Love Letters 2 Rock N Rollrecently asked its Legion of Super-Stringers to write a blurb about our “up-to-bat” songs, the tracks that would play if we were professional baseball players about to enter the batter’s box. I swear the pun in my choice is unintentional.
The crowd was anxious. This wasn’t supposed to be close, wasn’t thought to be any real challenge for the hometown heroes. But that’s baseball. There’s no clock. There’s no guarantee of dominance. The team who scores the most wins. Obvious? Sure. It ain’t rocket surgery, man. It’s baseball.
So there we were: bottom of the ninth, the visitors ahead by one run, two outs, the bases loaded, the season coming down to whatever happened next. The final playoff game in a best-of-seven series. The winning team would go on. The losing team would go home. We’d been the favorites to go 4-0. It hadn’t worked out that way. Injuries. Bad luck. Baseball.
Scratchy McQuade was at bat. He’d strode to the plate as his familiar at-bat theme “I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John played for the still-puzzled fans, desperate for a hit. Maybe not an Olivia Newton-John hit, but you go into battle with the pop music you have, not the pop music you wish you had. First pitch: swing and a miss, strike one. Second pitch: high and outside, ball one. Ball two. Ball three. Strike two. C’mon Scratchy! C’mon Olivia!
Ball four. Scratchy strolled to first, the run scored, and the game was tied. A conference at the mound, the content of which caused seasoned lip-readers to blush like schoolgirls. Play resumed. Next batter.
I was so far down the line-up that no one knew what my at-bat song would be. I’d been an occasional designated runner, but otherwise hadn’t appeared since preseason exhibitions, and I was set to be traded in the off-season. I was not a hometown hero. But there weren’t many choices left. The manager had sighed, cursed, and thumbed me to the on-deck circle. With Scratchy now at first, and the potential winning run at third, it was time.
My song played. That well-known intro. The fans buzzed. They knew the song; they all knew the song. And they started to sing along:
I wanted the TV version, but I was okay with a snippet of the longer version from Nelson Riddle‘s TV soundtrack album. I ruled out composer Neal Hefti‘s version, The Marketts‘ hit version, covers by The Who, The Jam, the live Kinks. I wanted old school, old chum. I wanted the original.
Excitement surged through the crowd, palpable and electric. They didn’t know me. But they knew the song. They felt the confidence of the just and true. BATMAN WOULD SAVE US!
I was hit by the first pitch. Our run scored. The season was saved! I was traded to Metropolis, but I’d had my moment. A hero? I guess not. But I’ll take it. Yes, Commissioner. Yes indeed.
Recently, we asked some of the folks who regularly write for us and/or who would like to write for us but are often quite busy to consider what their “walk up” song would be if they were a professional baseball player. If this seems an odd request to you, then you should probably stop reading here, as things will only become more odd in subsequent paragraphs. If this prompt makes perfect sense to you, then congratulations! You have successfully surfed the internet long enough to find a blog where the writers are as nutty as you are (when it comes to music anyway).
In short, we got some highly creative, fun, wacky, thoughtful, and well written responses to our walk up prompt. We recognize that these are not letters and therefore we are deviating from the format of our mission. But, come on! It’s baseball season and it’s fun to mix things up every now and then.
Leadoff Writer: Mike
I love music. I love baseball. I love the intersection of music and baseball. No other sport has the languid, thoughtful tread to allow the imagination such breadth as to inspire the arts of the closed eye: literature and music. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” “Casey at the Bat,” You Know Me Al, Ball Four, Damn Yankees, The Boys of Summer, “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon (Tinker to Evers to Chance),” “Talkin’ Baseball,” “Centerfield,” Why Life Begins on Opening Day, Moneyball, the Baseball Project… Through every generation for over a hundred years, baseball’s influence has bled into even the most avid sports-hater’s cultural awareness.
But what happens at the actual ballpark? In the grandest of days, the sole arbiter of non-anthemic music at the park was the noble organist. In today’s era, however, most of the time it falls to an unimaginative wannabe I Heart Radio overnight DJ to choose whatever is the lowest common denominator to energize the masses into an involuntary hive mind response of standing and swaying. Whether it’s tired classic rock, pseudo-hip hop, pseudo-country, or the dreck of corporate pop, there is little for the enlightened ear to enjoy other than one tiny oasis of hope: the walk-up song.
At some point in the late nineties, inspired by the brilliance of organists like Nancy Faust of the Chicago White Sox and Vince Lascheid of the Pittsburgh Pirates who would cleverly play upon the player’s names and backgrounds as they were introduced, players began to choose what song they would walk up to bat, subject to the stadium PA overlord’s veto of course. The problem with this, however, is that most players (as much as I love them) are the kind of meatheads who would choose something like Smash Mouth’s “All Star” or Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder;” simplistic and insidious earworms that make the world dumber every time they are played. Forgive me for even mentioning them.
I’ve often pondered what would be my walk-up song if I had the chance, that once chance to punch the jukebox for forty thousand people. But I’ve honestly never been able to realistically imagine myself as a baseball player. Unless I discovered some freak trick pitch or something, like Henry Rowengartner. Then I’d probably do something like “Believe It or Not” by Joey Scarbury or Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” before I stood up there in front of 95 mph missiles with nothing but a stick in my hand. So I’ve always kind of just stopped there.
But what I can do is imagine a team I would love where each player had not only the skills to be a pro but the taste to make their walk-up music approachable enough for a big crowd but so much cooler. A mixtape of a lineup that combines the popular and the esoteric that reflects the personality of the players and the team.
So, without further ado, I will turn it over to the stadium announcer to present the 2018 Portland Mantis Shrimp:
“Leading off, in left field, number three: Marcel Dupree!”
Marcel Dupree is a speedster and a showboat of the first degree from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He loves a crowd and the crowd loves him. He knows what they want and he’s happy to let them have it. Like his number trois, this all-star knows nothing gets things going better than this all-star trio.
“Batting second, at second base, number thirteen: Jorge Vallenilla!”
Jorge Vallenilla is quietly productive batter and slick infielder. Upon joining the Mantis Shrimp he had to abandon his preferred shortstop position and number 3 to the fan favorite Dupree. He loves to share music from his beloved native Venezuela.
“Batting third, in right field, number fifteen: Brett Mavers!”
They start playing his walk-up song as he’s introduced and every pitcher in the league knows he’s in trouble as two-time league MVP Brett Mavers steps to the plate. A southern Californian surfer with perfect plate discipline and lightning quick bat speed, Mavers is a one-man wrecking crew.
“Batting fourth, at first base, number seven: Willie Washington!”
At forty-three years of age, Willie Washington knows the end of a great career is coming. By far the most popular player, having spent his entire career in the Mantis Shrimp organization, his quiet strength has carried the team through their lowest moments and their greatest. An epitome of class, he is considered royalty in the Portland area where he makes his home all year long.
“Batting fifth, in center field, number ninety-six: Reno Conigiero!”
With his purple-dyed locks and infamous off-field escapades, Brooklyn’s Reno Conigiero embraces the celebrity life of the pro athlete sometimes a little too tightly. Blessed with a great power/speed combo, Conigiero sometimes lets life’s distractions get in the way of his performance on the field but when he’s on, there’s almost no one who can cover the outfield or the plate better.
“Batting sixth, at third base, number nine: Izumi Kingetsu!”
With an almost supernaturally intense discipline, Izumi Kingetsu began life in Japan first as a piano prodigy, then as a tennis star, and finally as the first female baseball player to compete in the National High School Baseball Championship at Koshien. When told she could never become a professional, and denied the opportunity in the Pacific League, she was a walk-on tryout at Spring Training for the Mantis Shrimp and beat out all competitors to become the first female major-leaguer.
“Batting seventh, at shortstop, number forty-one: Jose Azucar!”
A Dreamer brought to the US as an infant from Guatemala, Jose Azucar is an outspoken and eloquent advocate for immigrant rights and social justice. An acrobatic wizard with a glove, he is also the team’s spiritual leader in the clubhouse and in outreach to the community, saving runs and saving souls.
“Batting eighth and catching, number thirty-seven: Ross McGunth!”
Ross McGunth is a veteran catcher who knows every dirty trick to win a baseball game in the book. Hated by opposing teams, McGunth is a lovable “red-ass” who keeps the team in line with the bizarre traditional unspoken code of the clubhouse. Not the greatest of batters, when he does crack a key hit, the crowd loves to bring back his walk-up song as an impromptu a cappella.
“Batting ninth and on the mound, number fifty-three: Thorne D’Averil!”
A Cornell graduate in philosophy with an iconoclastic streak, Thorne D’Averil has never fit in particularly well with his teammates. Because of this, despite his terrific talent as a southpaw ace with six pitches he can consistently throw for strikes, the Mantis Shrimp are now the fifth franchise in his career. However he has seemed more at ease than ever and the Portland gossip columnists of the sports pages are speculating it may have to do with a budding romance with his third baseman.