Rob Holt doesn’t exactly remember when it happened. He believes it was around the second inning of Game 3 of the American League Division Series Sunday evening.
The White Sox were trailing the Houston Astros 3-1. Fans were growing increasingly worried that their beloved team — on the brink of elimination after dropping the first two games in the best-of-five series — was quickly falling into a hole it couldn’t climb out of.
After watching a Sox player struggle at the plate, Holt pointed his wooden cane and told the player to hit the ball into left field.
Miraculously, it worked.
A man sitting near Holt cheered him on: “Oh, dude. Way to go!”
“Actually, it was utterly ridiculous,” Holt recalled.
And the rest is history.
What started as a joke quickly turned into a silly superstition of sorts.
Holt, 71, did it for the next batter, and, sure enough, it worked again.
“It’s just totally ridiculous. He did” what I told him, said Holt, a Sox season-ticket holder for more than 30 years. “My son says, ‘He’s Gandalf!’ And that started the whole thing.”
As the game went on, Section 123 — behind the Astros’ dugout — recognized the “power” in Holt’s walking stick and encouraged him to work his magic by twirling his wooden cane. He was shown several times on Fox Sports’ game broadcast.
The White Sox public relations team also realized Holt’s doings and found him before the game ended to offer him tickets to Game 4, which was postponed to Tuesday due to inclement weather.
Holt’s antics earned him the nickname “Cane Guy,” though the cane usually just helps stabilize his sprained knee. Propping up a whole team? Nah.
He doesn’t believe he has any special powers that contributed to the Sox’ 12-6 win against the Astros. And even if he were working some type of sorcery, Holt said it was powered by the enthusiastic energy of the Sox fan-filled crowd at Guaranteed Rate Field — not him and his cane.
In fact, in the hundreds of games Holt has been to over the years, he said he’s never experienced a more lively and rambunctious crowd than on Sunday.
“There was a buzz when you got into your seats ... it was just incredible. I mean, I’ve never felt anything like that in a ballpark, ever,” Holt said. “It was really a fun night, everybody was dressed in black. There’s hardly any Astros [fans] there at all. And it was just a great evening. Everybody was so upbeat and just happy and the Sox played really well — outside their starting pitcher.”
Holt, who’s retired, isn’t on social media, but his children have told him about the buzz he’s generated. He laughed when told someone said he’s better than Sister Jean Delores Schmidt, Loyola University Chicago’s beloved 101-year-old chaplain for its men’s basketball team.
“I actually think it’s pretty funny because of how ridiculous it is that people grabbed on to this thing and ran with it,” Holt said. “But if it’s part of the festival of the playoffs, then that’s just great.”
Holt, of Northbrook, is a lifelong Sox fan. His father took him to his first game when he was 5. He passed the tradition on to his three children and his grandchildren.
Holt and his cane will be at the “do-or-die” Game 4 Tuesday afternoon with his son Chris. He’s hoping the Sox can force a Game 5 and take the series in Houston to advance to the American League Championship Series.
“It’s a pretty extraordinary team, really brilliant athletes,” Holt said. “It’s gonna be fun to watch. The next couple years should be really good.”