A day before the Maryland baseball team's series against then-No. 5 LSU in Baton Rouge, Matt Swope, the director of baseball operations, called the squad into a store in downtown New Orleans.
Swope pointed out the variety of Mardi Gras beads in the shop, and minutes later, right fielder Marty Costes and team assistant Meghan Kane noticed Maryland-themed beads. Swope purchased a pair.
After Swope brought the beads back to College Park, they became the reward for being the Terps' most productive player in each win, replacing a rope from 2015 and bow and wig from 2016. Since LSU swept Maryland, the Terps have won 18 of their past 21 contests, adding to the meaning of the beads.
"We always have something every year that the player who does the best in the game [or] contributes the most usually gets," left fielder Madison Nickens said. "The coaches kind of picked [the beads up] for fun … It keeps everything fun. That's what we do."
When the Terps prepared to leave for Cary, North Carolina, and the USA Baseball Irish Classic in early March, Swope packed the beads with the intention of incentivizing productive outings.
Maryland opened the Classic with a 4-3 come-from-behind win over Notre Dame. As coach John Szefc moved through his typical postgame routine, discussing the highlights and what stood out from the win over the Fighting Irish, he concluded with a new statement.
Szefc announced "like he's on American Idol," Costes said, that first baseman Brandon Gum, who went 3-for-3 and reached base in each of his five at-bats against the Fighting Irish, would receive the beads for that night. The Terps clapped as Swope handed Gum the black-and-red beads with a large Maryland logo dangling from the bottom.
Gum took a picture for the team's Instagram page and handed the beads back to Swope. The following night, after the Terps topped then-No. 6 North Carolina State, they went through the same routine, only with right-hander Taylor Bloom posing for the photograph. And as Maryland topped Dayton in the Classic's finale, second baseman Nick Dunn received the extra attention.
"I think it caught on and it was definitely a good fit, too," Costes said. "It seems like every game now the pictures we take with them are awesome."
Nickens, a Gonzales, Louisiana, native, was amused by the ritual because the beads were found in his home state. On March 8, he was positioned to be honored after his eighth-inning home run against Saint Joseph's broke a late tie. Instead, the home run sparked a six-run inning and Szefc gave the beads to the entire lineup.
Costes received the beads Sunday against Rutgers after a 3-for-5, two-RBI outing in the second game of a doubleheader. AJ Lee was recognized for a three-RBI performance against Princeton on March 18.
"I was pretty pumped to get them, because it was the first time I had ever gotten the beads, and I never got the bow," Lee said. "It's a pretty special thing to show everyone you played well that day."
The Terps joke about which player's performance will be good enough to receive the beads. On Fridays, it's often right-hander Brian Shaffer, who leads Maryland's starters with a 1.70 ERA. That irks Lee, who feels the dominance of Maryland's weekend starters sometimes overshadows the offense's contributions. All three weekend starters have sub-4.00 ERAs this year.
Still, Lee enjoys the tradition, saying it's "up there" among the best celebratory methods he's encountered.
"Everybody is trying to get them, and nobody really knows who is going to get them that day," Lee said. "I think it's pretty funny to see guys' reactions … when there's other guys who performed that well too."
Catcher Nick Cieri is the most recent recipient. His eighth-inning three-run homer tied Tuesday's game with Richmond, and the No. 24 Terps knew he'd receive the honor as soon as he hit the long ball in the team's eventual 12-11 win.
As usual, Cieri's moment was short-lived. That's because Swope takes the beads back after each celebration, fearing they will get lost.
Given Maryland's success since the beads left New Orleans, the Terps believe the ritual has contributed to the team's turnaround.
"Having a different guy have the spotlight each day shows we have a deep roster and have guys that can contribute each day," Costes said. "…Playing LSU early in the season like that made us ready for other competition. I don't think it's a coincidence [we've played well since]. I think we're ready to go."