The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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July 4, 2012

Dude, what's with the Pirates Z?

(Continued)

PITTSBURGH —

"It's great," said his friend, Joey Morris, 29, of Plum. "It means they're having fun, and if they're not having fun, they're probably not winning."

Such would be the diagnosis of George Pappas, a sports psychologist who has been practicing in Squirrel Hill since 1985.

"It's important for athletes to have something to help them to tap into their full resources," said Pappas, who has worked with professional athletes across the country. "It helps in improving concentration, getting rid of unnecessary tension, substituting negative thoughts with positive thoughts. "It creates a positive image and it takes on like a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you're negative, a player strikes out, and he might dwell on what he's been doing wrong. Now he has something positive to think, and he's changed for the better."

Players always have been ritualistic, Pappas said.

"They wear a certain shirt, a certain sock. Superstitions. It's nothing new. This goes back decades."

Like tugging on your shirt, the way Pirates third baseman Richie Hebner did in the 1970s.

"I can see this working, this Zoltan, because now they believe they have something that's going to lead them to getting more hits," Pappas said. "And the fans form the association with it because they like to emulate their favorite players. They want part of the team."

As do the merchants. Dan Rock, general manager at Common Wealth Press on the South Side, said he and his co-workers were quick to seize on the symbol and have been selling T-shirts depicting the "Z" for a couple of weeks.

"We don't try to find T-shirt opportunities, but they seem to happen quite a bit with our sports teams," Rock said. "It's pretty popular right now, even though they don't have any words on them. Just the hands. "That's what a lot of our stuff is. If you're not from Pittsburgh, you won't get it. We get people who come in our shop all the time and say, 'I don't understand what these shirts mean.' We're definitely Pittsburghers making shirts for Pittsburghers."

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