Superstitions

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Yeah, we all knew this one was coming. In case you do not know, I am a big superstition guy when it comes to baseball. Regardless of the day-by-day result, I stick by them. Heck, I’m writing this on the bus back from an extended spring training game in Fort Myers after going 0 for 4, but you know I will still be wearing my long sleeves and blowing into my lucky shot glass before I go to the field tomorrow. Superstitions are just another thing that make us ballplayers a very weird breed. 

          The obvious one is the long sleeves, which is pretty much my signature look along with the horrendous “hands tan” that comes along with the sleeves. Believe it or not, I can remember the last game I did not wear a long sleeve Under Armor (specifically) undershirt in a game.

No sleeves (ew gross) during a play at third base before I came in relief for Jacob Lamb to give up the infamous grand slam.

It was the District 17 Little League Championship game, when I was 12. One might think I was a psychopath for remembering that, but the real reason I remember is because I gave up a game winning grand slam to lose the Championship for our Mid County All-Star team, a team that would have gone to Williamsport if I hadn’t blown that game (I carry that weight with me everyday). 

          There have been some days where I forgot or lost my Under Armor, and all hell breaks loose. I’ll have to wear some gross, baggy long sleeve shirt sometimes as a replacement, almost guaranteeing an 0 for 4 that day. A handful of times, if I had enough time, I would make a run over to Dick’s Sporting Goods to grab a new one, or the amazing parents that I have would scramble and miraculously find my missing undershirt (usually in the most obvious place) and bring it to me back in the day. It is the single most important part of my baseball uniform without question. 

          A great Under Armor story goes back to when the Huskies played down in the NCAA regional in Gainesville. We won our first game against Georgia Tech and I had a pretty good game as well. Coach Penders approached me the next day, telling me that Nike called him and told them that “the Yahn kid” had to put on a Nike undershirt because the Under Armor logo was showing on TV.

Relax, Nike, it was only showing a little!

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Now, believe you me, I listen to everything that man says, doing so has gotten me pretty far in this game, but I did everything I could do to not yell “SCREW NIKE!” I was almost offended. I get it, we’re a Nike school, they provide us with our jerseys and cleats and such, but they have the nerve to look so closely at me on TV and tell me my lucky undershirt isn’t up to par with their dress code, with all the money they already have?? Nope, I just made sure my top button was secured and then tucked the back of my jersey in real tight. 

          I got a lot of questions about my Under Armor when I went down to Florida and played. Every game we played in Florida when I was with UConn I wore it, and every game in the Gulf Coast League in Sarasota with the Orioles you know I was wearing the long sleeve black Under Armor. It works, that’s why I do it, but holy hell last summer in the GCL there were a few times when I wanted to rip that thing off. We would practice in the morning from 9am-11am before home games, and when we had a quick bite to eat from 11am-12pm just before first pitch, I would throw my Under Armor in the dryer for a half hour to dry it off. I used to do this on those hot summer afternoons in Bristol before the night games with the Blues as well. Sometimes it does get warm and slightly uncomfortable, but having a piss poor batting average is a lot more uncomfortable, so I stay with the sleeves. 

          Now the story of the lucky shot glass is an epic one, a story which dates all the way back to my freshman spring at UConn before I was even a starter for the Huskies. The weekend before my first start was the first weekend of our spring break trip that year in Greenville, SC. After our Saturday double header, in which I had one pinch-hit at bat and grounded out, our bus had to deal with a lot of traffic headed back to our hotel, the Westin, because they were hosting a wedding. We finally get back after the bride and groom ride off happily ever after, and there was still some drunk and rowdy wedding-goers heading back to their rooms at the same time as us. 

          “Hey guys, take this bottle of wine,” he said while clinging to the elevator railing just to stay on his feet. “I already had two of these and it did the job, but tasted like crap.” 

          “We can’t take that,” one of the guys replied. “We’re here for baseball and we’re not allowed to drink in the hotel.”

          “Wow you guys are a bunch of wimps, huh?” The drunkard replied and we all just laughed. “Well one of you take this here glass I don’t want it, I can’t believe I haven’t broken it yet.”

          “Sure,” I said as he handed it to me. I don’t know why I had zero hesitation to take the glass. The glass read the couples names and March 14, 2015. After two more games, I woke up the morning of March 18 and looked at the glass I had saved, and simply just blew in it for good luck. Sure enough when we got to William and Mary that night, Coach Penders had penciled my name into the line up, and the rest is history. 

          Tragically, about 14 months later, we were down at the University of South Florida for the final series of my sophomore season, and we had three to a room for this series, so big time Anthony Kay and Pat Ruotolo put my sophomore butt on the pullout coach for the weekend. Every game leading up to that day I had blown into my lucky glass (essentially a wine glass without the long stem at the bottom) and played very well since I had started doing so. I woke up the Sunday before our final game of the season, and it was gone. I tore the living room apart looking for it, throwing my clothes, my bag, the phone, the TV, all over the place trying to find this glass. I always put the glass on the bedside table and blew into it each morning when I woke up, and it was gone that morning. I came to the conclusion that housekeeping snagged it thinking it was from the bar downstairs or something like that, even though I called the bar and housekeeping trying to find it and they said they had not seen it. I claim USF baseball team colluded, trying to steal my glass after we beat them twice to try to get a Sunday win and salvage the weekend, but we’ll never know.

          We won the Sunday game, but I had a bad game, and going into the conference tournament that week, I needed my glass or that tournament could have been a bad one for me. My Dad came to Clearwater for the tournament and invited some of his old friends, one was Felton Elders, the other and our hero of the story was John Stofan, who goes by Sto, and has been a friend of my Dad’s since their middle school days up in Farmington, ME.

Sto and I the day he gave me the lucky shot glass in Clearwater!

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Sto is a pilot for Southwest Airlines, and had heard the story of my lost glass from my Dad. So during dinner after our first game of the tournament, one in which I did not get a hit (of course), Sto makes a big presentation and whips out a Southwest shot glass. I was pumped, I don’t think he knew how much I needed something like this. I couldn’t have just gone and bought myself some random lucky glass to replace my wedding glass, it had to mean something, and Sto couldn’t have come through at a better time. We went on to win the conference tournament, and with the help of my new lucky Southwest shot glass, I performed pretty well for the remainder of the tournament. 

          Ballplayers have all sorts of things that fall under the category of superstitions, it can be daily routines, certain meals, certain equipment, anything. I know I’m not alone in naming equipment. My current bat, Brenda, and glove, Penny, really appreciate that and it makes them feel loved and they return the favor with base hits and good plays. Baseball is such an unpredictable game in which you rarely go a day without failing. Superstitions keep the ballplayer at ease, giving them a slight sense of cause and effect. If I blow in my lucky shot glass and wear my long sleeves, then I will get two hits and make my plays. It’s never guaranteed, nothing is guaranteed in this game, that’s why I’m writing this after going 0 for 4. But will the superstitions stop? Never, I’ll go crazy if they did.

Willy Yahn

Willy Yahn here to shed a little bit of light on the daily minor league experience in a funny while intriguing manner. This should be a complicated task, which is appropriate for such a complicated game from a player with a complicated but blessed baseball experience so far. I was born and raised in beautiful small-town Sharon, Connecticut, population just north of 2,000. I went to Housatonic Valley Regional High School and had to get a hit 66% of the time in the less than elite Berkshire League to trick those great coaches at University of Connecticut into thinking I could compete over there in Storrs. Three decent seasons at UConn and an unforgettable summer experience playing in the Cape Cod League led me to the Baltimore Orioles minor league system, where one season in the Gulf Coast League is the only evidence of my existence in the professional game thus far.