October, 19, 2011
By Andrew Knepper | ESPN.com
Scott Kurtz/ESPNHSMitchell Aker has a special ritual he does before he takes to the mound.Superstitions and pre-game routines have always been a part of baseball. Whether it is Normar Garciaparra and his pre-bat routine of what seems to consist of two thousand batting glove touches and fifteen hundred toe taps to the everyday Joe who jumps the chalk on his way on the field, baseball players will always have some quirk when they play the game everyday.
We asked some ball players about what they have for a superstition or do as a pre-game routine and below is the best of the best responses we received.
“I always eat a large order of hot wings before a big game. The hotter the sauce the better I hit. Proven Fact! I always hit better with a belly full of hot wings!”
-Cullen O’Dwyer, Eldorado (Albuquerque, N.M.)
“I don’t wash my uniform unless my team loses.”
-Jake Schroeder, Ferndale (Ferndale, Wash.)
“My superstition before pitching is to draw a 5 with a circle around it. The reason why I do this is I found a nickel wit my friend one day, and I gave it to him before he had pitched that day. Turned out he threw a one-hitter. So I decided that I would put the lucky nickel in my pocket and throw the next game with it. I threw a no-hitter. Now the reason why I draw the circle is because I lost it (the nickel) one day. And for the remainder of the season we wrote a 5 on the back of the mound. So I guess it just stuck to me.”
-Trevor MeGill, Marina (Huntington Beach, Calif.)
“No superstitions or rituals, those get to your head too much. Just a routine to always go by keeps me going and on top of my game!”
-Matt Tulley, Lowell (Lowell, Mass.)
“I always put whatever change like coins in my back right pocket or when staying at a hotel I put my hotel room key in my back right pocket.”
-Mitchell Kranson, De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
“I don't have a ritual before the game, but I do have one right before I go up to hit. I step in left leg then right leg, touch the far corner of the plate with my bat, pull up my left pant leg then my right pant leg, adjust my right sleeve, adjust my helmet then squat in my stance. Then of course I have the big twirl and leg kick in my swing.”
-Ty Moore, Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
“My ritual is saying an "Our Father" and then write my grandpa's initials in the mound because he played baseball and he passed away before I met him.”
-Mitchell Aker, Paul VI Catholic (Fairfax, Va.)
“Before every game and before I pitch I write my grandmother's initials on the field so she can see me from heaven. I even bring dirt from where she is buried to put on the mound.”
-Rock Rucker, Redan (Stone Mountain, Ga.)
“My pre-game superstition is I always save the wrapper of the last thing I ate and put it in my back pocket.”
-Sam Brown, Jackson (Mill Creek, Wash.)
October, 17, 2011
By Matthew Muench | ESPN.com
USA BaseballTeam USA pitcher Marti Sementelli made headlines last year when she was a part of the first-ever high school baseball game that featured two female starting pitchers.
California teen Marti Sementelli thought she was walking into a scene of a new movie on that 2008 summer day.
But the lights weren’t for cameras and the 100 or so girls were not actresses.
“They were all just like me,” Sementelli said. “I was like, ‘Woah!’ I was shell-shocked because I had so much in common with them.”
It wasn’t just because they all had ponytails draped outside of their hats.
They were all baseball players competing for a roster spot on the USA Baseball women's national team.
“I didn’t even know there were others girls who played baseball,” said Sementelli, who has made the USA roster for the last three summers. “I really thought I was dreaming. It didn’t look real.”
Yes, girls play baseball, even at the high school level.
According to the National Federation of High School Sports Participation Survey, 698 girls played high school baseball in the USA last season.
One of them was Sementelli, a pitcher for Birmingham (Lake Balboa, Calif.) High School who made headlines last year when she was a part of the first high school baseball game that featured two female starting pitchers.
“I’m not a softball player or a volleyball player,” the 2011 graduate said. “I am a baseball player.”
Sandy Almon remembers one of the first times she toed the rubber in a high school baseball game. It’s a story she loves to revisit and tell.
“When I got to the mound guys on the other team laughed at me and taunted me about my appearance,” she said. “First guy came up and I struck him out on three pitches. Next guy? Infield fly out. Third guy? Ground out. It was an eye-opener for them.”
And a teeth-shower for her. She ended up pitching six scoreless innings that day.
“I smiled big,” said the 2011 graduate of Mt. Pisgah (Ga.). “I love it when people tell me I can’t do something when I know I can.”
Like Sementelli, Almon played for the USA national team last season and expects to be on the team next summer.
And like Sementelli, Almon often hears the repetitive question from peers: Why baseball and not softball like all the other girls?
“Softball isn’t baseball and I like playing baseball,” Almon said. “It just didn’t make sense to just stop playing baseball because I was a girl. So what’s the big deal?”
Almon is a big deal. She reportedly has been clocked at 86 mph on the radar gun and currently plays for the Chicago Pioneers, a women’s baseball traveling team.
During her senior year she struck out nine batters in her first six innings of work.
“I don’t look at it like everyone else sees it,” she said. “Yes you see me as a girl playing baseball. But I see me as a baseball player part of a baseball team. I run as hard as everyone. I throw as hard. I work as hard.”
Playing baseball has been the norm for her since her dad starting teaching her the game. She played on boys teams all through Little League and eventually landed a spot on a high school squad after searching for schools which would allow a girl to try out for the team.
“As I got older people said I needed to go to softball because baseball was moving to a bigger field and I wouldn’t be able to do it,” she said. “Well. I never thought about switching. And I never will.”
She shined as a relief pitcher and also started some games at second base.
“People tell me I make a difference out there for other girls,” she said. “But I am really just trying to be like any pitcher – which is to get the next guy out. Only difference is I prove a girl can do it.”
Most players on the USA women’s national team are closer to the age of 25 than 20.
But Sementelli and Almon are proof high school teens are getting better at the sport. They are two of seven girls born after 1991 who made last year’s squad, marking it one of the youngest squad in the team’s seven–year history.
“I was really young when I first played in 2008,” Sementelli said. “I am still really young now and I am considered one of the veterans. But it appears more younger players are starting to make the squad.”
Enter Wynne McCann.
Last year the Boyertown (Penn.) teen became the youngest to play for the squad when she sported the red, white and blue at 16 years old.
“It was definitely scary being the youngest out there,” she said. “I never thought I would make the team because there is so much talent out there. But they gave me a shot. I took it.”
When Almon got her shot, she also took it.
But it didn’t come easy to her at first.
“I am used to playing with all guys so it was a little weird,” she said. “But it was great looking around and seeing all the talent. Everyone was so fundamental. I am sure we can beat a lot of men’s teams.”
The team won bronze medals at the World Cup in 2008 and 2010 and expects a strong showing at next year’s Cup in Canada.
“It’s truly amazing to play for your country,” Sementelli said. “It’s the best feeling.”
Her favorite part is learning from the veteran players and hearing stories about baseball.
“It’s just great to sit there and talk baseball with people who went through the same experiences as you,” she said. “It’s normal when we are together. No one is whispering about a girl playing baseball.”
Sementelli, Almon and McCann are not finished making names for themselves on the diamonds across the country.
After her senior season this year McCann plans on playing college softball but will continue her baseball career with the national team.
Sementelli recently accepted a partial scholarship to play baseball at Montreat College in the mountains of North Carolina, and Almon expects to begin her college career next year. She also has bigger dreams.
“I am pushing for the majors like I always have,” she said. “It’s been my dream, and it will continue to be my dream. I’ll make it, and when people say I throw like a girl, I’ll say, ‘Yes. Yes I do.’”