Baseball is famous for its superstitions. Some players and coaches have to wear certain clothes, eat the same pre-game meals and shake the same hands, the same way before every game.
Canada’s entry in this year’s Little League World Series is no different.
For the team from White Rock, B.C., everything revolves around what has come to be known as “the ball.”
“At the Canadian nationals [in Medicine Hat, Alta.], my grandfather bought me a ball right before we left,” explained Canadian pitcher Reece Usselman.
“I brought it here, put it right next to my window, and as soon as you walk in our dorm it’s the first thing you will see. And our rule is you have to touch it right before you walk out for a game or practice.”
It’s just for the players. The team’s coaches weren’t even aware of it. The ball doesn’t have a name yet but the team is clearly rallying around it.
“It’s got its own case, we put an air freshener next to it, I have it right next to my bed,” Usselman said.
Long list of rituals
“We have found that if we follow this ritual, we have played really well in the field, so it’s become a superstition,” explained Canadian slugger Reid Hefflick.
Of course, rules have quickly emerged around the ball.
“If you didn’t touch it before our first game and you did good then you won’t be allowed to touch it until the tournament is over,” explained Usselman, who has developed a number of rituals during his short stay in Williamsport, Pa.
“When I wake up, I say hi to Chase [Marshall], I say hi to Mateo [Manzi], listen to music, then go eat breakfast. I always have to eat Frosted Flakes and then I touch the ball,” Usselman said. “I even have a voodoo doll in my bag. I don’t do anything to it. But as long as it’s been in my bag, we haven’t lost a game.”
It’s not only the players. The coaches also have a long list of rituals and superstitions.
Coach Emmanuel Factor looks like an NHL player in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“He hasn’t cut his hair since the playoffs started and he is in desperate need of a haircut,” explained fellow coach Ryan Hefflick. “But as long as we keep winning, he’s not going to cut it and the boys have told him he can’t cut it or shave so he is starting to get a little bit grizzly.”
The coaches have also been sporting plaid pants during the team’s warmup, something coach Keith Fluet says a fellow group of Canadian coaches did in the ’80s in Williamsport.
“The rules in Little League is the coaches have to wear non-denim slacks that are all the same. Nobody said it had to be a solid colour just non-denim and slacks,” Fluet said.
Not intimidated by Japan
But don’t be fooled. Magic balls and plaid pants aside, this team has shown people in Williamsport that they have come to play. Their 2-0 start, the best start by a Canadian entry since 1998, has the team riding a crest of confidence as they prepare to face Japan in Wednesday’s quarter-final.
The oddsmakers (yes, there are odds available for Little League games) have Canada pegged as an overwhelming long shot, even steeper than the odds facing Connor McGregor in his upcoming fight versus Floyd Mayweather.
The team is clearly not intimidated by Japan, an historical Little League powerhouse.
“I think we can beat them. If we play like we can, there’s no reason why we can’t beat Japan,” Kyle Chyzowski said. “I know people say ‘oh, Canada is here, they are normally not that great,’ but we have an unbelievable team.”
“They are historically very good, you look around the dining hall and see the pictures of all of the winners and half of them are from Japan,” pitcher Chase Marshall said. “But we are not like the other Canadian teams who just roll over and kind of give up. We want to win this game, and we definitely have the skill to do it.”
It’s not just confidence this team has. They also have each other’s backs. The team motto: forget about it.
“You make an error, ball goes through your legs, forget about it – you can still help the team,” Usselman said.”If you strike out, forget about it, you are going to go out on the field and make a great play.”