Fear the beard
Growing a beard just one of Mathieu’s many superstitions
CARY, N.C. -- There are all kinds of superstitions in baseball.
Teams whose pitchers happen to be tossing no-hitters don’t talk about it on the bench during the game. That’s a biggie, and so are jersey numbers. Eat the same meal. Approach the plate the same way.
Nomar Garciaparra was one giant tic during every plate appearance -- make that several tics. He tugged at batting gloves, touched home plate with his bat, dug in just so and then did it all over again. The guy looked for all the world like he was doing some bizarre baseball version of the Macarena.
All the while, Garciaparra insisted that the peculiar routine wasn’t a superstition. Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuure.
Franklin Pierce first baseman Zach Mathieu has his own set of habits, although they don’t come anywhere close to approaching Garciaparra’s level of quirkiness. The most noticeable is that he isn’t shaving or cutting his hair while the Ravens are on their postseason run.
He hasn’t quite reached the level of shagginess that Johnny Damon did during his 2004 World Series run with the Boston Red Sox, but at 6’7”, it’s hard not to notice Mathieu.
His grandfather had tried to get him to cut his hair, but that was a no go. This is, after all, the Division II Championship we're talking about.
“I’ve just always been very superstitious,” Mathieu said. “Obviously, I hadn’t cut my hair in a while because it’s really long. But once we got in the regionals, I didn’t shave my beard. I’ve always been a big fan of playoff beards. We won, so I haven’t shaved it.”
The most Mathieu will do is trim the beard here and there, but that’s about it. Why mess with whatever it is that would be messed with if the chain was broken? That’s not all Mathieu will and won’t do in the name of luck.
He won’t step on the foul lines when running and off the field, but he’s not really alone there. That’s another big baseball superstition. If he gets a hit after putting his right batting glove on first … you guessed it. He’ll put the right batting glove on first the next time. He slaps palms with teammates using the same hand.
That’s not all.
He starts games out with the top two buttons on his jersey undone. If he needs a little mojo, he’ll button one up. When the Ravens are tossing the ball around the infield prior to the start of an inning, he won’t actually toe first base until the last throw.
The logical question is this -- where did it all come from? Darned if he knows.
“It’s just little idiosyncrasies like that, I feel like basically they do nothing, but it just gives me a good peace of mind,” said Mathieu, a junior from Derry, N.H. “I honestly couldn’t tell you where I got it. I just started doing all these different things. I just stick with them … I don’t know why.”
In the opening game here Saturday, Franklin Pierce found itself squarely in a dogfight with Shippensburg. In the top of the fifth, the Ravens somehow managed to hold Shippensburg scoreless after they had loaded the bases with no outs.
Starting pitcher Trevor Graham coaxed a line out to second and then got a crucial strikeout for the second out. The inning concluded on a foul pop to Mathieu by former Franklin Pierce teammate Cal Hogan.
“It was our pitcher, Trevor Graham,” Mathieu said. “He’s always been a good pitcher. He had a strikeout and then a kid who used to go to our school my freshman year, Trevor got him to pop up right into my mitt.”
In the end, Franklin Pierce got the win on an eighth-inning RBI single by Justin Brock. It had nothing to do whatsoever with Mathieu’s long hair and beard.
Or did it?