Cats claw, chew their way to livelier approach

Matthew Busch/The Herald
Jasper’s Andy Knust made “the claw” motion to teammates after belting a double in last month’s Class 3A sectional opener. As a way to inject energy to a dugout that lacked spunk early in the year, the Wildcats recently adopted the practice of making creative gestures toward teammates after an extra-base hit or crucial RBI. The livelier attitude has helped push the top-ranked Cats into Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. semistate showdown with No. 7 Crawfordsville at Ruxer Field.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

Ben Moore slayed everyone.

Reaching behind his back to retrieve an arrow out of his bag, the sophomore cocked back his right arm and fired the imaginary projectile toward his teammates in the Jasper dugout during the first inning of Monday’s Class 3A regional championship. In a way, it was as if Moore connected with the real thing on his unsuspecting team.

Jasper coach Terry Gobert said “that one stunned me.”

“Shocked,” is how assistant coach Phil Kendall categorized himself, since he half-jokingly said “we didn’t hear (Moore) talk until May.”

Once the initial what-the-heck-was-that thought among some his teammates wore off, the Wildcat dugout suddenly possessed the feel of a comedy club.

“Half of the team was shocked and half the team knew it was going to happen but the whole team didn’t know yet,” senior Seth Hollinden said of Moore’s act. “It was more of a mixture of shock and awe, is what it was. We just laughed after that.”

The fact that Moore — by all accounts, the quietest kid on the team — didn’t hesitate to put on a show in front of a crowd of hundreds at Ruxer Field encapsulates Jasper’s transition.

For better than a month to start the season, the Wildcat coaching staff wanted to see more energy and personality from the players, and they tried everything. Begging. Demanding. Even teasing.

They finally got what they wanted. And the Wildcats don’t even say a word to get the mood rollicking.

Just look to the base when the Cats bust out a power hit or crucial RBI. Moore’s shooting an arrow. Andy Knust and others are unleashing “the claw.” And Austin Alles is digging spoonfuls of a bowl of hot chili, though no one seems to know exactly why. (Stay tuned to unravel that mystery.)

The top-ranked Cats (31-3), who will entertain No. 7 Crawfordsville (25-10) in Saturday’s single-game semistate at approximately 3:30 p.m. at Ruxer Field, mean no disrespect toward anyone who’s not wearing black and gold. It’s just that the on-base celebrations have produced the sort of pep that some have been waiting all season to see.

“We kind of made fun of them. They’d get a double and just stand there meek and mild,” said Jasper coach Terry Gobert, lowering his head and drooping his shoulders to demonstrate his players’ once-docile demeanor. “You don’t want it to be something that backfires against you or make the opponent look bad, but I’m all for them having a good time when they make it out there.
We’re not really known for drawing attention to ourselves.”

Some attention, though, was warranted.

“I got tired of seeing guys get a base hit and showing no emotion about it,” said Phil Kendall, Jasper’s pitching coach and a 1996 JHS graduate. “If you see big-league guys that are making 8, 10 million dollars a year can go out and do it and have fun with it and enjoy the game of baseball, why can’t 16-, 18-year-old kids at least have a little fun doing it?”

Kendall, with a little help from Wildcat senior Devon Traylor, got the ball rolling.

The pair discussed different expressions that the Cats could unveil, in the vein of the “Beast Mode” hand motion the Milwaukee Brewers built into a craze. The first gesture, and still the go-to for most Cats, is “the claw”: an arm extended above the head with fingers stretched outstretched to form a bear claw.

Josh Hamilton and the Texas Rangers popularized that, and the Cats borrowed from another big-league squad when it came to Moore’s surprise. Moore admits he can’t take credit for it. The idea for the archer sprouted from junior teammate Landon Ball, who’d seen the Tampa Bay Rays fire arrows toward the dugout whenever they smack a double.

“He’s been wanting one, so I just got out there and (did it),” Moore said of Ball’s bow-and-arrow wish. “We all get into it and get excited for it. You want to show some excitement over that. And if you can get all the other people into it, it just starts to get a good feeling going throughout the team, and hopefully it just carries over to more good hits, more good at-bats.”

Added Knust: “You can’t get a word out of (Moore) sometimes, but like Coach says, when you walk up this hill (to Ruxer Field), you’re a whole new different person, so you should change.”

A few rules do exist for the animalistic expressions. They come only after doubles or key RBIs. Variations are starting to creep in, though. It’s now kosher to give pincher-claw motions with the fingers to represent a tiny hit after bunting your way on base.

Whose execution is the best?

“I’ll definitely give it to Ben Moore with that arrow,” Alles said. “That was pretty cool.”

Not so fast, Moore contends.

“Probably Austin when he eats his hot chili.”

Alles mimics the motion of excitedly shoveling it into his mouth, which always elicits laughs — even though Moore, Knust and Hollinden all say they’re not sure how that began.

The story, straight from the source, originates from a pickup hoops game over the winter and some playful smack-talking that Alles made up on the fly.

“We were just playing basketball outside one day with some friends, and it was pretty cold outside,” Alles explained. “And then I started knocking down a few shots so I told Brayden Betz, I told him I’m eating some hot chili, and then it kept going from there.”

The Wildcat coaches don’t want the celebrations to be too bombastic, because when Alles struck out in the regional semifinals, Silver Creek players mocked the chili-eating act in their dugout since they’d witnessed Alles doing it during prior Jasper games they scouted.

It’s not stopping Jasper from clawing and shooting and eating with conviction.

Kendall mused that the motions were a bit passive when the Cats started — a partial claw with the arm half-raised. Now, it’s to the point that players’ parents in the bleachers are clawing right along with each big play in the postseason.

Hollinden revealed what may be in store next, raising his right arm near his head and pumping it up and down three times. Ball is trying to get someone to do it, and while Hollinden said it might be the motion given to a truck driver to get him to toot his horn, “I’m not exactly sure what it’s supposed to be,” Hollinden finally admitted.

Besides that, Hollinden said, no other fresh ideas are swirling in the dugout. He thinks.

“Not that I know of,” Hollinden said, “but I’m sure this team is full of surprises.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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