We’d like to clear up two things first:
- 1. Fear at the sight of ketchup — a rare condition referred to as mortuusequusphobia — is a real, honest-to-goodness thing.
- 2. It’s a real, honest-to-goodness thing that Steven Linkous really, honest-to-goodness, is NOT suffering from.
“It’s not too much like a phobia,” UNC Wilmington’s hot-hitting outfielder explained. “I’m (just) not a fan of ketchup.
“I don’t like ketchup on anything. I can tolerate being around it. One of the things that (freaks) me out is when someone puts a massive amount of ketchup on something.”
So despite being 12 for his last 24 at the plate, the reigning Colonial Athletic Association co-Player of the Week has a bit of weakness after all. And it comes in a big red bottle. Or little red bottles. Or those tiny, extremely-hard-to-open packets.
You know, the kind he keeps finding buried in his locker. And stuffed inside his shoes.
“Usually, I can tell when they’ve done it,” Linkous said of his prank-happy teammates. “Because they’re staring at my locker to make sure I’ve seen it.”
Some dugouts crack up over a well-timed hot foot. In Wilmington, it’s a well-timed red and sticky foot.
“It’s usually (senior pitcher) Ryan Foster,” said Linkous, who — red or otherwise — takes an 11-game hitting streak into the Seahawks’ series with East Tennessee State this weekend. “He’s got a phobia of bananas, so we go back and forth.
“I’ve kind of embraced it now. It doesn’t really bother me. It’s not like I’m afraid of ketchup, (where) I’ve got to get out of the room. It’s more like, ‘Ketchup? That’s gross, get that (out of here), I don’t want that on my food.’”
Or, to be fair, does he want anything else that comes from a bottle. Or an annoying little packet.
“I don’t like any type of sauce or condiments on any kind of food,” said Linkous, who heads into the weekend among the CAA’s Top 10 in batting average (.402 as of Wednesday morning, third), runs (37, first), hits (49, second) and steals (19, second). “Everything’s plain.”
And from a hitting perspective, at the moment, everything is borderline awesome. The North Carolina native last week hit a cool .526 (10-for-19) with a double and four runs scored, capping off a 4-0 week for the Seahawks (20-9) with a four-hit contest last Sunday at William & Mary. For Linkous, finding the right holes meant finding the right state of mind first.
“Staying relaxed has really been beneficial to me this year, not trying to tense up and do too much,” the senior outfielder observed. “I think everybody is guilty of it at some point. Everyone wants to step up there in those big situations where, ‘I’ve got to get done, got to get it done.’
“When I get that mindset, sometimes it makes you tense up (and) usually, you fail. The coaching staff has done a great job getting us to stay in the moment and trying to control what you can control.”
And once his head’s right, the Seahawks’ leadoff ace tends to let his feet do the rest of the talking. Linkous says he’s been clocked at a solid 4.2-ish seconds up the first-base line, which gives him more than half a chance of beating something out on the ground — so long as he makes contact.
“Definitely one of the things I’ve improved on is not striking out as much and being able to use my speed and put the ball in play,” he noted. “And wherever I put the ball in play, it’s put pressure on the defense. And that’s something I’ve been able to do so far.”
Of course, getting to first base safely is only half the fun. Lean and quick, Linkous models his approach after Yankees speedsters Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner: A slap here, a mad dash there, always moving.
“(He’s) probably the most similar to me,” Linkous said of Gardner. “Just the body type, using his speed every single day. Those are some of the guys I try to model myself after, just see what they do and try to incorporate that into my game.”
To that end, Linkous has racked up 50 steals in his last 88 appearances with UNCW, a pace that also necessitated an usual on-field fashion choice: A giant brace on his left hand he wears on the base paths that looks more or less like an oven mitt.
“I had a finger injury this (past) summer from taking a ball off the finger,” Linkous explained. “I’m very aggressive on the bases, I go in hard (with) slides. It was more my idea; I was going to just get the splint type, the wrist one, and coach (Mark Scalf) and our athletic trainer said it would be a good idea to get the full (mitt) one because they’d seen a couple guys wearing them on TV. So far, so good.”
Save for the guff from teammates, who — big shock — can’t resist the chance at landing another dig.
“They enjoy slapping it,” Linkous said, “whenever I come back in and get a high-five.”
Very funny, guys. Although, truth be told, Linkous gives almost better than he receives, especially where his old pal Foster is concerned. During one road trip, the outfielder found a room-service plate and dropped 15 banana peels on them. He set the smelly dish down in front of the door to Foster’s room, knocked — and then dashed away before his teammate could answer.
After all, turnabout is fair play. Especially given the benefit of, ahem, Heinz sight.
“Yeah,” Linkous said, laughing. “I think he knew it was me.”