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ALL IN THE PREPARATION
Peter Gammons
November 07, 2007
FOR MR. ROUTINE, WHICH CAME FIRST, THE CHICKEN OR THE HITS?
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November 07, 2007

All In The Preparation

FOR MR. ROUTINE, WHICH CAME FIRST, THE CHICKEN OR THE HITS?

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From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, April 14, 1986

THE COCOON IS WOVEN DAILY FROM THE DELICATE threads of nutrition, habit, discipline and superstition. When the minutiae are completed and he has eaten his chicken, left his Malden apartment, taken his ground balls, meditated, concluded his methodical batting practice, run his wind sprints and approached his position with Greenwich Mean Time precision, then—and only then—is Wade Boggs prepared to do what he does quite unlike anyone else.

Hit.

"In my cocoon, I can eliminate distractions and variables and shut out the entire world except for me and the pitcher," explains Boggs. "Some people laugh at me, just like they laughed at me in the minors when I carried my own game bats because I didn't want them in with the others picking up bad habits."

Wade Boggs's good habits have brought him two of the last three American League batting championships and the seventh-highest average (.351) after four years for any player in the history of baseball; no other player who broke in after Pearl Harbor averaged better than .330 after his first four years. Last season he had more hits (240) than any man since Babe Herman in 1930 and reached base more times (340) in one year than everyone except Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. In his three full seasons as a regular, Boggs has averaged 217 hits, 92 walks and 50 extra-base hits. Let those who try to demean him by calling him a bases-empty, two-out singles hitter consider this: Boggs has a lifetime .374 average with runners in scoring position.

As Boggs batted .368 in 1985, more than half (124) of his 240 hits came with two strikes, and he batted an astounding .390 after starting off 0 and 2. No wonder Williams says, "Boggs may have the best hand-eye coordination of anyone I've ever seen." But what it takes to get Boggs to the plate to hit is even more remarkable.

At home in Boston, where Boggs has batted a mere .383 lifetime and in 1985 hit .418, the routine begins at 2 p.m. when Wade, wife Debbie and seven-year-old daughter Meagan sit down for the daily chicken dinner. "My stomach always required mild foods, so I was eating chicken three or four times a week in 1977 when I was playing in Winston-Salem," he says. "I noticed that I always seemed to hit best after chicken. So I started having Debbie fix it every day." When Boggs is home for a two-week stand, he eats on a 14-day, 13-recipe rotation because he insists on lemon chicken once a week.

Boggs leaves his apartment at three every game day. "That way it's almost always between 3:10 and 3:15 when I walk in the door of the clubhouse," he says. He sits down in front of his locker at precisely 3:30 and begins to get undressed. He checks his game bats—one for righthanded pitchers, a slightly thicker-handled one for lefthanders. At 4:00 he goes to the dugout and sits down. At 4:10 he warms up his arm, usually with coach Joe Morgan, and between 4:15 and 4:20 he trots to his position at third base to take ground balls for 20 to 25 minutes. As that part of practice ends, he steps in order on the third, second and first base bags, steps on the baseline (when he goes to his position each inning, he steps over the line), takes two steps in the coach's box and lopes to the dugout in exactly four steps. Because he always goes to the first base dugout via those four steps, they are clearly visible on the Fenway sod by August. Boggs has a drink of water and jogs to centerfield for what he calls meditation. "I like to focus in on who's pitching, what he, the catcher, the manager and the defense are likely to try to do with me, who's available in the bullpen—everything I'm going to face. It's nothing more than preparation. Then I'm ready to take batting practice."

Boggs even leaves a small block of time for television interview requests so that when it's about time for him to take infield, he'll be able to perform his ritual of standing in the runway and throwing the ball against the wall for five minutes. He runs his wind sprints at 7:17—when Bobby Cox was managing Toronto, he tried to foul up Boggs's routine one day by having the Exhibition Stadium clock go from 7:16 to 7:18. When Boggs gets to the on-deck circle in the bottom of the first inning, he arranges the pine tar, doughnut and resin, then applies them, in that order. When he gets to the batter's box, he draws the Hebrew letter Chai.

"Almost every hitter has a routine as he gets into the box," Boggs says. "Pete Rose. George Foster. Carlton Fisk. Yaz. Mine has evolved from Little League on through the minors, part by design, part born of superstition, but mine's the same as theirs—only it takes a little more than 5½ hours." With that, Wade Boggs is prepared to do the one thing he's always liked to do best.

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