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The Sanity of Superstition

I was raised by two normal people. My father is an accountant and my mother is a nurse practitioner. They're grounded, rational human beings...for the most part. Why? Because they are also sports fans. And despite their love of numbers, symptoms, tax law, and diagnoses, they managed to pass on to me something wholly irrational.

This thing, this belief, is not something a sane, logical person subscribes to. The decision to put a t-shirt in the freezer because it was worn to a crushing loss is not a decision a right-thinking person makes.

Call it whatever you want. Superstition. Tradition. Juju. Insanity. Whatever its name, it rules my sports life -- and never more so than during the playoffs.

Everyone has their routines; the little acts you perform without thinking. You wear your lucky shirt to a particularly tough match-up, the shirt you wore when the Phillies scored 22 runs against the Reds back in '09. You turn your cap inside out to inspire a late-inning comeback, like on opening day. When the Phillies are being no-hit, you try everything you can to jinx it and break it up (perhaps even invoking the name of your best friend, a Mets fan).

What my parents taught me is that you don't know what is going to make a difference in the game, even though you know in your bones and your brain that changing your shirt or turning the game off or downing shots isn't going to make a difference. It's an effort to exert control over something we have absolutely no control of. Through these insane, deluded acts, we become a bit saner, fooling ourselves into thinking that we can change things; that if you walk around with only one shoe on, the pitcher will suddenly start locating.

I am incredibly guilty of this. Ridiculously guilty. Here's just a small sampling of what I have done:

  • 2008 World Series: Having recently moved back to the East Coast after an 18-month sojourn in Wisconsin, I was without the funds to buy ANY Phillies merchandise. So I nailed my mother's "You've Got A Friend In Pennsylvania" license plate to the wall next to my television as a no-cost way to show my affiliation. I eliminated all red from my wardrobe since I couldn't buy anything Phillies-related -- I felt that if I couldn't be Phillies specific, then I would have to keep my entire wardrobe neutral. Result: The Phillies won the World Series. (The day after the Phillies won, I wore a bright red dress and immediately contracted the flu, which forced me to miss 10 days of work AND the parade. LESSON LEARNED.)
  • 2010 NLDS, Game 1: When Halladay's postseason no-hitter began, I was in a meeting at work (while wearing the accursed red dress). The moment the meeting ended, I fired up my At-Bat app and listened to the Phillies radio broadcast on the drive home. Once I got into my house, I put my headphones on and sat on the couch with my coat on and my work bag still on my shoulder. And then I didn't move. My intention had been to listen only until that inning (the fourth) was over, because I was wearing heels and a dress and I was hungry and my TV was 15 feet away. But I was afraid that if I changed something, anything, the no-hitter in progress would collapse like a depressing house of cards. So I stayed put, immobile, until the final, heart-racing out. Result: Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter, Phillies win.
  • 2010 NLCS, Game 2: Desperate for the offense to get going and tack on a few insurance runs, I tried a variety of things, from changing shirts (three times) to turning all the lights off. In the bottom of the seventh inning, I did a little dance to try and burn off some of the stress and tension I was feeling. Fifteen seconds later, Roy Oswalt blew through the stop sign and scored from second, giving the Phillies a 3-1 lead over San Francisco. The Phillies scored three more runs in the seventh, and I didn't stop dancing around my living room until the end of the game. Result: Phillies won, tied the series 1-1.

Are these things a loony, batty, crazy person does? Absolutely. But by doing them, I was able to hold on to what little sanity I had left. And I'm hopeful that two years of failed postseason experimenting has yielded what will be the winning combination of borderline obsessive-compulsive acts. I present to you my personal rules to harnessing postseason juju:

  • All new Phillies merchandise must be purchased before the postseason begins. I broke this rule last year when I bought a shirt for my dad's birthday after the NLDS had started. Never again.
  • Be flexible but rigid. Are things going well even though I'm not watching? Then I'm going to continue not watching. Is Joe Buck making my ears bleed? Did Tim "Ungrateful Moron" McCarver just insult the Phillies again? Doesn't matter. If the Phillies have a lead, I will listen to Buck and McCarver take a dump in the booth before I change anything.
  • Pay attention and troubleshoot. Is there something I'm doing that could be causing what's going on? Is it my shoes? My pants? Maybe there are too many lights on. Perhaps I should be standing up. Or standing on one leg! The key is to try things until something works.
  • No future plans. I will not make any Phillies specific plans beyond the series that the Phillies are currently playing. I've done that several years in a row and it always blows up in my face. This year I'm putting a stop to it.
  • Learn from the past. What has worked before could work again. But if something I did caused a massive, game-losing disaster, then it needs to be banished except in the most dire of circumstances. Same goes for clothing. I suspect that the shirt I wore to the game on my birthday (an unpleasant Lee loss) may need to be burned.

The point is, while most people may think I belong in an insane asylum, these stupid rules are the only things that keep me from entirely losing my mind during the postseason. Games are "need to win" instead of just "want to win." I live and die by every pitch and every play, knowing that one flat fastball or booted throw could start the falling dominoes of defeat. There's so much pressure, and these rules distract me from the fact that this is all out of my hands.

Now, can someone let me out of this straightjacket?