NORMAN — Like Dontrelle Willis' leg kick, like Nomar Garciaparra's routine before a swing, Keilani Ricketts' twist is just one part of her game that's made her famous.
That slight twist to the left before every pitch is Ricketts' signature.
It also changed the game of softball and its followers.
Venture to Marita Hynes Field on a given spring Saturday, and any number of little girls in the stands will be standing between innings practicing their pitch — but there's always the twist that comes before the throw.
On Friday, Oklahoma fans will see that twist for the first time in the 2013 postseason when No. 1 OU faces Marist at 7:30 in its first game of the NCAA Regional.
Sooner fans probably don't remember a time when Ricketts didn't slightly turn to the left before a pitch. She actually came to Oklahoma with a pitching motion that originally sent her left arm flying back and showing everyone — the first base coach, the dugout, the batter, the fans in the stands — her grip.
“That had to stop,” Ricketts said.
It was too easy to read her pitches, especially her change-up. Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso knew the change needed to be made, so she asked assistant head coach and pitching coach Melyssa Lombardi to work with Ricketts.
“She didn't want to do it at first,” Gasso said of Ricketts' twist. “But then she understood, ‘I have to do this or I'm not going to understand success.'”
They worked to set Ricketts' grip near her hip while she twisted.
“We just figured by that it would be taking away the eyes,” Lombardi said. “By moving in that direction, it would be taking away the vision of the first base coach.”
Now, Ricketts owns a 1.10 ERA this season and is one of the toughest pitchers in the nation to read. The change and the twist gave her success, victories and fame.
Gianni Lombardi, the son of OU's pitching coach, is only five, but in his T-ball game, he's been known to set his grip on the baseball by doing a little twist first.
He isn't the only little boy who mimics the moves of a collegiate softball player. When Ricketts was with the team in California, a little boy came up to her and showed her how he brought his glove up near his cheek, down toward his hip, twisted slightly and then pitched.
“I never thought I'd have that kind of effect on little kids,” Ricketts said. “It's just cool that people are watching me to that detail to get my form down.
“They have it down better than me sometimes.
“They start doing it in their little games and they have no idea why they're doing it, but I guess it will help later on in life.”
Now, anywhere Oklahoma goes, there are swarms of people who come to watch Ricketts pitch, who want to show her their moves, who want to talk to Oklahoma's phenom.
“I have to have people around her just to help her get through the ballpark,” Gasso said. “We have to keep bringing her along, otherwise we're sitting on the bus for 45 minutes waiting for her.
“It's rock star status.”
Ricketts used to be one of those who mimicked. A poster of Jennie Finch with her glove outstretched, her signature finish, was displayed on a poster in Ricketts' childhood bedroom.
“When I was staring to learn how to pitch, I would really try to think about and emphasize having the glove straight out like that,” she said. “That helped me explode off the mound.”
Years later, Ricketts is teaching the younger generation how to hide their grips and be a dominant pitcher — even if they don't realize it just yet.
“It's just like when you have young sons and they're watching Major League Baseball and they do all this wagging of their barrel stuff,” Gasso said. “It's the same thing. You see the best of the best do it and you want to be the best of the best.
“If you ask some of our players who they looked up to, they would still be naming off Derek Jeter and major league baseball players. But you ask little kids now and they're popping off all the female softball athletes' names.”
Lombardi agreed about the impact she's seen Ricketts and other softball players make on her son: “It's pretty cool,” she said, “a little boy learning the game from women.”