Helms is superstitious when it comes to the baseball diamond

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 12, 2003

Steve Helms is not superstitious when it comes to Friday the 13th, black cats or broken mirrors. It is a different story when a game is on the line.

Helms, the head baseball coach at LBW Community College, is superstitious during games.

Helms, who is coaching the American Legion Post 80 baseball team this summer, admitted to being very superstitious when it comes to baseball.

Pitchers, especially lefties, are known for being a little different. Relief pitchers, especially closers, also have a reputation for dancing to the beat of a different drummer. It is no wonder, then, that Helms was a left-handed, relief pitcher during his college career at Huntingdon College in Montgomery.

"They say they are crazy," Helms said about the reputation of lefties and relief pitchers.

Helms said he first became superstitious as a baseball player at Huntingdon College, where he pitched for Head Coach Steve Sartzer.

"It just grew with me during my baseball career," Helms said. "It started in college. We had rally positions in the dugout and we couldn't move."

Helms described "rally positions" as each player on the team having a designated place to stand when the team needed to rally to win the game.

"I don't remember doing it in high school," Helms said about being superstitious. "It was more at college."

The superstitions began with the basic "unwritten rules" of baseball which include: never stepping on the base line; fashioning a rally cap; shaking one's cap when the batter has a 2-2 count and not having any crossed bats in the dugout.

Helms' superstitions have grown by leaps and bounds since his college days. He has countless stories as proof and his players do not seem to be bothered by his superstitions -- although a few have thought he was crazy.

Scott Johnson, a former LBW player and assistant coach, recalled his years at LBW with Helms.

"Baseball is a crazy game. You are trying to hit a round ball with a round bat," Johnson said. "You kind of have to be a unique person to stay involved in the game for such a long time.

"You have to be a little bit different," Johnson added.

Chris "Cope" Copeland played at LBW last season and is serving as a volunteer assistant coach for the Post 80 team this summer. Copeland said Helms' beliefs tend to grow on the players he coaches.

"If we won we would have to wear the same uniforms," Copeland said about the Saints. "If we had a big game and won then we would do the same practice the next day. Also, whenever we get a rally going we always stand in the same place."

Johnson said the superstitions grew on him and he has adopted many of them now that he is a head baseball coach.

He remembers switching dugouts in the middle of the season because one was deemed to be "bad luck" by Helms. Johnson also remembers the job three freshmen pitchers had one year thanks to one of Helms' superstitions.

"At one time, we had a rock that weighed about 200 pounds and three freshmen pitchers were assigned to it," Johnson said. "They had to carry it on the bus and then take it to our dugout for road games."

Another outrageous incident had to do with the garbage can in the Saints' dugout.

"In 1997 we had a player (Omar Jaimie) who got in the garbage can when we were hitting and it worked. So, he got in the garbage can whenever we hit," Johnson said. "Ever since then, I've been a coach looking for a kid to get in a garbage can and I've never found anybody who can do it quite as well."

Mike Valarezo is a baseball man. He is currently a scout for Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks, but his baseball career has roots in Andalusia. He is a former player and coach at LBW.

Valarezo recalled Helms as being very superstitious when it came to the national pastime.

"When I played for him his first year we ate at Hardees like 13 days in a row," Valarezo recalled. "We had to win seven games in a row to make the state tournament. We ate at Hardees before a home game and won. Then, we had to win six road games. We had Hardees for breakfast for those six road games and we made it to the state tournament."

The home plate at Foshee Field has also been the location for a few superstitious rituals, Johnson said.

"There have been a few things sacrificed there to try and get the baseball gods on our sides, but nothing that was living -- just some dolls and other things," Johnson explained.

Helms said the players "have fun" with his superstitions.

"The players do it too. We do a lot of things," Helms said. "The kids know I'm superstitious, but it's an unwritten law in baseball.

"I'll do the same thing before every game if we win," Helms added. "If we get on a winning streak I eat the same thing, wear the same undershirt, park the bus in the same place and leave here the same way if it is a road trip. We may be going west, but we'll go east if that's the way we went last time and go around the block."

He also makes sure whoever kept the scorebook for the last win keeps it again at the next game. Also, if the team takes infield practice before the game and win the players can expect to take infield practice before every game.

Some of Helms' superstitions borderline on obsessive compulsive.

If he drags the infield before a game and his team wins he will drag the field the exact same way before every game. The same goes for the way the grass is cut on the field. He will also fill out the line-up card the same way before each game if the team is on a winning streak. A win can even change his drinking habits.

"Last year, we got on a winning streak and I had a Dr. Pepper in the dugout," Helms said. "Our team manager, Josh Delpozo, noticed it and he was pretty superstitious too. So, he would bring me a Dr. Pepper before every game."

Last summer, Helms adopted a similar superstition after the first game of the season as head coach of the American Legion Post 80 team.

Helms lost the coin toss at the pregame meeting and Post 80 was the visiting team for the game. Post 80 won and Helms made sure his team was in the visitors dugout for every game of the Crispy Chick Memorial Weekend Tournament -- even if he won the coin toss. Post 80 won the tournament and Helms believes it is because the superstition worked.

The 2000 season was one for the ages when it comes to outrageous superstitions.

"Back in 2000, we were a very good road team and we were struggling at home," Helms recalled. "I got the guys on the bus and would drive around the block and then come back for a home game to make it feel like a road game."

He even had the players revisit the bus at times.

"If we were playing a doubleheader, we would go back to the bus between games," Helms said. "We did that at the state tournament that year, too."

The 2000 edition of the LBW Saints also had to make a weekly trip to Enterprise and eat at Ruby Tuesday's as part of a superstition that kept a winning streak going.

A mother of one of Helms' players also got in on the superstitions.

"We had a mother of one player who lived in Huntsville. She went to the mall and got a fortune at one of those coin-operated wizard fortune teller machines," Helms said.

The Saints won the next game, beginning another superstition.

"She would go back to the wizard before every game," Helms said. "If it was a road game, we couldn't go anywhere until she got back from the wizard and called us."

Helms even had a lucky penny one season. He found a penny on the field that had been cut by the mower. He put it in his shoe. People might not think a penny is worth very much, but that penny was good enough for 10 wins.

In 1992, Helms and the Saints could not dance but they sure could play baseball thanks to Genesis.

"The Phil Collins song 'I Can't Dance' came on the radio one day and we won," Helms explained. "The kids really got into the song that day and remembered it. The next road trip, we heard it again and won."

After that, Helms and the Saints had to hear the song before every game and won 15 of 16 games.

"Brian McCall, the team manager that year, had to call the radio station and have them play the song before every game," Helms said.

Former LBW player and Andalusia High School Head Baseball Coach Tommy Parks played for Helms in 1991 and 1992.

"He's definitely superstitious to me," Parks said via a telephone interview.

Parks recalled another story from the 1992 season Helms failed to mention. The story shows how Helms' players become superstitious.

"My sophomore year we went to the state tournament. The first game we played was tight. A batter for us hit a foul ball down the right field line and it rolled up inside a tarp tunnel (the piece of metal the tarp was rolled up on)," Parks said. "One of our players (Tim Eden)

had to go get the foul ball. He crawled up in the tarp tunnel to get the ball and while he was in there we got a hit.

"So, every time we batted he (Eden) would go get in the tarp tunnel, especially if we needed a big inning," Parks added. "I really wasn't superstitious until I played for Helms."

Valarezo also recalls Eden's stay in the tarp tunnel.

"I remember Helms was looking for him to put him in as a pinch runner because he was the fastest guy on the team. He couldn't find him," Valarezo said. "He asked where he was."

Once the players told Helms where Eden was and why, the coach said, "Stay in there!"

Parks remains superstitious to this day as assistant head football coach at Harris County High School in Hamilton, Ga. He had a team get new uniforms one year and they lost the first game of the season. He did not let the team wear the new uniforms again and the team won eight consecutive games.

Ironically, Parks was on the 1991-92 teams with Valarezo and his idea about "lucky" uniforms links him to Helms.

"We gave up our brand new uniforms. They were nice micro-fleece pullovers," Valarezo said. "He (Helms) put them away to break us out of our losing streak. We had to wear these old uniforms made out of a nylon-type material. They were the most heinous pullovers ever made. They were real tight fitting like Under Armor.

"We didn't have any big players, but they all felt like bodybuilders because the uniforms were so tight," he added.

Helms said the most outrageous superstition he has ever had dealt with his own clothing.

"The most outrageous one was when I wore the same underwear," Helms said. "You wash it, but you still wear the same underwear."

Carla Helms knows her husband is superstitious when it comes to baseball. She knows because she is usually the one who ends up doing laundry to make sure he can wear the same uniform to the next game after a win. She said he has to wear the exact same thing from his undershirt and stirrups to his jersey.

Her husband's beliefs, however, did not stop her from sending him a chain email right before the Alabama Junior College State Tournament this past season.

"The Friday before we left for the state tournament she sent me an email that said I had to send it to 10 people or I would have bad luck," Helms said. "I kind of blew it off because I don't believe in those things, but we did not do good at the tournament."

Helms may have made another mistake while he was being interviewed for this article. He received a telephone call from another coach and promptly scheduled a game for February 13, 2004.

When asked if he realized that he just scheduled a game for Friday the 13th, Helms said "That doesn't bother me. It's not baseball."