Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dude, What's the 'Z'? Pirates Explain Now on Deck: Zoltan

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dude, What's the 'Z'? Pirates Explain Now on Deck: Zoltan

Article excerpt

There are plenty of new names connected with the Pirates' resurgence this season. Burnett, Barajas, Barmes, Bedard, McGehee, Sutton.

And Zoltan.

Amid all the excitement of having a competitive baseball team -- and perhaps ending a record-setting string of 19 losing seasons -- the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates have embraced a wacky bit from a goofy movie to celebrate their success.

Whenever a player slaps an extra-base hit, his teammates put their hands together -- the left one on top of the right one with the thumbs extended and touching -- to form a sort of "Z." For Zoltan.

"It all started in Atlanta when we were watching [television] in the clubhouse, and there was nothing we wanted to watch," said second baseman Neil Walker, recalling the last weekend in April. "We saw 'Dude, Where's My Car?' And guys were like 'Oh, we haven't seen this in a while.' So we watched it.

"It was just so terrible and stupid. We just pulled that from it. It's just kind of our team way of bonding, I guess."

The 2000 comedy features a scene in which the stars, Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott, join a group of losers who are wearing Bubble Wrap and celebrating the pending arrival of the cult leader Zoltan.

"I think you've got to just find ways to lighten the mood at times," Mr. Walker said. "This game is so difficult that when times are going good, you have to celebrate. When times are going bad, you have to forget about it and move on. It's a way for all of us to come together a little bit more and have fun with it."

Carole Kunkle-Miller was in the stands at PNC Park recently when she noticed the players and fans making the strange hand gestures.

"I thought they were just being funny, and then I realized there was a meaning behind it," said Dr. Kunkle-Miller, a certified sports psychologist who has been practicing in Mt. Lebanon for 12 years.

It means the Pirates are winning and the players and their fans are having fun.

It became prominent among the players in May after catcher Rod Barajas belted a game-winning home run against the Washington Nationals at PNC Park. As he rounded third, he found his teammates waiting for him at home plate, each one displaying the "Z."

"We just started doing it, we've been raking ever since," said starter A.J. Burnett. "That was my favorite part of the night, seeing 20 guys behind home plate doing that. It shows you what a group we have."

"It gives them a sense of shared goal and that positive message of winning. It unifies them," said Dr. Kunkle-Miller. "I remember when the Pirates were in the World Series [in 1979], they would play 'We Are Family' to rally the fans and get everybody going. This is a variation on that."

Like playoff beards, the Green Weenie and the Terrible Towel.

"Athletes in general like to be part of a team," said Aimee Kimball, director of mental training at UPMC Sports Medicine on the South Side. …

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