Author Archives: Katherine Cowdrey

The White Foul Line

Baseball is rife with superstitions, my informant is a long-time player and as a pitcher he describes to me the longest-stranding baseball taboo.

“You don’t step on the white foul line when taking the field, ever, not just pitchers, but all players, but especially pitchers. When I go out to the mound I jump over it with my right foot, and always my right foot. It’s bad juju if you step on the line, nobody steps on the line, it just isn’t done. It’s bad luck. It’s always been that way. I don’t know who I learned it from, it’s just always been done as long as I can remember.”


Baseball superstitions, rituals, charms, and taboos usually are surrounding those circumstances which are not totally in the player’s control, that is pitching and hitting usually. This particular superstition is not stepping on the foul line when taking the field. It is quite an old superstition that has no particular origin with a certain player, but one players of all caliber pay attention to. It is supposed to prevent bad luck in a game when one play can change the entire game. Because it is so old and established as a taboo, players simply adhere because all those players before them have done so, so it must work, and the players will do anything that works. One bad pitch or one great hit and the game could turn for the worse. A pitcher can do all he can to play perfectly, but he cannot control the batter’s actions, therefore this leaves a lot of room for superstitions. It is human nature to want to control one’s surroundings and this is just a little taboo that allows a player in his mind to control the outcome however small.


Football Folk Medicine – Pickle Juice

Knowing sports are highly ritualistic and superstitious I ask my informant, a football player of many years if he had any experience with folk remedies. This is what he said.

“For football, we all drink pickle juice before a game or in the middle of it because it stops cramps, like we fill Gatorade cups full of pickle juice. The salt helps absorb water because of the salt. Or eat mustard, it has the same effect. Our trainer has us do it. Cramps will make a player come out of the game, it sucks to come out, so we try to prevent them or make them go away so we can get back out there. Cramps are a stupid way to leave the game so yo drink pickle juice. You get used to the taste, it’s not great, but you chase with gatorade, but it’s worth it. It also works, I mean if it’s between taking a shot of pickle juice or not playing we would all take the pickle juice because paying is important. And it works”


Usually folk remedies turn into scientific remedies and vice versa. Or often they are placebo effects, and people believe that what they are doing will cure them. Neither are truly the case here. This is simply a long standing practice in sports where there is a lot of quick actions and muscle cramps are common. Salt does help reduce water in a body’s system, but it is unclear whether it truly helps reduce cramps. It may just all be in the mind or it may not. However, the players believe it, the trainers believe it, so it works. It’s a folk remedy that works for this team and many, but is not a part of conventional western medicine. However, someday it may evolve into western medicine or some medical product may be on the market for muscle cramps, but this team uses pickle juice. Pickle juice isn’t sold to reduce cramps, in fact just pickle juice isn’t sold, pickles are sold then the juice is re-appropriated for medical use.


The Room cult movie experience

The Room is an authored film that is colloquially known as the worst movie ever made, so people now go to it and taken out of it’s context by the people. The audience has made up responses for actions that happen on scene. It hasn’t come from the filmmakers, but an experience created by people. At certain moments the audience yells things, repeats lines, or moves to a certain part of the theatre. It’s at the same theatre in Westwood every first Saturday of the month. I interviewed a friend who has been to several screenings and who brought me to one in February.

Me. “Please explain the experience of attending a screening of The Room.”

LD: “People go to a screening of The Room, which has turned into a cult film and you say certain things at certain times. You throw plastic spoons at the screen when the picture of the spoon appears on screen. You go to the screening at midnight and it’s in . . . what’s it called Brentwood? No Westwood, and you bring a ton of plastic spoons and um the movie starts and, there are certain things you yell at certain parts of the movie, it’s all super improvised by the people who go, every time you go it’s a different experience, the best part is when you throw spoons at the screen when the picture of the spoon comes on. Every time you see water, you yell water. Every time they leave the door open, you yell shut the door. It’s the worst movie ever made, so you are making fun of it the whole time. “

Me “How did you hear about it?

LD: “I had friends who had started going to it, then they invited me, then I went. I like it because it’s funny and it’s like a community experience and it’s just like um you and all your friends and it’s interactive and entertaining and different and super weird. It’s just like a fun niche film thing to do.


Laura took me to this event one Saturday and it was quite an experience. I came prepared with plastic spoons and zero expectations. I was pleasantly surprised. Our crowd of “hecklers” was apparently very creative, coming up with creative catcalls that aren’t a part of the usual experience. Throwing spoons at the screen felt like spoons were raining down upon you. You got the feeling that people were repeat goers and knew the ropes. I eventually got the hang of it, and was able to participate, but you pretty much had to know what was going on to participate. It is an indoctrinating thing, you automatically know who has done this before and who hasn’t. It isn’t the same experience every time, depending on the showing and the people, different catcalling goes on. So there is multiplicity and variation going on and it is something that originated from the fans. It is similar to the experience of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Annotation: If you desire to participate, there are screenings of The Room all over the country. In Los Angeles here is the link:


Baseball Superstitious Habits

Baseball is an uncertain game, and can change in an instant, so I asked my informant, a long time player, if he had any particular routines that he has never broken, and what this does.

RC: “I don’t know, each time I hit, I go out and readjust each batting glove once, then I hit the plate twice; I do this in-between each pitch. It’s a repeated habit and you don’t want to get out of that habit. If, not, it would get you out of your rythum and get out of your head.”

Me: Do you or anyone ever change these habits?

RC: “Often people change if they want to get out of a funk. So if you are in a slump, and you go pants up all the time or pants down all the time, and if you go into a slump sometimes you change to see if can get you out of a slump, same goes for batting gloves or no batting gloves or pulling out the pocket of your pants. Stuff like that, small changes that can change your entire mind and pull you out of a funk.”


Sports, especially baseball are full of small superstitions such as these. This is most likely because the game is so uncertain, and often out of a single player’s hand, that they will do anything that will boost their luck. Luck is often the center of such superstitions, they will do anything to get luck and avoid poor luck. The game can change in an instant and to players the difference is in the details such as pants or gloves. Because the game is so based on repetitions and routine, any small change is highly noticeable to the player, which is why change to “get out of a funk” is so impactful on their mindset. Knowing that there is a change, and something may come of it, affects a player’s whole mindset. Additionally these routines are assurance that I can play good  in this game despite anything else because before when I have done this, I have done well. There is also comfort in routine and in such a high stress games, these little routines and habits are a comfort to the player.


Chlorine Eye Irritation Folk Remedy

Sports has a lot of unconventional medicines for quick remedies for small aliments during games or tournaments. My informant is a long time water polo player, and so I asked her if there was any remedies she learned from other players.

CB: “So when you play water polo you don’t wear goggles in the pool and the chlorine is very bad for your eyes, and there are a lot of water polo tournaments where you play more than one game in a day, and so your eyes will hurt a lot. A lot of people use eye drops but they don’t necessarily work that well so when I was a 14 and under a lot of my friends noticed some older girls putting milk in their goggles and putting them on their face and rinsing their eyes in the milk. We asked them why they were doing that they said it rinsed the chlorine and soothed their eyes and the recommended the fullest fat milk possible. I’m not necessarily sure if it works, but it does soothe your eyes in the moment and we kept doing it, everyone does it all the time, and it wasn’t only my team, but others teams from out of state using milk.”



Usually folk remedies turn into scientific remedies and vice versa. Or often they are placebo effects, and people believe that what they are doing will cure them. Neither are truly the case here.  Sports folk medicines are usually for quick remedies during a game or long tournament as there isn’t a lot of time for treatment for minor ailments. So either the ailment, like sore chlorine eyes, will go ignored or have such a quick remedy such as this. It’s a folk remedy that works for this team and many, but is not a part of conventional western medicine. However, someday it may evolve into western medicine, or evolve into conventional eye drops. Milk isn’t sold to alleviate eye irritation, it re-appropriated for medical use by teams and then spread around team to team or player to player through these tournaments or from older player to younger player. It is a remedy quite particular to this sport, so knowing it or performing it may also have to do with one’s belief in their identity as a water polo player. Believing in this remedy and performing it has a lot to say about wisdom passed down from generations of those who have played the sport before them.