MORGANTOWN — For whatever reason, athletes and superstitions have been tied together almost since the beginning. When things are going well, players continue to wear the same socks, eat only the green M&Ms or drive the same way to the park.
Once, to get out of a horrid batting slump, then-Cincinnati Reds shortstop Dave Concepcion hopped into an industrial clothes dryer in the locker room, in order to “get hot.”
It was going great until a teammate came along and slapped the side of the machine, which caused it to turn on for a few seconds, causing Concepcion to suffer some minor burns.
WVU second baseman Kyle Gray has been there — not in a working dryer, but rather living in a superstitious world when the hits start pouring in.
They are coming in bunches right now for the junior from Blanco, Texas, who will be making a sort of homecoming when the Mountaineers (25-21, 7-11 Big 12) take the field at TCU (27-18, 8-9) for a three-game series that begins at 7:30 p.m. today.
“I grew up about 3 1/2 hours away,” Gray said after getting three hits May 9, in the Mountaineers’ 10-5 victory against Virginia Tech, at Monongalia County Ballpark. “I’ve got about
15 (friends and family) coming to the game and they’re all looking for tickets. I had to tell them I could get some, but I don’t know about 15.”
Gray will enter the series on a 23-game hitting streak. A base hit today will tie him with Tyler Kuhn, who had a 24-game streak in 2008.
After that: Justin Jenkins recorded a 38-game hitting streak for the Mountaineers, in 2007, which is believed to be the school record, although school officials are still researching that fact.
In any sense, Gray has every reason to be a little superstitious at the moment, but said his heart isn’t 100 percent into them.
“I try to keep the same routine, but just because it feels right,” Gray said. “I don’t like to try anything new. I found out a long time ago that superstitions aren’t really a thing. It’s more mental than anything. I just stick with my routine and do what I can for my team. That’s what I’m all about.”
That does not exactly carry through the whole WVU team, including WVU head coach Randy Mazey, who spent six seasons as an assistant at TCU, from 2007-’12.
Mazey seems to be a believer in baseball superstitions. His is to not bring a lot of attention to someone on a long hitting streak.
Mazey would likely rather discuss retirement plan possibilities with Gray — who is batting a team-leading .368 with 13 home runs, 10 doubles and 36 RBIs — before bringing up the streak.
“It’s not anything we’re going to discuss,” Mazey said. “I don’t want [the media] asking Kyle questions about it, because it puts too much pressure on a young kid.
“He plays pitch to pitch, which is what he’s been doing. He’s seeing the ball really well right now.”
Gray’s explanation for his recent play was simple and to the point: It’s not the early part of the season anymore.
“It’s not like the beginning, where at-bats are still a little bit rusty,” he said. “Now, you’re seeing a lot of different pitches from a lot of different pitchers with an understanding of how an off-speed pitch is going to move or how a fastball is going to move.
“You have a better grasp of everything.”