Center fielder Zach Jancarski gazed into the dugout, wondering what distracted several Maryland baseball players from their pregame routines. Shortly before the Terps' contest against James Madison on Wednesday, Jancarski poked his head into the cluster.
Lingering in Maryland's dugout was a small squirrel.
The sight reminded Jancarski of Maryland's 2017 campaign, when the team's rally squirrel provided a spark that helped the Terps reach the NCAA Regionals.
For much of the Terps' season, last year's success has been missing. Coach Rob Vaughn's team had lost six straight games entering its matchup with the Dukes. Crumbs, the Terps' rally squirrel dating back to Jancarski's freshman year, has been hard to find, too.
So when the Terps discovered the baby squirrel, they named it CJ — Crumbs Jr. After CJ roamed the dugout during batting practice, Maryland's offense was productive. With CJ present, Maryland captured a 6-1 win at Bob "Turtle" Smith Stadium to end its losing streak. Vaughn expects comparable production as the Terps open a weekend series against Michigan State on Friday.
"We're gonna go squirrel tracking tonight," Vaughn said after the win. "We're gonna find that little fella."
During Maryland's game against Richmond on April 4, 2017, Crumbs climbed the netting behind home plate before the Terps rode a four-run rally to a 12-11 victory. Each time the team noticed the squirrel, a positive outcome followed, Jancarski said. Crumbs then helped himself to food from the dugout, regardless of whether it was sealed.
When CJ arrived Wednesday, there was similar excitement.
"He's the new rally squirrel," Jancarski said. "It was a good win, and yeah, you could say that maybe he started it."
Several Terps didn't hesitate to interact with their newest teammate. As CJ sat in the corner of the dugout, outfielder Will Watson stared, marveling at what the team figured must be Crumbs' kin. Players fed CJ popcorn as they warmed up for the midweek contest.
Right fielder Richie Schiekofer stuck his foot out and let CJ climb on his cleat and lower leg. Infielder Tommy Gardiner crouched down and positioned CJ as if he were fielding a ground ball, waiting for the squirrel to climb into his mitt. CJ wasn't receptive to the idea, nor did he seem prepared for when right fielder Randy Bednar tried to pet CJ like a dog.
"It kind of jumped at him a little bit," Jancarski said. "Randy stopped doing that."
That reaction left Vaughn terrified CJ might crawl up his leg. Student assistant coach Kevin Martir wouldn't go anywhere near the animal.
After touching CJ, though, Bednar was one of three players to hit a home run Wednesday, building off a two-run first inning in which two infield singles and a triple gave Maryland a lead.
At 17-23 and 11th place in the Big Ten, Maryland is unlikely to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Regional. The Terps likely need to prioritize conference matchups — such as this weekend's series against Michigan State — and Wednesday's result could offer them momentum.
Against the Dukes, CJ's presence kept Maryland loose in the midst of their longest losing streak since 2011. But when the Terps travel to East Lansing, Michigan, to play the Spartans, they will be without their home-field squirrels.
"We know how important all these games we're playing on the weekend are," Vaughn said. "For us, we just want to go out and play a really excellent brand of baseball, whether we're playing Michigan State, whether we're playing JMU."