After Maryland baseball shortstop AJ Lee hit a third-inning home run last week against Army, strength coach Will Franco greeted the junior with a bedazzled red robe.
The Terps’ long ball cape, which bears former professional wrestler Ric Flair’s name on its back, was a welcome sight for a team struggling to manufacture runs. So as Franco wrapped the garb around Lee’s shoulders at the edge of the dugout, the squad exchanged high-fives and surrounded the duo to celebrate.
When Maryland faces Radford, Coastal Carolina and Ball State this weekend, the prospect of that emerging tradition could help jump-start its still-inconsistent lineup.
“When you see [Franco] jumping off the bench with that robe waiting to give it to the guy who just hit the homer, everybody is juiced and ready to go,” Lee said. “That just brings an extra fire to the team.”
Lee doesn’t know where the coaching staff’s obsession with Flair or the red robe originated. He said the group references Flair at least once a week and tweets out GIFs of the wrestler after signing recruits.
Coach Rob Vaughn said his interest in the entertainer dates back to when he was a kid. He used to order and watch pay-per-view fights, and Flair was one of his favorites.
So Vaughn slowly incorporated Flair into his day-to-day operations with the team. Once, after a recruit committed to the Terps in his office, he impersonated Flair’s trademark “Wooooo!”
The idea for the robe came next.
Vaughn didn’t hesitate when a team official approached him about the garment during the offseason. Even though he’s normally reluctant to adopt gimmicks such as Miami football’s turnover chain, Vaughn felt it was too personally appealing — and fun — to pass up.
Hitting coach Matt Swope ordered the item within 24 hours. Soon after, it was on Vaughn’s desk.
“At the end of the day, these are young kids,” Vaughn said. “We love having fun, it’s no disrespect to other people. … If you can’t roll out here and have some fun for a couple of hours, I don’t know what we’re doing.”
The rules surrounding Maryland’s custom haven’t yet taken full shape. Each home run hitter has taken a different approach to the robe. Lee thought he had to wear it until the end of the inning or until someone else went deep, but others haven’t abided by that guideline.
“[Second baseman] Nick Dunn tries to get it off as quick as possible,” Vaughn said. “I looked at [right fielder] Randy [Bednar] the other day, and it was, like, three hitters later and he was still wearing it.”
Maryland couldn’t break out the robe during its 2-0 win over VCU on Wednesday, as the Terps notched just two hits to extend their frustrations at the plate. Vaughn predicts his lineup will break out of its slump soon, potentially via the long ball.
If that happens this weekend, Franco will be ready to lead the reaction.
“Just the idea that we have something to put on you, like that robe,” Murphy said, “when they hit a home run, guys are going nuts in the dugout.”