- Wayne Drehs
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OMAHA, Neb. -- Go ahead, tell the South Carolina Gamecocks that you don't believe in baseball superstitions.
Tell them that age-old baseball rituals like drawing pictures in the dirt in front of their dugout, shaking their caps upside down like homeless beggars, or refusing to step on the foul lines, is all nonsense. And then watch them turn around, walk away and laugh.
Nobody wonders how Ray Tanner's team has rolled off three wins in a row with their backs firmly pressed against the Rosenblatt Stadium wall -- they've put up some offensive fireworks that would impress even George Steinbrenner.
But beneath the 47 hits, 35 runs and three straight victories -- all in the face of elimination -- sits two rarely talked about motivational themes. They couldn't be more baseball-ish. And they couldn't be more different.
One side is serious. The other side is not. One side touches the heart. The other side makes people shake their heads.
In one corner, there's the story of 6-year-old Charlie Peters, an Omaha boy the team met at the Omaha Children's Hospital during last year's trip to the College World Series.
Charlie was in "rough shape" when the team met him a year ago, but he clicked with the Gamecocks, played catch with a couple of them and became a die-hard fan. When the team returned home, Charlie sent them a giant poster covered with his handprints and pictures of him in South Carolina garb. They put the poster on the door of the clubhouse, the last thing they see on the way to the field.
But prior to this year's visit to Omaha, team members hadn't heard from him. There was concern. But then Charlie showed up at the South Carolina hotel Monday morning prior to the team's game against LSU.
His cancer is in remission. He's playing Little League. And he gave the team a giant banner that read, "I won my battle, now you win yours." He also passed along a mini beanie baby that he said brought him good luck during his darkest days in the hospital, which he thought could bring them luck for the rest of the series.
Carolina catcher Landon Powell hasn't let the bear out of his sight since. It sits on the Gamecock bat rack, with every player touching it for good luck before heading to the plate.
Since Charlie's hotel visit, the Gamecocks have 47 hits and 35 runs and are 3-0. And with a win Thursday against Cal State Fullerton, they could advance to the national championship series this weekend.
"There's no question it's had an effect on how we play," South Carolina closer Chad Blackwell said. "We want to win not only for ourselves, but for him. It's such a great story. He's such a motivator. He won his battle, now we have to fight for him and win ours."
Powell even brought the bear to the postgame news conference Wednesday.
"It's worked so far," Powell said, shrugging his shoulders. "I don't know what else to say."
As for the Gamecocks' other area of baseball superstition, well, be prepared for the outlandish.
It's called Cockade. And before you start giggling, before you start worrying about another run of male enhancement commercials during next year's Super Bowl, understand it's a drink. A performance drink.
In big games, instead of drinking straight Gatorade, which was created in 1965 by four Florida scientists, the South Carolina baseball team drinks its own special concoction, created by team trainer Brainard Cooper.
The whole idea of a special concoction started two years ago, when the Gamecocks were facing Florida in a critical SEC game. They decided they didn't want to drink straight Gatorade, which the school has made more than $90 million from since 1970, in that game. So Cooper mixed several flavors of Gatorade with some other secret ingredients and covered the label with the word "Cockade."
"I don't remember what happened that day, but it must have been something good," Cooper said. "Because we kept doing it."
In the years since, Cooper and the Gamecock players have developed about six different flavors, ranging from "Durple" (Dark Purple), "Ectoplasm" (a neon green colored drink), and "Not Water" to "Cockade."
There's another mixture the Gamecocks pull out in dire straits. After last week's 2-0 loss to Cal State Fullerton in the CWS opener, the players went to Cooper and specifically requested it.
"I didn't even bring the ingredients," Cooper said. "So I had to run out to the store and buy them."
He's had to do it before every game since.
"When our backs are against the wall, that's the stuff you want," Powell said of the unsettling brown-colored drink. "It's delicious. And if you think about the name, the color fits."
Cooper refused to reveal his magic potions, only saying that it involves several different Gatorade flavors. But whatever is in the drink, it's worked. So too has the lucky little bear passed along by Charlie Peters. Now if they can just get it to work one more night, the Gamecocks will be playing for the national championship this weekend.
"Baseball is a game of superstitions," Blackwell said. "Any time you find something that works, you go with it. We're going to go with this as far as we can."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
South Carolina's found one heartfelt -- and one unusual -- recipe for turning it around in Omaha. Both are working.