When it comes to superstition, the LSU softball team is no different than any other.
At least in some regards.
Some players don’t believe in superstition at all.
Some prefer to stay rooted in their religious beliefs.
Some complete a long, specific routine before they even hit the field.
And some, in true LSU softball fashion, believe a small plush monkey leads the team to victory.
Take Akiya Thymes. To the freshman outfielder from Brusly, the presence of Choco the Bear greatly impacts the chances of a Tigers victory.
You might not recognize who Choco is. The Jamaican plush bear stands roughly 6 inches tall, has a large, red heart-shaped tattoo that ranges from his bellybutton to the middle of his chest, smiles through all the ups and downs of the Tigers season and has his own spot in the dugout during the games. (Well, he had a spot in the dugout, until the NCAA’s well-documented crackdown on postseason props.)
“He’s just another member of our team,” Thymes says.
Like most overworked rally animals, Choco took vacation days. His longest break this season began April 9 during the Kentucky series and lasted five games. The Tigers went 1-4 in that span and didn’t score a run against Kentucky.
Obviously, when he returned, the team was happy to see him.
This, of course, isn’t the first time the Tigers adopted an animal to keep momentum rolling. Last year, during their run to the Women’s College World Series, they adopted Juanita the rallyfish (she eventually got her own Twitter account; within days, she had more than 2,000 followers).
But Thymes insists Choco has brought more to the team than Juanita has.
Welcome to the world of softball superstition.
The bear isn’t the only example. There are plenty.
The NCAA’s recent ban on props in the dugout apparently hasn’t affected Choco’s perceived effect on the Tigers’ success. The NCAA announced its crackdown at the start of the regionals last week and LSU swept its way to the Baton Rouge regional title, though Choco’s presence wasn’t as noticeable as it was during the regular season.
A similarly low-key approach from Choco can be expected when the Tigers play in a super regional at James Madison on Friday and Saturday in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
“We’ll probably have to hide him, but (Thymes) is really good at keeping him low key and really close,” infielder Sahvanna Jaquish said after practice Tuesday. “I love that she brings him. I don’t know why she brings him, but she makes me touch him like every game and every inning, and it’s working. I hope she brings him, and I hope they don’t take him away because he might have a little bit to do with our success.”
Outfielder Emily Griggs said coach Beth Torina makes sure the Tigers don’t go too far with the superstitions in the eyes of the NCAA. She suggested Choco might have to take in this weekend’s game from the inside of a bat bag.
“But he’ll be there,” Griggs said. “He’ll be in Virginia.”
Some superstitions are more run-of-the-mill.
Sandra Simmons, for example, has kept No. 3 on her uniform throughout her entire time as a softball player. (Simmons, 22, has been playing softball for 18 years.)
But her superstition doesn’t stop there.
Getting ready for a game requires the same routine: She puts the helmet on first, then her elbow guard, then her gloves. Only the glove routine can change depending on her production at the plate. At the moment, Simmons attaches the Velcros on her right glove before the left, and it seems to work.
Thanks (in part) to her glove routine, Simmons leads the team with 70 hits and she hit two game-winning home runs in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Some players don’t believe in superstition. Infielder Constance Quinn draws on her faith as her ritual. Before every game, Quinn’s father makes a point to pray for his daughter, her team and the opposing team.
Then there is the player who doesn’t believe that fate, superstition or witchcraft affect her game at all. Freshman pitcher Sydney Smith never developed any superstitions as a young player. Even in her first season in the rugged SEC, she refuses to believe anything might affect her pitches.
“I have the mentality,” Smith says, “that whatever happens is going to happen.”
Her line of thinking, however, isn’t the norm.
Even Torina, a former pitcher at Florida, has her own set of superstitions. Although she won’t make her players abide by them, she’s more than willing to make her assistants follow along.
“My staff knows the dos and don’ts of our list,” Torina says, “and they make sure they follow them.”
A few of them:
Coaches must wear the same outfit throughout the game. If rain is in the forecast, she advises that the coaches begin the game with rain jackets. And if they begin the game with rain jackets, they stick with rain jackets, even if the sun pops out.
Coaches’ seating arrangements must remain the same from start to finish.
If you drink a cup of water in the first inning, you drink continuously through the rest of the game. It’s all about keeping the head coach’s mojo.
“When you’re the coach, you can’t really control anything,” Torina says. “You just can control your superstitions and what you do.”