It’s Baseball, Ray – Of Black Cats and Ladders

 

“Well, Nuke’s scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man’s here. We need a live… is it a live rooster? We need a live rooster to take the curse off José’s glove and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present. Is that about right? We’re dealing with a lot of shit.”

-Crash Davis, Bull Durham (1988)

 

I am not a superstitious person. All those bits about broken mirrors and seven years of bad luck? Pure hokum. I have no issues strolling under ladders or watching a black cat walk in front of my path. These are all nothing more than metaphysical junk that will clog up your psyche and I have no need for any of it.

Except.

Except when it comes to Baseball. For this sport, I believe every single last one of them and take it further by inventing a whole bunch more of them. Chief among them is a flagpole. Every time I leave the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field, I must place my right hand on the flagpole in right field by Gate 34. Since the ballpark opened for the first game on April 12, 2010 I have yet to fail to do this. There are a variety of reasons why.

The flagpole in left-center field of the old Metropolitan Stadium is now in the right field concourse at Target Field.

The flagpole itself originally stood at the old Metropolitan Ballpark from 1956 to 1981. When the Old Met was torn down it was moved to the American Legion in Richfield. Metropolitan Stadium, where the Mall of America now stands, is where I went to my first baseball games as a kid. My grandfather, Gavin A. Moir was a fan of the game. He used to work for the railroad and saw a number of the greats play during his travels. He brought me to the Met whenever my family would come to Minneapolis every summer to visit. I studied his old programs stacked in an upstairs bedroom and imagined whom these people and places were. Beer was only 10¢ and a candy bar was 5¢? Those indeed were magical times. My Grandpa Gavin never saw the Metrodome or the beautiful Target Field, but I think he would have loved the Twins’ current residence. The Minneapolis/Richfield American Legion Post 435 showed real grace when they donated the flagpole back to the Twins in 2009 to once again stand in a ballpark. Touching the flagpole before I leave every game is, for me, a brief moment of connection to my Grandpa and my childhood. It is a thank you and a good night. It is closure for the game just played as well as sign of hope for the next one to come.

On Monday, Sept. 6th, 2010, I had to leave the afternoon game early in order to make a previously scheduled appointment. The Twins were playing the Kansas City Royals and Jason Kubel had just hit a 2-run homer that pushed the Twins ahead 4-2 in the bottom of the fifth, so I felt reasonably comfortable that we may have had enough of a lead at that point to warrant the

Jim Thome

departure. The Twins had just recorded their second out of the inning, so I touched the flagpole and left through Gate 34 and made my way along the towering row of nine, eventually to be vine-covered, bats that line the Target Field Plaza. I had reached, ironically the fifth bat, when I heard the familiar crack of a bat that generally accompanies home run balls in particular. I turned around just in time to see Jim Thome’s ball strike the top half of the flagpole I had just touched and land below. It was now 5-2 Minnesota. What made this particularly important was the Royals would eventually score two more runs in the sixth and make it a 5-4 game. Without Thome’s extra home run, the Twins likely would’ve gone into extra innings and then, really anyone’s guess to the outcome. Like any superstition, this was now permanently secured in my arsenal of rituals that I must do in order to bring my team luck. If I hadn’t been by the fifth bat in the fifth inning with Thome scoring the fifth run off a flagpole that I had just touched… Superstitions are weird like that.

Over the years, I have endured a fair amount of grief over my need to mark the flagpole upon departure. My friends find increasingly clever and creative ways to make fun of me for it. That’s just fine by me. There are enough people at the ballpark who understand and support my performance of the act. Either way, superstitions are well beyond the perceived normal rules of etiquette and I could care less of what other people think about it. Hell, Roger Clemens used to go and touch the Babe Ruth plaque in Monument Park before every home game he pitched for the Yankees. My flagpole thing isn’t all that weird.

Mark Fidrych

Now, Baseball players have a whole bunch of weird superstitions. Mark “The Bird” Fidrych groomed the mound and talked to the baseball before throwing it. New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey creatively named each of his bats. The best being the one christened “Orchrist the Goblin Cleaver.” Good to see he’s read Tolkien. Justin Morneau microwaves his Easy Mac & Cheese for exactly 3 minutes and 33 seconds, taking it out at 33 seconds to stir before putting it back in to finish. I have no idea what he did when he was traded to the Pirates and given a uniform number of 66 instead of his customary 33. Wade Boggs had a variety of superstitious habits, from eating the same meal before every game (fried chicken), writing the Hebrew word chai (meaning “life”) in the dirt of the batter’s box, to always taking night game batting practice at exactly 5:17 PM, and only taking 150 grounders during warm-ups. Max Scherzer has many, many of them, but chief among them is his superstition about not letting anyone else know what his superstitions are. Back in his playing days, Moises Alou used to urinate on his hands believing that it made them tougher. Alou hit 332 home runs and had a career .303 batting average, so who am I to judge? Doesn’t mean I’m gonna shake his hand during a game, but still…

One of the true principle curses that I believe the Twins face is what I refer to as “The Curse of the Black Spruce.” When Target Field originally opened, there were fourteen Black Spruce trees located in the batter’s eye in centerfield. They were beautiful and looked stunning against the Minnesota limestone that made up the façade of right field. Problem was that there were a couple of players who felt that the movement of the trees interfered with their ability to see the ball coming at them and

The Treeless Porch

affected their ability to hit. Whether this was true or not is irrelevant. It was believed; it was now their superstition.

The Twins had a 92-70 record and won the American League Central Division that first year in Target Field. But prior to the 2011 season, the trees were removed and the following year the Twins lost 99 games. They dumped 96 in each of the two seasons that followed. In 2015, the team placed trees back in centerfield, this time in the upper Terrace level. The Twins had a winning 83-79 season that year and were viable contenders going into the final weekend of the regular season. The trees were once again removed from the outfield to make room for a new dining section in the outfield called “Catch.” It was a beautiful addition to the ballpark for the 2016 season. The Twins lost 103 games that year, a club record. None of the original complaining players remain with the team. The shelf where the original Black Spruce trees once proudly stood remains a barren black unsightly porch devoid of character. See, what I’m getting at here???

This treeless curse continues to this day. After a freak April blizzard forced the postponement of four out of ten games in the opening home-stand, the Twins took to the road. First up was Tampa Bay. Now, Tampa Bay is a good, but not especially great team. Statistically, Minnesota shouldn’t have had any problems with them. They were full of former Twins players, so certainly there was the analytical knowledge on both their strengths and weakness that only comes with the intimacy of once being within the organization. This was the Twins series to take. The Twins were swept, losing all three games in quick succession. Former Twins outfielder Denard Span was the most damaging. Span is an all-around good guy, highly skilled and one of my favourite players. I would’ve loved to see him do this against any other team, but this was like eating a jellybean, expecting “orange” and getting “buttered popcorn” flavor instead.

Dozier and his nemesis

From there, it was on to Yankee Stadium. Not ever a good place for the Minnesota Twins. Since 2002, the Yankees have won 79 out of 110 games played against the Twins, and have won ten straight playoff games against them. While the Twins lost the first game 14-1, the game did include the best moment of the series. Brian Dozier came in to the Bronx with a 16-game hitting streak. There was a Yankees fan sitting behind Home Plate with a florescent yellow shirt (and matching Yankees cap) emblazoned with the words “Dozier’s streak ends today.” Pure New York arrogance foolishly on display. On his second trip to the plate, Dozier hit an RBI single to left field that scored Ryan LaMarre from second base. Watching the Yankees fan squirm live on ESPN afterwards was well worth it. Unfortunately, he returned the next night, now sporting a shirt adjusted with “OK, Dozier’s streak ends tonight.” Dozier went 0-4, ending the streak.

The situation didn’t improve all that much when the Twins returned to Minnesota to play the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds were the last of three teams who had yet to play at Target Field (the others being the San Francisco Giants and the Washington Nationals). Due in large parts to growing up in Columbus, Ohio for a few years in the mid-Seventies, the Reds have always been my favorite National League team. The last time the Reds were in Minneapolis for a 3-game series was June 6-8, 2001 when the Twins swept them. I had been looking forward to the Reds series here, and since they held a 5-20 record, I had some hopes of getting the home team back on track. Despite a solid 5-1 lead after the first inning, the Twins fell for the eighth straight time on a final score of 15-9. Now, the Reds may be my NL team, but cheering for them that first night would have been akin to watching “Titanic” and rooting for the iceberg.

So, yeah I think my team may have a curse on them. I will continue to do my part. I will touch the flagpole, I will turn may hat inside out when necessary, and turn it upside down gently shaking it when they need to conjure up a hit. Whatever it takes. I have yet to bring a live rooster to Target Field, but I have had the chicken fingers with barbeque sauce and they are delicious. Some things are not always easy to understand, but they all must be done.

But whatever you do to help your team win, just remember this – candlesticks always make a nice gift.

 

Daniel G. Moir is a freelance writer, musician, and baseball enthusiast. He hardly ever misses a Minnesota Twins home game at Target Field, and when the team is on the road he watches at home with his pal Brubeck. He can be contacted at @DMoir5150.

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