Nobody likes giving up home runs.
The adverse side effects include demoralized teammates, an increased ERA and — if you’re an Oklahoma State pitcher — you’re stuck with the Hello Kitty backpack.
In an effort to reduce the number of home runs they allow, while also getting an opportunity to mock each other in the process, the Cowboys’ pitching staff has created a new team rule: Give up a home run, and you’re forced to carry, fill and walk around with a Hello Kitty backpack.
“I think it kinda helps, honestly,” right-hander Koda Glover said. “It kinda shows everybody that that’s what happens when you give up a home run. It’s good for you.”
Glover knows his way around the Hello Kitty backpack. The pink and purple sack has joined him after he allowed two home runs this season, both in late-inning situations that have cost the Cowboys a game.
Although the pitch that went over the fence is the first thing that comes to Glover’s mind, the backpack catches up once its straps are on his shoulders.
“Once you put the backpack on the next day, you’re like, ‘OK, I can’t give up another home run. Can’t happen,’” Glover said. “… It motivates you. The backpack’s funny and stuff, but it’s also a reminder that you did fail, so you don’t want it on your back.”
Thanks to new flat-seam balls, there’s been an increase in power around college baseball. As a result, the Cowboys have already given up 13 home runs this season after allowing 16 a year ago.
That’s led to Hello Kitty finding her way onto a variety of backs this season, and more players having to deal with the humiliation that comes with her.
“It’s just embarrassing,” said sophomore Trey Cobb, who introduced the idea in the summer. “It’s funny on the road because all the road fans know why you’re carrying the backpack, and they just give you crap for it. … It’s not as bad at home as it is on the road ‘cause on the road, you have to walk from the bus into the stadium with your backpack on.
“It’s a fair punishment, I think.”
Cobb purchased the backpack at Hastings. He was looking for one that would bring the most shame to a pitcher who couldn’t keep a ball in the yard.
“That took the cake; it wasn’t even close,” he said. “There were some Power Rangers backpacks and some Ninja Turtles, but they were too cool.”
More than just a home run repellent, the backpack gives Cowboy pitchers another reason to mock one another.
“Always, always, always making fun of each other,” right-hander Jon Perrin said. “Whether you got the backpack or not, you’re fair game for some trash talk.”
Perrin admitted he’s seemed to have a magnetic effect on the backpack, having allowed four home runs this season.
However, he never roots for his teammates to give him a reason to take it off.
“Honestly, it would’ve been best if I just would’ve kept the backpack the whole year,” Perrin said. “Means nobody’s giving up home runs. It’s just a little fun something to do. Keep it light.”
“Light” might not be the best word.
The backpack will often sit in the bullpen during games, filled with snacks of the current owner’s choosing.
“We were filling it up with candy,” Glover said. “But people started getting fat.”
The team fills it now with nuts and trail mix, Glover said, while right-hander Remey Reed included sunflower seeds, gum and Gatorade on the list.
OSU pitching coach Rob Walton remembers the trash talk that followed him during his playing career, but he believes the Hello Kitty backpack serves as a representation of the pitching staff’s camaraderie.
“I think it shows good chemistry between the pitching staff,” Walton said. “I think it’s theirs. Pitching staffs have to have that relationship, and they gotta own their own staff. I’m there to give them the information and to improve them, and then they’ve got to have that team, pitching staff togetherness.”
That togetherness means all pitchers are equal, and no one is safe from the Hello Kitty backpack, even Cowboy southpaw Michael Freeman. The senior has a 1.46 ERA this season and has won three Big 12 Pitcher of the Week awards, but he’s been taken deep this season.
The lone long ball came off the bat of Arizona State catcher RJ Ybarra. Like the backpack does for OSU relievers, Freeman gave Ybarra a snack.
“I just left him a cookie, and he ate it,” he said. “He hit the crap out of that ball.”
When the Cowboys (23-9, 7-2 Big 12) arrive at Hoglund Ballpark in Lawrence, Kansas, to play the Jayhawks (13-20, 1-5) in a three-game series, the Hello Kitty backpack will be found on the shoulders of Conor Costello.
But Costello, who allowed a two-run home run to Joshua Ake in OSU’s 24-2 trouncing of Oklahoma on Tuesday, and any Cowboy who gives up a home run during the weekend set likely won’t hear any worse than what they already hear from each other.
“We give each other more crap and talk more crap to each other than any team’s going to,” Freeman said. “I feel like what we do to each other prepares us. Nobody else is going to be able to get inside your head. If you can keep us out of your head, you’re going to keep everybody else out of your head.”
And keep Hello Kitty off your back.