rotates between several parking spaces at the Coliseum depending on how his club is playing.
"No. 3 is performing pretty well," he said of his recent go-to spot.
Wade Boggs was known to eat chicken before every game, while Kansas City starter Ian Kennedy has moved past his former need to have breakfast at the same restaurants he frequented through college ball and the minors.
Nationals pitcher Oliver Perez takes no chances, theatrically leaping over the foul line.
"Just that white line, gotta get over that white line. We all got something," Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson said, noting if he somehow touched the line, "I'd get nervous, I'd probably cross back over and then come back again."
From the gold thong Jason Giambi believed would bust any slump, to ex-Detroit skipper Jim Leyland's well-worn - don't ask - boxer shorts through a 2011 winning streak, to Ryan Dempster feasting at the same Italian eatery before starts and Roger Clemens visiting the Babe Ruth plaque in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park.
And, of course those bushy, overgrown October beards are a sure sign of the postseason.
"I just find it an individual expressing their individuality," said Boston outfielder Rajai Davis.
Moss will just fake that he's superstitious from time to time.
"They're all wacky to me," Moss said. "Because I'm not. I pretend like I am but I'm really not. You'll joke around and say, 'Oh, this was the lucky bat.' You know it's not the bat. ... It's like that thing in Bull Durham if you're hot because of whatever reason, then you are. If you believe it, then it's true."
Vogt, with the Athletics until Milwaukee claimed him off waivers June 25, insists: "Melvin's one of the most superstitious people I've ever met, down to which undershirt he's wearing, what he wore to the game before, who takes the lineup card out. It's all a science. Nothing in Oakland happens by accident in that clubhouse."
Vogt said Melvin will even alter where he stands in the dugout during an inning if the A's don't score.
"He's embellishing," Melvin cracked. "Over these last couple years I've lost a ton of my superstitions, because they just don't work."
The Phillies coaches take turns going to home plate to trade lineup cards with the opposing manager or coach.
Third base coach Juan Samuel was 0-8 at one point, having lost privileges after the Phillies failed to win his first four tries exchanging the lineup card. Eventually he asked Mackanin "let me have another shot at it."
"We have an ongoing thing I'm looking for one of the coaches to take the card up to get us on a roll," Mackanin said. "(Matt) Stairs was hot for a while. Samuel was probably the hottest. Samuel was like 0-8 before that and we came back around to him and he was like 5-1."
Sometime during the 1981 season in Double-A ball, an overnight envelope arrived from Kevin Rhomberg to Buck Showalter.
It revealed just how deeply superstitious the Cleveland outfielder had become.
"He had a thing about touching you," recalled Showalter, now Orioles manager. "Like if you would hit Kevin he would have to touch you back. I'm playing first base, I tag him on a pickoff to end the game, I ran off the field. It freaked him out. He led the league in hitting that year. So when I get back home there's an overnight letter from Kevin Rhomberg. I open it up, it said: 'Buck, I just want you to know you've been retouched by touching this letter.'"
Showalter has his own quirks. He barely eats on game day, a couple of cups of coffee and a banana before a recent Aug. 11 game at Oakland. Then some pieces of gum from the dugout bucket.
Whatever seems to work.
"After a win, people say, 'Do what you did last night, do whatever you did yesterday,'" Royals starter Kennedy said. "That's superstitious."
Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell played 16 major league seasons and had his idiosyncrasies when it came to what he did to prepare each day.
Superstitions, yeah, probably so.
"Trevor Hoffman used to say 'I'm not superstitious, I just have routines,'" Counsell said. "I called them routines. I think it's just a matter of how you came off the field, what you did before a game, it's the same. So is that routine or is that superstition? You could argue both. I would say do you touch the line or not touch the line? Do you pay attention to if you touch the line? At what time do you get out here, and what do you do before the game? What do you do before your first at-bat? Do you have to give the same handshakes every day? So is that routine or is that superstition?"
So, did he touch the line? No way.
But in his third year guiding the Brewers, Counsell knows he only has so much influence on results.
"If you start trying to make up things that are in your control you're going to drive yourself crazy," he said.
Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley understands. He had plenty of quirks back in the day.
"I had a lot of them because that's just the nature of the business, whether it's not touching the foul line, how you dress, what you wear, how you put it on," Eckersley said. "It gets crazy after a while. It's almost foolish, but that doesn't mean you're not going to keep doing it. It got to the point where you'd have to stop, this is getting maddening, seriously. That's why you see guys with dirty hats and dirty shoes. I'm like, 'You've got to change sooner or later, you know?'"
So, Moss can't really blame his bat, right?
"Oh, I will," Moss said, then reminding himself aloud, "It's definitely just you up there swinging it."
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