The potential winning run, in the name of Aaron Judge, stood coiled at the plate with two outs in the ninth inning, a death stare on his face. A tired Red Sox reliever, Adam Ottavino, working his third game in as many days, reached back and fired a 96.1-miles-per-hour sinker past the badly fooled Yankees slugger.
It was 10:37 p.m. on a Saturday night, but the pitch was visualized more than 8½ hours earlier.
At 2 p.m., Ottavino, the Sox’ setup man, emerged from the empty dugout in shorts and a T-shirt. He immediately kicked off his flip-flops, and he was barefoot in the park.
Fenway Park, that is.
He’s “Earthing” (or “Grounding”)‚ getting in contact with surface electrons.
Ottavino, 35, discovered Earthing last year while doing some research on the Internet. The 11-year veteran who has also played for the Cardinals, Rockies, and Yankees, does it before every game, home or on the road, in empty stadiums.
“Earthing refers to the discovery that bodily contact with the Earth’s natural electric charge stabilizes the physiology of the deepest levels, reduces inflammation, pain, stress, improves blood flow, energy, and sleep and generates greater well-being,” according to ScienceDirect.com.
Ottavino said it has had a positive effect on him but he doesn’t want to give it too much credit.
“For me, I know that there’s some science behind it, obviously, but I’m not trying to get too wrapped up in that. Basically, I’m just trying to connect with the environment I’m going to be in every day and it just kind of helps,” he said.
“Mentally I’m just making sure that I’m ready to have maximum focus for the 15 minutes that I’m pitching.”
Ottavino, a Brooklyn native whom the Red Sox acquired in January, said Fenway is special.
“I feel like it’s a sacred field,” he said. “I want all the spirits that are in here to favor me. Whether it’s real or not, I just try to try to act like it is.”
He said he hasn’t heard from Babe Ruth so far.
“Not really the Babe, but just like the building itself. There’s lots of ghosts and people that have played here and left their energy behind. I’m going to pitch here 40, 50 times this year. I just want to feel as comfortable as possible and let the building know that I’m a friend.”
His theory is more about energy.
“I don’t know if I believe in ghosts or not, but probably not. But I believe a certain energy is definitely left behind,” he said.
So, with Fleetwood Mac on his ear pods, and the soft Kentucky Blue Grass under his feet, he leisurely strolls out to center field.
There, he stretches and sits like Buddha.
“I just sit in the middle of the outfield, dead center, while I’m contacting the ground,” he said.
Then he walks back across the infield dirt, steps on second base and stands on the lip of the mound, staring in toward home plate.
“I try to check the visual and just get my toes on the mound a little bit,” he said. “I’m definitely thinking about visualizing the shapes of my pitches and just throwing the ball where I want to,” he said.
It is his way of leaving the world behind.
“It’s just something to kind of get my day started and clear my mind from all that stuff away from the field. And just lock in on being here.”
There will not be a Shoeless Adam Ottavino pitching in a major league game.
“I definitely couldn’t pitch like that. I tear up my cleats, my foot would be in half if I pitched like that. You’ve got to grip the ground,” he said.
Ottavino is one of a kind, Sox pitching coach Dave Bush said.
“He kind of goes to his own beat,” Bush said. “If that’s what helps him feel like he’s ready to go and be energized, then by all means I’m for any of any of those things.”
Ottavino, who has “60ft 6in” tattooed on his right hand, said his new teammates have been supportive.
“Some are more interested than others. I got some weird looks during spring training, walking barefoot over to the dining area and being barefoot a lot. But I don’t mind being a little weird.”
Whatever he’s doing, it is working. Ottavino leads the American League in holds with 15 and he has recorded six saves, compiling an ERA of 2.57. Last year he had a 5.89 ERA with the Yankees. He said that was skewed by one bad outing.
He’s decidedly low-key. Quiet, but funny, said Bush. He never preaches to teammates to try Earthing.
Closer Matt Barnes had no idea about Ottavino’s daily routine.
“Whatever works for him, works for him,” said Barnes. “He’s throwing the [expletive] out of the ball.”
Japanese pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura has noticed him barefoot and he is amused.
“He does it everywhere he goes,” Sawamura said through an interpreter. “Nobody does that in Japan.”
Ottavino said occasionally someone teases him.
“Eddie Rodriguez comes out to run every day and always ask me how it is out here,” he said. “They were making fun of me in Tampa because I was looking for a patch of grass and it’s all (artificial) turf. Then I was walking on the dirt, but that was probably on top of concrete. So, I probably wasn’t doing anything, but I was still trying my best to keep my routine.”
“He’s crazy,” said Rodriquez, laughing.
“He’s not crazy, he’s just different,” said his mother, Eve, a retired Brooklyn school teacher. “He’s got a good mind and he’s always analytical. I think it’s kind of cool.”
Ottavino grew up a Yankees fan in Brooklyn. His mom used to let him cut school to go to Yankees fan fests. He even has a picture of himself with former Yankees pitcher David Cone. But he became a Sox fan too while watching the ’04 Red Sox break the curse while he was a student at Northeastern.
“I dreamed of pitching for both teams at various times,” he said.
Ottavino says he was “caught by surprise” when the Yankees traded him in a $7 million salary dump in January.
But he gets no special vibes when he goes back there to pitch.
“I grew up going to the old Yankee Stadium. That was the one that is Yankee Stadium to me. The new one is fine, but it’s not the same to me.”
He says pitching in front of a sellout crowd against his old hometown team is a thrill, but he tries not to think about it.
“Facing the Yankees, I could make it more than it is. I could make it into a whole thing that could throw me off my game,” he said. “But that’s why I do everything the same. So, the opponent isn’t as important. I’m really in competition with myself. Just make as many good pitches as I can and take my chances with that regardless of who is up.”
The Saturday night game he ended vs. Judge was his fourth game in five days. He got the save and threw his fastest pitch of the season at 97.8 m.p.h.
Not bad for the oldest player on the Red Sox.
Whether the extra energy came from electrons in the earth, adrenaline from the crowd, or his new breathing techniques is unclear, even to Ottavino.
One thing is for sure, his devotion to his craft is what sets him apart.
“The hitter doesn’t matter,” he said returning barefoot to the dugout. “It’s just me doing my thing.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.