I wouldn’t ever call myself a superstitious person. I don’t believe in ghosts or God or the afterlife, really. I don’t believe in good or bad luck. I believe shit happens because shit happens and you can choose to roll with it or not. I believe in science, hard facts, and in trying my best to be a good person.
What is it about our teams, or even sports in general, that makes all of us educated, rational human beings start looking for signs? What makes us attach meaning to meaningless things, like a t-shirt or a pair of underwear? What makes us think that the seat we sit in, or the beer we drink, or the hat we wear will have any effect whatsoever on the outcome of a sporting event?
As an renowned type A personality, my first instinct is that it feels like a way to control things we have absolutely no control over, but that we care about a lot. There’s nothing that we, the people watching from the stands, can do to affect the way grown men throw a pitch, or shoot a free throw, or kick a field goal, short of showing up and cheering to show our support. The outcome is based solely on the preparation and focus of the players (also a little bit due to officiating, coaching calls, and plain old dumb luck).
I don’t know if that’s a solid explanation because even when I was playing sports, when I had at least a partial level of control over the outcome of the game, I was still superstitious about dumb things. I always put my socks, ankle braces, and shoes on in the same order. I always wore the same sports bra for games, even when it started wearing holes in the sides from getting washed so much. I always wore my hair in the same ponytail, because the good luck gods obviously have a preference for perky ponytails over messy buns.
There is no place where the superstition is more alive and well than in Kansas City. Last year during the playoffs, I read this piece from 2008 about the Curse of the Shuttlecocks. Since the commissioning of the shuttlecock statues on the Nelson-Atkins Museum lawn, the Chiefs have won zero playoff games, and until last season the Royals had just one winning record. I read that article on Wednesday, October 22, 2014, the day after the Royals lost their first postseason game in Game 1 of the World Series versus the Giants. I realized that the day before, in an attempt to be cute, trendy, and show my KC pride, I had worn a necklace with the tiny shuttlecock charm with my #royaltober baseball tee. I immediately thought the loss had been my fault. I haven’t worn that necklace on a Royals game day since then. Even on non-game days, I still hesitate before putting it on, in case it contains some general bad juju.
This morning, I was made aware of last night’s fallen nachos incident. The Royals were down 2-0 when someone in section 405 spilled their nacho helmet all over the stairs. Immediately, the winds shifted, and Hosmer batted two runners in. The score was tied. The nachos were magic. Even when a Kauffman employee managed to clean up the nachos amid fan protests, someone else bought another order of nachos and gently laid them on the concrete steps-where the baseball gods intended them to be.
One last story: the friend I mentioned in an earlier article who informed me that the Chiefs mascot is, indeed, a wolf, is a lifelong Royals fan. He also happens to be very close to his mom, who raised him on her own. I’ll let him tell you my favorite of his many Royals superstitions:
“Before the Wild Card game last year, there was big group of us meeting at my house before the game to consolidate cars. I was wound tight (shocking, I know) and we were already running late. Then my mom calls…
Mom: What are you doing?
Me: ….Mom…You know what I am doing.
Mom: How would I know that?
Me: This is the biggest day of my life… I don’t have time for 21 questions, what do you want?
Mom: Well, have you left yet? You need to bring Josh by here so I can see him and give him a kiss before the game.
Me: No, Mom we don’t have time for that
Mom: Well if you don’t, it will be bad luck…
Me (to everyone waiting in the cars): Change of plans… we all have to go kiss my mom.
After that, we all had to trek over to my mom’s to give her a kiss before every home game. You almost had to do it last Friday [when we went to ALDS game 2].”
The point of this story is, he has a very clever mom. The other point is we all take our baseball superstitions very seriously.
So, I can’t say for sure why it is we rely so heavily on good luck charms and rituals. What I do know is that, however ridiculous it may seem to lean on these traditions, it also reinforces our already very strong sense of community. If you tell me that a bird shit on your hat during our first playoff win, I will agree with you that it’s stupid to wash it off until it’s all over (even though I’m a notorious clean freak and also terrified of birds). I will continue to wear my Eric Hosmer shirt all playoffs season, because I was wearing it when we won Game 2 of the ALDS. Our HBIC GAT will continue drinking. And everyone in KC will clutch their good luck charms and hold our collective breath and pray and hope and plead with the baseball gods until it’s over.