Good Luck Duck

It’s a yellow rubber duck, like the ones kids use in the bathtub.

“Like Bert and Ernie rubber duck,” says Durham Bulls starting pitcher Jake Faria.

The small, brightly colored toy fowl is no more than a few inches in size, with light blue eyes and an orange beak complimenting its highlighter yellow body. The buoyant bathtub companion may not look like much, but its impact on Faria has certainly outpaced its diminutive size.

“I take that rubber duck everywhere with me,” admits Faria. “I take it on the road, and the days I pitch it’s in my backpack in my locker.”

Even when he forgets it, the good luck charm finds a way to the ballpark.

“The game against Buffalo I didn’t bring it. (My girlfriend) Jessica brought it in her purse and I had a great game,” said Faria about the night he struck out 11 over six, shutout innings.

Listening to Faria describe it, his duck could be the single most important piece of silicone in the Triangle. With the good luck toy in tow the seven-year pro has been a strikeout machine through the first quarter of the International League season, pacing the circuit in punch-outs personally while also leading a Bulls’ pitching staff that sits atop of the league standings for team Ks.

Now superstitions are nothing new in baseball but even in a sport that has always embraced the odd and unusual, a small rubber duck stands out as something different. The origins of this token of dominance are pretty mundane, with a hotel mistake starting everything.

“When I was in high school me and my dad went to Arizona for a tournament and the hotel screwed up our reservation,” reminisced Faria. “As a “sorry” they gave us a gift bag full of snacks and drinks and stuff. In the gift bag was a little rubber duck.”

After eating all the snacks and drinking the sparkling cider from the gift bag, Faria tossed the included rubber duck in his backpack and forgot about it. That year, the California right-hander was selected by the Rays in the 10th round of the 2011 Draft out of Gahr High School. He joined the Gulf Coast League Rays for his first taste of pro ball and excelled, posting a 2.47 ERA and striking out 14 batters over 15.2 innings.

The next year, however, the duck didn’t accompany Faria to short-season Princeton.

“I thought “Oh, I’m not taking this dumb thing with me. This thing means nothing,’” said Faria. “So I didn’t take it and I had like a five-something ERA. I got hurt. The next year I started off in Extended Spring Training and was terrible. And I was thinking ‘what is the one thing that I don’t have that I had.’”

So Faria, his dad, and his girlfriend Jessica racked their brains and all came to the same conclusion. The duck.

“So when I shipped my car to Florida my dad threw the duck in there and ever since then it’s been great,” said Faria.

The 6’4” right-hander went on to be a Midwest League Mid-Season All-Star with Single-A Bowling Green in 2014, before bursting onto the scene with a career-year in 2015 that included winning the MVP award with Charlotte (A+) as well as the Most Valuable Pitcher award for the entire Florida State League.

A 2016 Southern League Mid-Season All-Star appearance was next, followed by a promotion to Triple-A Durham and a cherished place on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster.

The success vaulted Faria into the Top 10 in many Rays’ prospect rankings. While Faria doesn’t think much of it, “I don’t think that stuff matters,” he says, the national attention also brought to light his unique superstition.

Once word got out that one of the top pitching prospects in the Tampa Bay system had a good luck duck, Rays fans immediately latched on to the bizarre yet fun token.

“A couple of fans in Tampa started a fan page, and because of it I’ll randomly get a duck sent to me,” said Faria. “At home I probably have 25 rubber ducks, whether they’re the gigantic or the little mini ones.”

It might seem like a silly toy fit for a child, but perhaps it’s appropriate for a player who still feels like one.

“Every time I step on the field I feel like I’m six years old again,” said Faria. “Baseball’s not work for me. It’s the greatest job in the world.”

Now Faria and his lucky duck stand one call away from the big leagues. Luck certainly seems to be on Faria’s side, but if he felt like he needed a little more he just might be getting it when Jessica comes to visit.

“The funny thing is, Jessica has been with me the last two times I’ve been called up, said Faria, “When I got called up to Double-A she was there visiting me, and when I got called up to Durham last year she was there visiting me. So the chances are she’ll be here again when it happens.

So mark your calendars Bulls fans, because Jessica is visiting this weekend.