It's funny. I'm the biggest skeptic in the world, but as soon as "my" team is playing well, I immediately turn superstitious. I don't believe that astrological signs or charts can tell us anything about the future, nor do I believe that anyone has telepathic powers. I know, deep down, that, short of some kind of giant act of criminal sabotage, my actions will not affect a professional sports team that has pumped millions of dollars toward winning a championship. I can do all the rain dances and blood rituals I want, but they will not make the team I'm doing them for sweep an important four-game series that's starting later today (I'm writing this on Thursday). But, when the team in question is playing like a contender for the first time since I was 17 (I'm 32 now, so do the math), I, as mentioned earlier, tend to get a bit wiggy about certain things.

Take, for instance, a telephone call I shared with my brother earlier this week. I've mentioned my brother in this column a few times, but if you don't remember past references, he knows twice as much about sports as I do, and I often defer to him on questions of athletics. Here's what our talk sounded like:

"So, they're hot man," I said. "Two games out of first place. You think they can hold on?"

"It's going to be a tough month, for sure," he said. "But they've been drumming on Boston and Toronto all year, and we play them like 10 times in the last two weeks. I think there's a great shot."


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"For the pla . . . The pla . . . The post-ssss . . Uhhhh. You know what I'm talking about."

"Why are you stuttering?"

"I'm not stuttering. I just don't want to say it."

"Say what? The play . . ."

"Shut up! You're going to jinx 'em! Don't even say the word!"

"You're certifiable, brother."

"I know it. Just don't say the word. I don't want to be responsible if they don't make it."

This is not a new development for me. I was skeptical as a little kid, too, having grown up with a skeptic father, but as an athlete, I had a set of rituals and rules a mile long. One was no direct references to the game that was being played that day. If I ran into a fellow soccer player in the hallway the day of an important match, I might turn away if they started yapping about how excited they were about said match. I thought there was some kind of energy floating around that could be used only for that game, and that talking about it wasted the energy. Also, my uniform had to be exactly right, or I would not be able to concentrate. As a soccer player, that meant a dark colored undershirt beneath our white home jerseys, and a white undershirt beneath our dark away jerseys. While playing baseball, I had to have my stirrups in the proper position, and my zipper and my shirt buttons had to be lined up (known as a gig line, in military parlance). I could not step on the foul line before or after the inning ended. The list goes on, but I'm having a tough time remembering all of the little quirks, and I think you get the picture: I'm nuts.

My athletic days are gone, but I still engage in little rituals, avoid certain words and behave like a superstitious loon, because the Orioles are so close the playoffs that I can taste it, and I, as I said to my brother, I don't want to be the one who's responsible if they lose it down the stretch. I hope I didn't just jinx them by using the "p" word.