LITTLE LEAGUE

Rituals, superstitions play role for Billings Little Leaguers, parents

2011-08-26T00:00:00Z 2014-08-25T14:27:58Z Rituals, superstitions play role for Billings Little Leaguers, parentsBy SUSAN OLP Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
August 26, 2011 12:00 am  • 

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The tradition of superstitions and rituals in baseball probably goes back as far back as baseball itself.

In the big leagues, some players go through a specific set of motions each time they step up to the plate. Or maybe they eat the same meal before each game.

As it is in Major League Baseball, so it is with the coaches, players and parents of the Big Sky All-Stars from Billings.

The first team from Montana to make it to the Little League World Series, the All-Stars are undefeated at the tournament and next play Saturday at 1 p.m. in the U.S. championship.

Pearce Kurth, Big Sky first baseman and pitcher, said the team never goes anywhere without a couple of small, plastic brown bears they acquired in Billings.

"We always have two bears that we put in the dugout, and we call them the two lucky bears," he said after practice Tuesday. "We got them, like, in a happy meal at Wendy's."

Every time he goes to a tournament, Pearce also wears the same undershirt for every game. The T-shirt might vary from tournament to tournament, but he wears the same one throughout.

Ian Leatherberry, who plays third base and pitches, keeps his right sock inside-out. That ritual goes all the way back to the regular season in Billings.

"One day I had them in the wash and one was inside out and one wasn't," Ian said. "I put the inside one on and I didn't recognize it, and after the game I saw I did that, and we won by, like, 10 points."

Third-baseman and pitcher Sean Jones won't step onto the infield dirt until the team takes the field, or until he's up to bat. And Ben Askelson keeps his shoes untied until he takes the field.

Big Sky manager Gene Carlson would be the first one to tell you that good pitching, hitting and defense wins games. But that doesn't mean he doesn't keep his lucky pen on him.

"I've used it throughout All-Stars," Carlson said. "It's a regular Bic writing pen. It's nothing special. I keep it with me during the games, to mark my changes and pitch count."

Coach Tom Zimmer said he had a bunch of little things he did during the District I tournament in Billings, "but I got rid of most of them."

The only one Zimmer brought with him to Williamsport is a Smell'Em T-Shirt from the Minnesota Twins' big 2006 season. He wears it when he throws batting practice to the boys before each World Series game.

" 'Smell-Em' means when you get somebody on base, it means you smell the runs," Zimmer said. "So the guy on the plate hits the ball, you can smell the run coming home."

The parents of the Big Sky players have a couple of traditions of their own. Meredith Maehl, mom of Big Sky catcher and outfielder Andy Maehl, said she eats caramel-apple suckers only during baseball season.

She buys them at Poly Food Basket in Billings.

"Before the trip to California, I stocked up," she said. "I was on my last sucker when we won that last game."

Maehl even drove back to her hotel room before one game at the Northwest Region tournament in San Bernardino, Calif., when she forget her supply. When she got back to Billings, before coming to Williamsport, she bought a few more.

"Right before we left for the airport, I went to get some and they didn't have any," Maehl said. "So when the MacDonalds came out, I had them bring some out. I eat one at every game. They seem to bring me good luck."

Four of the moms are wearing multicolored butterfly pins during each of the World Series games. Rosanne Askelson bought them at the Denver airport on her way to Williamsport, but the tradition goes back to the regionals in San Bernardino.

"At the semifinal game, there was a large butterfly, orange and black, that was just kind of flying around right in front of us and the dugout at the fence," Askelson said.

The team won that game, she said. The same thing happened in the championship game.

So when she saw the pins, she bought them. And she and Jodi Sulser, Lori McKenzie and Karin Leatherberry wear them at every game.

They've seen a butterfly flutter by during the first three games at Lamade Stadium at the Little League World Series. The boys haven't lost yet at the World Series.

"I'm not a huge superstitious person," she said of the butterflies. "But my mom said someone told her they were a sign of good luck."

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