By Brad Fauber
Baseball has long been a sport filled with wild superstitions and a focus on routine. The evidence of that can be found throughout all levels of the game -- rally caps, pre-pitch actions and "lucky" pieces of uniforms or equipment have been a mainstay in baseball for years.
Players learn at a young age what does or doesn't give them a perceived advantage on the diamond, and a lot of times they will carry those superstitions and routines with them for as long as they play the game. While it's true that rally caps or a lucky glove or taking exactly two practice swings before each pitch has probably never directly affected the outcome of a game, it's really all about putting an individual in the proper mindset.
Batting, specifically, focuses heavily on finding that mental comfort zone. Players at all levels, from Major League Baseball all the way down to Little League, often develop a batting routine -- how they step in and out of the batter's box, what they do between pitches -- and stick to it, and sometimes something as simple as how they stroll to the plate from the on-deck circle can affect an individual's mindset.
At various levels of baseball, including the professional and college ranks, players choose to walk to the plate to a specific song. The reasons vary. Maybe it's their "lucky" song. Maybe it reminds them of someone or something. Maybe it is just an expression of their personality.
Whatever true benefits something as simple as walk-up music holds, area high school players won't soon find out -- such music is prohibited by the Virginia High School League.
"I know why they would put that in because they don't want the music interrupting the game ... but I don't think we ever abused that," said Warren County baseball coach Vernon Mathews, whose team utilized batter walk-up music for its first few home games this season until being made aware of the VHSL rule in early April.
VHSL Information and Communication Specialist Mike McCall said the rule -- of which offending teams are subject to a sportsmanship violation -- was put in place prior to the 2013 season for both baseball and softball, although most of the area's coaches were unaware that such a rule was even in place.
Mathews said he didn't feel strongly one way or the other about the rule, although he did say it was "neat for the kids" to be able use their own personalized walk-up music, something that they see many professional baseball players doing on television.
Sherando softball coach Clarence Smith was more outspoken about his stance on the rule, as the Warriors were also one of the few baseball/softball teams in the area to actually use batter walk-up music before they were made aware of the rule before this season.
"We look forward to the little things to enhance our 'home field' experience since we are relegated to playing on a slow-pitch field," Smith said. "I don't know the logic behind the rule change but if I were asked to speculate, I'd guess it has something to do with the pace of the game. If my suspicion is correct, it's a shame considering that fast-pitch games take roughly half the time of baseball games on average."
Despite the overall newness of the rule, most area teams did not use walk-up music between batters even before the VHSL rule was implemented last season, and for various reasons.
Central softball coach Lisa Rhodes said she would've been open the concept had her players approached her with the idea, while Skyline softball coach Frank Nelson and Warren County softball coach Justin Stock thought the idea of walk-up music might provide too much of a distraction, with Stock adding that players become "more interested in 'their' song" than executing the task at hand.
Longtime Strasburg baseball coach Jeff Smoot said the idea of personalized walk-up music simply doesn't fit in with the Rams' brand of baseball.
"We did not utilize walk-up music prior to that because philosophically that would be a practice that we were opposed to since it is designed to draw attention to the individual rather than the team," Smoot said. "We are also of the belief that the music played before, during and after our games are for the enjoyment of our fans, and not the players and coaches, as we certainly have more pressing issues to deal with at that time."
Most teams do elect to play music before games while teams are warming up, and many schools also play music between innings and during dead ball situations, which is allowed by the VHSL.
McCall said the rule banning music between batters was put in place because the time between batters is considered a live-ball situation, and the rule is likely to help alleviate any confusion as to if or when a timeout has been granted.
"At first, the rule seemed trivial. In my years of high school and college softball, I never experienced any situations/circumstances where walk-up music prevented play or caused confusion," Rhodes said. "However, I can understand how, if not monitored and done properly, it could be a huge distraction and source of frustration during the game."
Most coaches are also under the impression that the rule was put in place to avoid extending the games longer than necessary.
"It also feels as though this rule is also to quicken the pace of the game," Skyline baseball coach Jay Barnes said. "A player with a walk-up song may delay their entrance into the batter's box to hear a certain portion of the song. [It's] similar to the rule requiring a hitter to keep one foot in the box in-between pitches."
However the true intent of the rule is interpreted, area baseball and softball teams won't be playing walk-up music for their batters any time soon. Doing so could be bad luck for certain teams, anyway.
"I don't think it had anything to do with the music, but our first three games we had five hits," Mathews said. "I don't think the music helped then."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org