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Concentration, Repetition and Superstition - Keeping a Hitting Streak Alive

August 22, 1987

Undated (AP) _ The days pass, the numbers add up slowly and the pressure grows quickly. Try to stay loose. Try not to think too much. Try a double-secret secret handshake. Anything to get that one hit.

A long hitting streak, like Paul Molitor’s, means more than handling fastballs and curveballs. It’s the mental side of chasing the ghosts of some baseball immortals. It’s mind over batter.

″The nights seem to be getting shorter,″ admitted Molitor, who took a 35- game streak into the weekend. ″I haven’t been sleeping great.″

Pete Rose felt it. So did George Brett. So did Joe DiMaggio and he wound up with the legendary 56.

″I think what he (Molitor) is going through is harder than what I went through,″ said Rose, who set the National League record by hitting in 44 straight in 1978. ″People started picking up on his streak when he got to 22 or 23 games. It didn’t start with me until much later.″

″The hardest part is dealing with the press and keeping them happy,″ Rose said. ″Going to the ballpark and facing the pitchers is the easy part.″

With Milwaukee on the fringe of the American League East race, Molitor has become the focus of each Brewers game. Can he keep it alive?

″You try to put it out of your mind, but it is a distraction. Going up to the plate, you try to block it out of your mind,″ Molitor said.

Got to get the one hit - the sooner, the better. Streaks are such a quirky combination of skill and luck. They can end with four line drives that wind up in someone’s glove.

DiMaggio hit two rockets that Ken Keltner backhanded on a hot night in Cleveland, and it was over. Then, DiMaggio hit in his next 18.

When DiMaggio did it in 1941, the streak was a novelty. There wasn’t the kind of attention, the national television coverage and the interest that follows these days.

Now, it starts the first time Molitor steps to the plate.

″It’s a big plus if I can get a hit early because it takes the pressure off me and my teammates,″ Molitor said.

If he makes an out, the anticipation builds. Three times, Molitor’s streak went down to his final at-bat. A walk would have stopped him. Three times, he got a hit. But even if he goes 5-for-5, the streak advances only one game at a time.

Molitor extended his streak to the sixth-longest in major league history (tied with Ty Cobb) by hits eight straight days in Baltimore and Cleveland. The Brewers started a nine-game homestand Friday night.

″It’s hard on the road. That’s why I’m looking forward to getting home and spending some time with my family,″ Molitor said. ″I think that’s the first time I’m really going to be able to get my mind off it.″

″I’m looking forward to getting home and sleeping in my own bed again. Being on the road, in hotel rooms, there have been a lot of phone calls and requests, and you don’t have your family to occupy your mind.″

Instead, there’s time to think about getting one hit. Too much time.

″It’s not hard,″ Brett said, ″if you get a hit your first time up.″

Brett hit in 30 straight games in 1980, on his way to batting .390 for Kansas City. The Royals were in Milwaukee this weekend.

″I’ve got no advice for him,″ Brett said. ″He seems to be keeping an even temperament.″

″You go through a routine every day and you try not to vary it,″ Molitor said.

For Molitor, that means a secret handshake. It’s a high-five, low-five deal with teammate Rob Deer before each game.

″At the All-Star break, I told Rob I had noticed Jack Clark and Ozzie Smith had originated a ‘high-10’ and so we started doing this on my first day back (off the disabled list),″ Molitor said.

Deer was wary about jinxing his friend.

″I don’t talk to anyone about it and I’m surprised Paul told you guys,″ Deer said. ″He knows we’ve got to do it and I know we’ve got to do it.″

″It was funny in Chicago. It was quarter after one and I’m dressing. The game’s at 1:30. By the time I’m out there, he’s on deck and I couldn’t shake his hand.

″His first at-bat he almost sprains his ankle. Then they make a couple nice plays on him and before you know it he’s 0-for-4. I’m thinking about this and he’s kind of mad,″ Deer smiled. ″I said, ‘Paulie, let’s shake.’ We did it, and he doubled.″

End Adv For Weekend Editions Aug. 22-23

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