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LIFE IN THE MINORS


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The secret to winning was right under our noses

By Brendan Sagara

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 10:26 p.m. HST, Aug 05, 2011



As I seem to mention each season at some point, superstitions are a big part of baseball. At some point early in every ballplayer's career, it becomes ingrained in them that trivial things, things that might have no apparent relation to a player's success on the field, do indeed have an impact on his or her performance.

Some superstitions are inconspicuous unless you really pay attention. It might be as simple as a hitter tapping his bat on the same spot on the plate each at bat, or stepping into the batter's box the same way for each pitch. Who can forget Nomar Garciaparra's crazy between-pitch batting-glove routine?

Some pitchers don't want to step on the foul line when they enter the field to take the mound. One pitcher I had a few years back would kneel down behind the mound after his warmup pitches before the game and write some letters in the dirt before he faced a hitter.

I have always been a bit superstitious as well. I remember back in my Wahiawa Little League days, Foot Locker would always sell these white Pony turf shoes during the Pro Bowl. They would either have a red stripe or a blue one, and every year I would have my dad drive me to Pearlridge and if they had the blue ones in my size, I knew I was gonna have a good year.

In college at UH-Hilo, I had a pair of these obnoxious, fluorescent green surf shorts that I wore one day under my uniform and I pitched great. So naturally, I wore them for every start.

After getting off to a hot start this season, our team slowed to a calm simmer, prompting a few of our pitchers to put the rally mustaches into effect. Some stuck with them for a week or so, until they had a rough outing and decided to go clean-shaven.

It has been about a month now, and only three of our guys have stuck it out. Our rookie reliever Chad Benefield has had a good season setting up, and has remained confident behind his rally 'stache, even though he can never get it to thicken. It kinda looks like an eighth-grader trying to grow some facial hair.

Hard-throwing righty Aaron Hartsock has grown his into a full goatee, with the middle part near the chin shaved clean to create a look a WWE wrestler would be proud of. He is having a heck of year for us as well.

But the top mustache award has to go to our ace righty, Ace Walker, who has committed whole-heartedly to produce a thick lip tickler, a la Tom Selleck during his "Magnum, P.I." days. The very thick, very proud fur under the nose has not always been a walk in the park for Ace, who admits to getting itchy at times. Our television broadcaster calls it his Wyatt Earp look. It's a good one, and Ace has kept it for good reason.

Since he went with his mustache, Ace has gone 7-0 in as many starts after opening the season at 1-3. As you can guess, the facial hair hasn't been the only reason for Ace's hot streak, as we have worked together to fine-tune his delivery in several ways, increased his velocity, added a pitch to his repertoire and tweaked his approach.

Blessed with an innate feel for pitching and an understanding of the importance of pitch quality and location, Ace has really been on a roll for us this year. Watching him pitch since he got in a groove has been a lot of fun for me as a pitching coach, because he embodies so many of the fundamentals we try to teach our younger guys.

So naturally, when Ace told me a couple of weeks ago he was considering shaving the mustache because his girlfriend, Paige, was coming to town, I flipped out and gave him the "respect a streak" speech. The night before his last outing, I was out to dinner after our game with family, and we actually ran into Ace and his girlfriend at the restaurant. I admitted I was the one who insisted he keep the mustache, and she wasn't too happy about it. We joked about it and the next day Ace went out and dealt for us again to improve to 8-3 on the year.

As I exited the stadium through the lobby after the game with my wife, we ran into Paige, and she said she understood the superstition and would let Ace keep it until the season is over. She also said he'd have to shave it the very next day.






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