Mookie Betts has a thing for necklaces. So when he graduated from high school in 2011 and got drafted by the Red Sox, he got a special present.
“This one was my Dad’s, so I never take it off,” said Betts, indicating the large gold chain around his neck.
In 2016, David Ortiz offered Betts a little incentive.
“He said if I hit .300, he’ll give me a necklace,” said Betts. “He said if I hit .310, he’ll give me a watch.”
Betts hit .318 that year, made the All-Star team, won a Gold Glove, and finished second in the American League MVP voting.
“Ortiz gave me a necklace and a watch,” said Betts.
This year, the presumptive AL MVP is also sporting a plastic bat and ball around his neck that bounce around when he runs. But he doesn’t believe it necessarily brings him good luck.
“I just like it,” he said.
The bat-and-ball necklace was a gift from 13-year-old Griffin Cantrell, a Red Sox fan from Paducah, Ky. Cantrell delivered it in person before a Red Sox exhibition game in West Palm Beach, Fla., last spring.
“I was so nervous,” said Cantrell in a phone interview. “My heart was racing really, really, really, really fast.”
Griffin wanted to give Betts the necklace for good luck.
“I had gotten the idea because fans are always asking the players for baseballs,” said Griffin. “It’s obnoxious. That’s all they really care about. But I thought it would be a really cool thing to give back to the players.”
So his father contacted an Arkansas man who makes acrylic duck-call necklaces.
“His daughter plays softball, so he makes some softball ones,” said Cantrell. “So I asked him if he could make some baseball ones.”
He ordered a dozen ball-and-bat necklaces. They cost $6.67 each.
Griffin and his father arrived early for batting practice at the game and got Betts’s attention.
“He yelled, ‘Hey, I’m Griffin from Paducah,’ ” said Cantrell, “and he made eye contact with him, and Mookie said, ‘Come here for just a second.’ And Mookie kind of waved us over.”
Betts signed a baseball for Griffin and posed for a picture.
The necklace was initially an afterthought to Betts.
“He didn’t really think much about it at first,” said Griffin. “He just took it and put it in his back pocket. But then he started wearing it and it kind of went off.”
In fact, it worked like a charm. Betts’s .346 batting average this season was 82 points higher than last year’s, and he also smacked a career-high 32 home runs.
The tiny bat-and-ball necklace, swaying like a metronome as Betts sparkled on the diamond, drew attention on TV and radio. WEEI radio’s Rob Bradford tracked down Griffin for his 15 minutes of fame.
“I guess being interviewed by all these people brings a lot of attention to me, and I feel like I’m a celebrity now,” said Griffin.
“My friends all make fun of me. They all call me ‘Bandwagon.’ They say, ‘Oh, you just like Mookie, so you’re on the bandwagon.’ ”
It can be hard being a Red Sox fan in Kentucky, he said.
“I also have to be a Cardinal fan,” said Griffin, “otherwise I’d get kicked out of the house.”
He has built a Mookie mini-shrine in his house, with baseball cards, the signed ball, and one of the necklaces draped on top.
“There’s something really unique about him, I guess the way he plays the game,” said Griffin. “I like his dance moves whenever he gets on second.”
To him, Betts seems protective of the necklace.
“He’ll grab it and pull it down,” said Griffin. “He has it sometimes behind his neck, to make it more stable.”
“He loves watching that necklace go,” said Griffin’s mother, Kristie Cantrell.
Griffin never takes off his own bat-and-ball necklace. He got to play in a baseball tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y., and would even talk to his necklace, hoping for some Mookie magic.
“Sometimes I grab it and say a little thing to it, like, ‘Let me get on base,’ ” he said.
And he hopes Betts’s necklace can find a place in the Hall of Fame, like Curt Schilling’s bloody sock.
“That would be so cool,” he said.
He has never been to Fenway Park, but he has no plans to ask his parents to take him.
“I don’t want to be greedy,” he said. “I learned that giving, not receiving, can have a huge impact on a player.”
And yes, he believes in magic, but only to a point.
“It’s fun to think the necklace did all of that,” he said. “To me it’s magic, but I think he would’ve had a tremendous season without it.”