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Biertempfel: Pirates stick to their rituals, clubhouse unaffected by success

| Saturday, July 6, 2013, 10:42 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole watches from the dugout during a game against the Brewers on Saturday, June 29, 2013, at PNC Park.

Ballplayers can be a superstitious lot.

It's the reason there are rally caps and lucky socks. It's why some guys lace up their shoes in the same order, the same way, every day. Don't try to discuss a winning streak while it's still in progress. And the best way to get a quick “No comment” is to ask about where the team is in the standings and where it could be next week.

“There are some guys who are superstitious beyond belief,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

Hurdle didn't need to be prompted for evidence. He claimed to have once coached a player who stood for “The Star Spangled Banner” with a beard on his chin. After making an out, the player disappeared into the clubhouse ... and returned with a Fu Manchu mustache. After making another out, the player vanished again. The guy returned with a much smaller mustache, and went hitless for the third straight at-bat.

“Then, he was clean-shaven,” Hurdle said, grinning. “This is one guy in one game. He went from full beard to no facial hair — and got the game-winning hit with a clean-shaven face. True story.”

Ballplayers can be great storytellers, too.

“I've also had a guy ...” Hurdle continued. “I'm in the bathroom and he jumps in, ‘I've gotta go.' Then, he goes out and hits a home run. Two innings later, he's grabbing me, dragging me back down to the bathroom. I'm like, ‘Sorry, I can't help you this time.' It's crazy.”

The Pirates aren't much on facial hair. (The exception is Gerrit Cole, who happily started growing a bushy, blond beard the minute he was called up. The front office frowns on whiskers in the minors.) But when things are going well, they tend to be a quiet bunch so as not to jinx anything.

Closer Jason Grilli made good on 25 straight save chances before blowing his first one June 19 in Cincinnati. Yet, day after day, Grilli would smile and purse his lips when his run was mentioned.

“I always get a big kick when you (media) guys bring up stuff like that,” Grilli said. “We don't go out there like, ‘We're going to break a record today.' The goal when you show up in spring training is, have a team that's good enough to get to the World Series. Streaks, strikeout records, winning streaks, all that stuff ... we never know it's out there until you tell us.”

That is why the mood in the Pirates' clubhouse these days is pretty much the same as it was the last couple of years, even when things weren't going nearly as well. Guys laugh and joke around, study their swings on video and do work in the cages, and generally talk about almost everything except the fact that they own the best record in the big leagues.

“Right now, we're not thinking too much about it,” Garrett Jones said. “You get reminded of it sometimes, walking down the street and fans come up to you and say, ‘You guys are doing an amazing job.' You get a moment to think, Yeah, we are doing pretty well. We want to keep that going. You feel that energy from the fans and kind of step back for a moment. But once we get to the ballpark, it's all business.”

In other words, the Pirates are enjoying the ride. And they hope anyone perched on the edge of the Clemente Bridge, fretting about the possibility of another epic collapse, would just take a deep breath and do the same.

That's not being superstitious. That's being smart.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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