By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
Every baseball team has its own way of dealing with dreaded mid-season slumps.
Some squads change up their pre-game routines or meals, while others might go to more superstitious methods, such as sleeping with their bats, wearing mismatched socks or even resorting to facial hair uniformity among players and coaches.
It’s no different for Cullman, as coach Brent Patterson’s team went to its own special niche for success — his players became animals.
“It kind of started in Hoover,” the coach said. “We were going through a really rough stretch of playing. We had a lot of guys we were trying to establish roles for, so we challenged them to show more emotion and care more during the games.”
His players certainly responded to the call.
After a 1-0 loss to Hoover put their record at 11-10 midway through the season, the Bearcats have closed out their 2013 campaign strong, winning 18 of their next 26 games, including a first-round playoff series win over Muscle Shoals.
“Since all that started, our dugout has become more and more accustomed to being involved in games,” Patterson said. “I think their energy level has correlated to how we’ve played on the field. It’s an important part because we are a team that has to play with a lot of energy to win games.”
Black and Gold first baseman Lance Cleveland is one of the players whose season took off after assuming his own animal form — a puma.
“Anytime someone gets on base, they each become a different animal,” Cleveland said. “We do our own little pose.”
The junior’s puma consists of hoisting up his right leg, while forming makeshift claws in the air with both arms.
Some other animals on the team include Keegan Thompson (mongoose) and Christian Martinez (baby bull).
Added Martinez: “I enjoy it a lot. It gets people into the game.”
Cleveland and company haven’t just taken a page out of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, either. In fact, they’ve gone the extra mile to ensure their recent success won’t go unrewarded.
For example, when Cleveland is faced with a two-strike count, the dugout will often be heard quietly chanting “puma, puma” during his at-bats.
Another instance involves the entire team quacking during catcher Zac Crocker’s at-bats. Some of the players have even changed their Twitter handles to their animal names.
“Every since we’ve started doing all that, we started hitting,” Cleveland said. “It’s a lot more fun to do. We all like it.”
While the zany antics were first created as a remedy for a common baseball slump, they’ve since become a source of team unity and a proverbial thorn in the side of the opposition.
“With us being so into it, the other dugouts sometimes get intimidated,” Cleveland said. “They don’t really like it.”
With opposing teams having to deal with the likes of top-notch pitchers Thompson and lefty Jordan Guthrie, as well as the recently consistent lineup of the Bearcats, it’s no wonder Cleveland’s squad has continued to form other team-building methods as the postseason wears on.
“Whatever makes it tougher on their hitters and pitchers,” he said. “We just enjoy it.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.