and Pedro Cerrano.
I used an old saying I had heard all my life in my latest endeavor to write the greatest American novel. My stalwart hero used “A ghost walking across your grave” to describe a shiver felt by my heroine. I found myself on one of my pig trails. The path twisted and turned before falling into a rabbit hole of old sayings, superstitions, and baseball as I researched where the saying had come from and my own genetics. Once and a while, a blind pig might find more than an acorn.
One side of my family is diverse if family traditions are to be believed. A large piece of my genetic pie on my mother’s side of the family is Scot Irish. According to family lore there are dashes of a Native American princess and an African seaman to spice up my pie. I haven’t had a DNA test and may not. I’d rather trust what I believe than find out the stories are fairy tales or out and out lies.
I am certain about the Scot Irish piece of the pie. All I have to do is look at a picture of my red headed, freckled faced, alabaster skinned mother and early pictures of my red headed and bearded brother. When I gaze into my own mirror, I see an argument for more than a dash of Native American or African seaman…or maybe an argument for a Bavarian named Miller or Müller on my father’s side…ah diversity.
In the early to middle 1700s settlers with the names of Perry, Rogers, Griffin and Morrow made their way South from the chilly North through Virginia’s and North Carolina‘s Appalachia. Eventually they would settle in the fertile area around the Catawba River in northern South Carolina and bring sayings and superstitions picked up along the way.
I ’m not sure how the side of my family with the surname Miller got here. There seems to be an argument over its English or German roots. More research is needed.
Shivering a bit, I found that the saying that sent me down my rabbit hole should have in fact been, “A rabbit (or goose) ran across my grave.” According to Appalachian lore, your final resting place is preordained and anytime an animal runs across the site of your grave to be, you shiver.
I don’t remember my family being overtly superstitious…well my father with his Miller surname, always spit on the windshield of our car (yuck) and made the sign of an X any time a black cat crossed our path.
From the Appalachians, the practice is believed to ward off any bad luck that some say follows the four-legged creature, long seen as an ominous sign of bad luck in the Southern Appalachians. From my research, it appears that the sign must be made three times and that spit is not needed to ward off the bad luck.
Also, from Appalachian folklore, toss a pinch of the spilt salt over your left shoulder into the face of the Devil who lurks there. Always leave a building using the same door as you entered to avoid bad luck. “Nevah, evah” nudge an empty rocking chair lest you invite the wrath of evil spirits.
My favorite might be holding your breath as you pass by a cemetery so you do not accidentally inhale a recently departed soul. That makes sense. I have enough voices in my head without adding a departed soul.
One that didn’t make sense to me was gathering acorns amid a thunderstorm and placing them on the windowsills to protect their home from lightning strikes. Not sure about that one, seems gathering acorns from under a tall oak tree during a lightning storm might be counterproductive as in dangerous.
Another, for those of us with apple trees, remember to leave a single apple hanging from at the end of the harvest, lest they attract the Devil.
I coached baseball most of my teaching career and while studies show that the passing on of Appalachian superstitions is in cultural decline, I assure you, in baseball superstitions are alive and well. Much effort is made attempting to please the baseball gods.
In an age of non-wood bats, if someone goes on a hitting spree; everyone wants to use his bat. Anyone in a zero forever slump, their bat was avoided like the plague.
If a pitcher is pitching a no hitter late, never mention it, don’t talk about it even in whispered voices. In fact just ignore the pitcher totally.
One of my teams used a “rally monkey”, dugout Ju Ju in the form of hand jives, and even had a model toilet to flush their frustrations down. Anything that might help appease the gods of the diamond.
As a manager, I never stepped on the white line entering or exiting the field of play. That is bad Ju Ju for sure. No, I don’t know why?
I always looked for a red head to rub for good luck. Not sure the young lady in the first-row bleachers seats appreciated me rubbing her. A bad joke. I looked for a red headed player to rub his head.
One of my biggest superstitions was to make sure I changed everything except my uniform when on a winning streak. Baseball players are notorious for wearing the same underwear or socks, over and over again, unwashed until a streak comes to an end. I made sure I stayed clear of dirty socks or underwear.
One of my teams went on a twenty-two-game winning streak. No one washed their socks…except me and I only washed mine. I didn’t check their underwear. I changed everything every game. Socks and underwear as fresh as Arm and Hammer could make them. My players? The aroma from their socks was strong. Left unattended the socks might walk off on their own. When the streak was over, we had a ceremonial burial of the socks in the deep centerfield outfield. Grass still refuses to grow there.
There are plenty of superstition in baseball. Eating special pregame meals, jumping over foul lines, putting an X or writing a message in the corner of the batters box or behind the mound, talking to the ball or bat while going through batting rituals, ala Mike Hargrove, the “Human Rain Delay.”
My favorite baseball film is the 1989 comedy, Major League. Much was comedy but so much of the comedy happens in real life or at least real baseball life. The reason it is a favorite is the character Pedro Cerrano, the Cuban player who couldn’t hit a curve ball believing his bat was afraid. Pedro tries to cure his bat by using chicken bones, snakes, and a nonexistent Vodun god named Jobu.
From the movie:
Pedro Cerrano : Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit curveball. Straight ball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid. I ask Jobu to come, take fear from bats. I offer him cigar, rum. He will come.
Eddie Harris : You know you might think about taking Jesus Christ as your savior instead of fooling around with all this stuff.
Pedro Cerrano : Jesus, (Hey Suse) I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.
Eddie Harris : You trying to say Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball?
I had a player who carried around chicken bones in his bat bag hoping the bat would gain favor with the baseball gods. No snakes, no cigars or rum…may be. I don’t know how he felt about Jesus Christ but he was Catholic. Like most players, he struggled with hitting anything that bent unless it bent badly.
Me? In a Pedro Cerrano voice, “I like to drink de rum and smoke de cigar. That is good Ju Ju for me.” I couldn’t hit a curveball consistently and I don’t think it was the bat’s fault. And Eddie Harris, I’m not sure Jesus could hit one either.
For more of Don Miller, https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3PWD3_Jlf68shjooz-h5Ll_pyiL0QWZXXc9w3K_UMn2eVm8-sdp4KydlA