SAN FRANCISCO -- If you are going to watch the 106th World Series this week on FOX, first you have to learn the ropes.
You know, the twisted ropes permeated with aqua titanium to help energy flow, standard in 18-, 22- and 26-inch neckwear, worn by so many Major Leaguers that they are officially fashion.
Ask the Rangers and Giants players who will take the field for Wednesday's Game 1 at AT&T Park. Ask Phiten USA, which makes the ropes. You will see how the item has infiltrated the game, just as dissolving metal into water allows Phiten to treat the fabric itself.
"I don't know how it works. There's probably a little more fashion in it now than actual effect," said Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland, who was wearing his red-and-white rope while sitting at a table for media day before the club's workout. "Throughout the season, I wore a camo-colored Phiten. Then I switched to this one for the postseason. I don't want to change, obviously."
Phiten, based in Torrance, Calif., has been an official Major League Baseball licensee since 2007 -- in case you are wondering whether the increasingly gaudy neckwear is ever an issue. It all started when Randy Johnson went to Japan with fellow Major Leaguers for exhibitions after the 2002 season. The Phiten necklaces had first been used over there in 2001, in baseball, volleyball and running. Big Unit brought it back to the States, and the wave began.
The trend started to gain traction among players in 2003, and in 2004, it arrived, when Red Sox players wore Phiten necklaces during their long-awaited World Series title run.
Today the craze has spread to other sports, and both fans and aspiring athletes can order the authentic version worn by players from the MLB.com Shop.
"We are the authentic MLB licensee since 2007, so we have access to the clubhouse," said Joe Furuhata, public relations and marketing manager for Phiten. "We work with the teams and the players. We have a really unique product. It has the effect to stabilize your electric current inside the body. Every single product has been permeated with what we call the aqua titanium. We have technology to dissolve the metal into the water. That specially treated titanium allows the flow of energy.
"So many players believe in our technology, and at the same time, some players wear [them] as a fashion statement, some as a lucky charm. It all depends. There is a reason why they're wearing it -- that special water we permeate into the fabric."
According to Furuhata, the company started selling the twisted rope a couple of years ago, demonstrating its high-intensity "Phild Process" of putting dissolved titanium into baseball neckwear, and the rope is now a clubhouse fixture.
"Optically, it's bigger and stands out more," he said. "The one that players are wearing in the World Series is the twisted one. More players are wearing those. They always prefer the new product, the new design. When we visit a clubhouse, they request what's new. Seattle, L.A. and Cleveland, those are the main locations where we meet players. We try to cover all the teams."
Rangers reliever Derek Holland is flattered that Little Leaguers, Babe Ruth players, high school proteges and others will be wearing Phiten twisted ropes like him. He remembers emulating big leaguers when he was younger.
"I used to imitate all kinds of people," Holland said. "I would do Barry Zito's windup. El Duque, I did his windup. Andy Pettitte. I would do all that stuff. When I batted, I would do what Chipper Jones did. I also wore the wrist tape, the arm bands, the batting gloves, no batting gloves. Whatever you saw somebody doing, you had to do it. That was one thing that I definitely did. I would imitate a lot of guys. I didn't think I would be sitting here today where I am now, at the World Series. ... Because back home, I was just an average ballplayer.
"These ropes are definitely [being worn] all the way down through the [farm] system. You're going to see people in high school wearing them. If kids today are emulating us wearing the twisted ropes, I'm speechless, in a good way. I would love to encourage kids to play baseball. That's the main thing I want. I want to get this game back to how it was: for the love of the game. Just to have that passion and be in this game. That means a lot."
Holland is a believer in the properties of the ropes.
"It's a big muscle-relaxer," he said. "To me, it all depends on the person. Each person's probably got a different thing. I know C.J. [Wilson] would say something about it being a muscle-relaxer as well. I feel like it's a muscle-relaxer, and it makes me not think so much. People want to talk about the necklace instead of something else, so it keeps me away from things.
"It's kind of a look thing, too. It all depends on the guy."
Giants closer Brian Wilson is decidedly not a Phiten wearer. To each his own. He prefers the complete opposite: less stuff on his body. He unbuttons the top one or two buttons on his jersey when he's in the bullpen.
"I don't know what they are," Wilson said when asked what he thinks of the ropes. "I didn't even know what that was. I don't pay attention to that stuff. I don't know what a player's wearing, to be honest with you. I'm sure it works for some. I don't like to have anything on.
"My jersey is open. Let it breathe. I give off a lot of body heat. Playing in this weather is advantageous."
Toward the end of his brilliant Major League career, Johnson gave this endorsement of Phiten:
"Phiten has a product that works, which is extremely important," Johnson said. "I've been asked to use a lot of products, but this is very beneficial because of what I do. Pitching at my age, my body structure gets tired. I'm always trying to find a product that will make me better, to recover quicker, to be stronger, and so when I'm working with a company such as Phiten, and they're improving and trying to get better, the results of the products I'm using will make me better as well."
Rangers coach Clint Hurdle is plenty familiar with the twisted ropes. He saw enough of them around the necks of Hideki Okajima, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and others during Boston's 2007 World Series sweep of the Colorado club he managed at the time. What does he think of them all over the place at AT&T Park? Is there any limit to how large the ropes can grow? Will everyone be wearing one soon?
"You know what? I hear some guys say they help. Some guys wear them because they're afraid that if they don't wear them, they'll miss out on something," Hurdle said. "I actually wore one of the Phiten bracelets at one time, and I felt that my elbow pain went away. Then I gave it to somebody else by mistake, and he put it in his pocket and said his cheek went numb."