OMAHA, Neb. — It started with one plastic gorilla, going largely unnoticed on Texas Tech's home bench in late April.
Now there are four apes, of various sizes and materials, scattered throughout the dugout. They all made the trip to Omaha, where the Red Raiders are playing in their fourth College World Series in six years.
“We have a family now. Just keeping adding them,” shortstop Josh Jung said Friday.
Texas Tech's "rally gorillas" have been a popular talking point in Omaha, historically home to unique lucky charms and dugout antics come tournament time. But the story behind Texas Tech's newest twist on the rally monkey began two months ago.
The Red Raiders had just lost their fifth game in their last seven outings on April 18, the latest coming in a crushing 11-10 defeat to Baylor in 11 innings. The following day, ahead of Game 2 against the Bears, Texas Tech director of strength and conditioning Tory Stephens brought a toy gorilla into the dugout.
Stephens didn't bring attention to the newest accessory, and according to Jung, nobody really recognized the plastic figurine at first. But the gorilla magic began.
Texas Tech walked off as 3-2 winners against Baylor that day, with Cody Masters delivering the winning hit with bases loaded and two outs in the ninth. The following day, TTU walloped Baylor 13-3 to take the series.
"I kind of snuck it up there," Stephens said before TTU's CWS opener against Michigan Saturday. "Once we hit the second game of the Baylor series, we hit a home run or something. And one of our players, I think it was Cody Masters, went and grabbed the gorilla and took it out. From there, it kind of exploded.”
Before Saturday's loss to Michigan in its CWS opener, Texas Tech had won 20 of its last 26 games, all after the debut of the first rally gorilla. Now there are four — "the big one and his son," both plastic figurines; a plush doll, purchased from the Omaha Zoo at last year's College World Series; and a miniature figure specially gifted by Stephens to Jung, TTU's leading hitter at .342 and the No. 8 overall pick by the Texas Rangers in the 2019 MLB draft.
So, why gorillas?
Stephens has long been enamored by the species. His office is decorated with pictures and figurines of gorillas. Jung jokingly adds that he even resembles one. "That’s his favorite animal. I say he looks like one, because he’s big and swole."
"The gorilla itself is a message of dominance. Just by their presence alone, you get an immediate respect," Stephen explained.
Jung: “What it represents is having a dominant presence on the field and hopefully having a dominant performance.”
Jung was gifted the latest member of the rally gorilla family during Texas Tech's super regional series against Oklahoma State. The star shortstop went on to go deep three times in a three-game series win against the Cowboys.
The third one came in a decisive Game 3 win that featured seven combined homers and five lead changes. Jung's solo blast trimmed OSU's lead to 6-5 in the eighth. Four batters later, Kurt Wilson's 3-run shot was the deciding hit that sent TTU back to the CWS.
The four gorillas do have names, by the way. But that's all the information Stephens would reveal. While the rally gorillas continue to gain popularity here in Omaha, their names remain a team secret.
“I think everybody needs something to rally around, and that kind of stuck," Stephens said. "It’s what’s gotten us to this point, and hopefully it keeps going.”