The iconic Michael Scott of NBC’s The Office put it best: “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.”
Thanks to the Toronto Blue Jays’ valiant effort this post-season, fans in the city are becoming more vocal about their pre-game rituals.
Lillian Kalatian, an avid Blue Jays enthusiast and preschool teacher, practises her superstitions in the classroom. “I tell my students to say ‘Go Jays Go!’ during class,” she said. “And I tell them they need to listen in class for the Blue Jays to win.”
Being “a little stitious” is common in competitive sports. However, it is important to identify when a superstition becomes abnormal. Brad Busch, a sports psychologist, believes athletes should introduce routines in place of superstitions.
“The lines between the two are very blurred but generally we say, if something helps your performance, it is a routine, and if it plays no identifiable part in your preparation then it is probably a superstition,” said Busch in an interview with the British newspaper, The Telegraph.
But, as sports spectators know, athletes aren’t the only ones with superstitious rituals. Rob Welch, a brewer at the baseball-themed Left Field Brewery, in Toronto, noted that superstitions are common among staff members.
“One of the brewers and his girlfriend rub the logos on their jerseys for mojo before a game or when an important play needs to happen,” Welch said. “One guy I work with brings a Jays jersey to hang somewhere in the brewery and wears another jersey during games.”
Welch said that some of the bar’s customers drink the same beer at the start of every game and one refers to it as her “talisman.”
According to a study by Athletic Insight, superstitious rituals can be practised by athletes, coaches and fans to reduce anxiety. It creates an illusion of control in an environment that is perceived to be uncontrollable.
Welch sees this regularly at the brewery, where one of the owners is even known to drink beer in a specific order throughout games. “She drinks a big glass of dark beer then a big glass of light beer, and then a little glass of our wheat beer,” he said. “It doesn’t really make sense because they don’t taste great in that order.”
Spectators may feel the pressure of a game, but athletes who have to live with it can turn to superstitious rituals that verge on the extreme. Turk Wendell wore No. 99 in his professional baseball career and insisted the numbers in his contract all ended in 99. He is also known for strange superstitions like brushing his teeth in the dugout and chewing exactly four pieces of licorice on the mound.
Superstitions are also apparent in Ryerson sports teams.
Alex Armstrong, No. 29 on the Ryerson Rams women’s hockey team, has a full routine before every game. It includes alternating a ball between her hands 29 times on each side, taking a 30-second break in between, and then tossing it into her stomach another 29 times.
“When I get ready I do everything left to right,” Armstrong said. “I put my left skate on then my right, then I tie my left and my right. Pads, same thing. I put them on left to right.”
Melissa Wronzberg, No. 28, also systematically gets dressed from left to right like her teammate.
“I try to make sure it doesn’t mess me up if I’m not able to do it,” Wronzberg said. “The coach expects you to perform well no matter what. That’s why I consider it more a routine than a superstition so I don’t psych myself out.”
The Jays recent loss just shy of the World Series may cause both fans and athletes to reflect on their own rituals. With the stakes so high, did some fans risk disaster by not fulfilling a ritual.
Some may say the Blue Jays were done in by the Taylor Swift curse – baseball teams whose stadiums hosted her concerts went on to lose big games – and others not so much. But then again, maybe we’re all just “a little stitious.”
This article was published in the print edition of the Ryersonian on Oct. 28, 2015.