Crazy Rituals: Connecting Sports Fans To The Game

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The St. Louis Cardinals' victory means joy and rapture for NPR's Yuki Noguchi. But lest you think it's all about the skill of players, there's a lot of superstitious ritual involved.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Game 6, World Series, and last night the St. Louis Cardinals pulled out an amazing come-from-behind victory in the bottom of the 11th.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Freese hits it in the air to center. We will see you tomorrow night.

BLOCK: The Cardinals' win over the Texas Rangers sent Cards fans, including NPR's Yuki Noguchi, into a state of rapture. Yuki grew up in St. Louis. She covers business and isn't generally into sports, but the Cardinals are a big exception.

Here she is with a personal essay on what it means to believe.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: As a kid, I developed rituals. If it was a close game, my brother and I would fall to the floor and pray with religious fervor. We'd cut private deals with the sports gods, like I will forego personal happiness for a week in exchange for Willie McGee stealing a base. And when the sports gods listened, we rejoiced. Announcer Jack Buck told us to go crazy, folks, and we did as the great man said.

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JACK BUCK: Go crazy, folks. Go crazy. It's a home run.

NOGUCHI: The Cardinals' unbelievable run from 10 and a half games behind first place to wild card, to pennant race, to World Series has found me crouching, sweating and prostrate, once again, to the sports gods. I'm grown up, living in another city. But when it comes to critical games, baseball is all about the rituals. The rule in my house is that I only serve round or red foods for dinner on game nights. Last Saturday, the night Albert Pujols slammed three homers, I'd made St. Louis specialty toasted ravioli. Coincidence? I think not.

I've also noticed that if I dress both my boys in their Cardinals gear, that doesn't seem to work. So I've tried alternating. If you are a true believer, you must behave accordingly. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has his lucky necklaces. A high school friend of mine has her baby in a lucky onesie, which cannot be laundered until the Cards take the series. Last night, another friend showered every inning, because you got to do what's best for your team. Eliza Rubenstein, a fellow St. Louisan, fills her California living room with talismans that include a rally squirrel and a foam cutout of former Cardinal great Stan Musial.

ELIZA RUBENSTEIN: We have a couple of books that seem to be good luck if we wave them at the television. One of them is a biography of Bob Gibson, and the other is a 1989 Cardinals Media Guide.

NOGUCHI: Rubenstein ate sprinkle doughnuts because Pujols likes them too. It worked once and failed once. This is hard work.

RUBENSTEIN: At no point do we ever reach the conclusion that what we're doing might not actually have any effect on what's happening on the field. It's always simply a matter of tweaking the rituals just a little bit more.

NOGUCHI: Rob Whiteside is a high school classmate. His offerings to the sports gods have included trading a loss by his hockey team for a Cards victory. More recently, he pledged to drink only Budweiser, the hometown brew. Did it work?

ROB WHITESIDE: It has worked so far, yeah.

NOGUCHI: Like any true fan, Whiteside has fine-tuned the nuances of this ritual.

WHITESIDE: There has to be one open before the game starts. It's almost sort of on a three-inning schedule. The third is opened on the seventh or eighth. And it also depends on when I feel like the team really needs a jolt.

NOGUCHI: Tonight's Game 7 leaves me in a quandary. Last night, my mere presence in front of the TV seemed to have a negative effect on my team. They dropped the ball or left men stranded on base. I tried putting more distance between me and the TV, following it online, going upstairs for a little while. And that's the craziest and best thing about harboring serious superstitions about your team. You feel responsible for everything good and bad that happens to them. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Albert, Albert, Albert, Albert Pujols. Albert, Albert, Albert, Albert Pujols.

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