ARLINGTON, Texas – There are antlers on broomsticks. There are the T-shirts worn by Texas Rangers players and fans featuring a claw on the front and the head of a deer whose antlers are formed by a pair of spread-open hands on the back. NY171
And there is the head of a 10-point buck mounted over AL MVP candidate Josh Hamilton's locker in the clubhouse.
All are part of an unlikely "Claw and Antlers" craze that has become part of the playoff chase for the AL West-leading Rangers.
"It's one small thing that we do that kind of builds some camaraderie," Rangers veteran Michael Young said. "It started early and we've been doing it ever since."
When Nelson Cruz slid into second base just ahead of a tag Wednesday night for a double, he had the customary fist pump when the umpire signaled him safe.
Cruz then looked toward the dugout with a smile and flashed a "claw" over his head, a quick hand gesture with curled fingers in response to the same from his teammates. Then the slugger spread both hands open and held one on each side of his head to form "antlers."
The claw symbolizes a good play. The antlers represent speed (think "run like a deer," a phrase used often by Hamilton and Cruz over the last couple of years when they talked about fast players or hustling plays.)
Utility infielder Esteban German was familiar with the claw from the Dominican Winter League and initially tried to introduce it to the Rangers during spring training in 2009. It didn't really catch on.
"But this year I tried it again. Most of the guys knew me so when we did something good, we did it. And we continued to do it," German said.
"Now it's at a point everybody kind of looks forward to doing it," Young said. "Our team has always done something like this, but this thing is probably the one where the public has gotten to see it more often. ... Mostly it's about us and trying to find a way to pull for our teammates."
Texas had its final off day of the regular season Thursday. The Rangers had a season-high 10-game lead in the AL West and their magic number was eight heading into a 10-game trip against all of their division foes.
With the Rangers having so much success this year in pursuit of their first division title since 1999, there have been plenty of opportunities to flash the claw. Then Cruz one day flashed the antlers instead of just saying "deer" like he had in the past.
The claw and antlers became so prominent among Texas players early in the season that eventually a T-shirt was made for them.
Then the fans caught on to what was happening. They started flashing the symbols along with the players and the T-shirts went public. When the Rangers wrapped up a three-game sweep of the New York Yankees last weekend, one fan was waving the traditional broom — with a set of antlers attached to it.
"We're a first-place team and gotten some publicity this year," outfielder David Murphy said. "It's just something that's fun."
Even pitchers like C.J. Wilson have gotten into the act.
After a spectacular defensive play in an earlier series against the Yankees, Wilson got up and quickly flashed the antlers, returning the gesture to teammates in the dugout. Wilson fielded a high chopper on the run and then dived into first base to get Derek Jeter, who had to hurdle over the pitcher to avoid stepping on him.
"Any time a pitcher gets involved with something, you know it's pretty good," catcher Matt Treanor said. "I think it's just a real simple way that the guys on the bench can really show their appreciation to a guy while he's out on the field. ... It's just that immediate appreciation by showing that."
Whether for a base hit, a run-scoring play or a defensive gem since there's not always that instant opportunity in baseball like in most other team sports to share a quick high-five or slap hands.
Rangers manager Ron Washington started to notice the claw early in the season when Vladimir Guerrero and Elvis Andrus were going through incredible offensive stretches and kept flashing the sign. Then Hamilton started doing it.
"They come up with this stuff," said Washington, sporting one of the blue T-shirts given to him by his players. "It's their game, it's their fun. It makes them feel good about each other. ... Yeah, you've got to have fun. It's a game. A tough game, but it's a game."