Very Superstitious: Wildcat Catcher Offers Glimpse Into Game-time Psychology

Athletes are some of the most superstitious people out there.

Whether to cope with the unpredictability of competition or boost game-time performance, their seemingly irrational behaviors have scientific underpinnings–psychological studies have shown that the superstitions and rituals athletes indulge give them a greater sense of control and help them rebound from tough breaks.

Michael Jordan wore his college basketball shorts under his NBA uniform for good luck. Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra gets dressed the same way every day, steps on each dugout step with both feet, and tugs at his batting gloves and taps his toes during each at-bat.

In fact, baseball players are notoriously superstitious.

Here, Wildcats catcher Jake Sidwell '17 shares some of his pre- and post-game rituals with Caitie Smith, assistant sports information director.

What are your game-day superstitions?
My superstitions have changed over the years. But most recent superstitions include: Fridays I have to eat the same lunch (Chipotle and a smoothie). I have to sleep in the same clothes I did the week before (if we won), and wear the same type of clothes (right now, it's flannel Fridays).

Most of my superstitions happen when I'm at the field, though–these are routines that I've created, that I do because I've had success doing them. 

Pre-game: I go to the cage and take four rounds of front toss total, three righty swings, then do my step down drill, and end with three normal rounds. Then I go back and get dressed, put my gear in the bullpen and take my helmet to the dugout. In BP, I take first round at second base for transfers... second round in the cage. I have to hit front toss off of Will Robertson to get my hands ready. He's got the quickest front toss this side of the Mississippi. Third round on the field. Then fourth round, I have to run to the bullpen and get stretched by Laura, our trainer. Then I'm ready to go.

In game: Going up to bat I put on my helmet first, then batting gloves, then evoshield, then I strap my batting gloves. On deck, I take three swings before I get my timing, with the third swing hard enough where I have to adjust my elbow guard. Then I don't swing until I get to the box. I walk to the box with the barrel of my bat in my left hand and get the sign, dig in with my left foot, point the bat at the pitcher and across home plate, and then I'm good.

Baseball is based on routine and repetition. When you find what works, you try to repeat it. A lot of these things are just habits I have now because they began as superstitions.

If you lose, do you change things up? What do you do differently?
I usually change it if we lose, depending on what it is. If nothing seems to be working, I'll go back to the original routine. Last year I switched back and forth between two bats. Every game I didn't get a hit, I'd use a different one the next game.

When did you start becoming superstitious?
I guess just playing baseball in high school made me superstitious. I've had some really rough times in baseball and some really successful ones. So when myself and the team are having success, I try to repeat every single thing I did to replicate that success. In the back of my mind, I know these little quirks aren't the reasons behind the successes and failures but it's just something that I think is fun and a way to create routines, which I like instead of just winging it.

Are any of your teammates or coaches also superstitious?
I think all baseball players are superstitious to a degree because it's a game based on repetition. I think Coach Taylor wore the same hoody before every game my freshman year when we set the wins record–even in May, in 90-degree weather. You can't fix what isn't broken.

Are you superstitious about watching your favorite team, or just when you play?
I'm more superstitious when I play because it makes me feel more comfortable when I repeat my routines. But I'll get superstitious when my teams are playing late in the season. I'm a USC Trojans fan because of my family, and last fall I couldn't watch the games the first half of the year because they lost every game I watched; when I didn't watch, they won.


  • May 30, 2017