What happens when your band's debut album is a run-scoring hit with both music and baseball fans? If you're The Baseball Project, you grab some friends to fill out your bench, take batting practice by writing songs for ESPN and deliver a strikeout pitch with Volume Two: High and Inside. The new album from Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey, Linda Pitmon and Peter Buck is another winning collection of songs about the game's greats that will be pleasing to those who love America's pastime -- and fans of intelligent, melodic and fun rock.
When the first Baseball Project album, Volume One: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, was released in 2008 Wynn, McCaughey, Pitmon and Buck had yet to play one note as a unit in front of an audience. But after playing throughout the U.S. in 2009 the quartet were -- as McCaughey jokes -- "a well-oiled touring machine," which allowed the band to complete the basics for this new album in just two days. Wynn adds, "We definitely knew how to play as a band when we went in this time and I think you can hear that chemistry on the record."
High and Inside is a collection that sees the quartet deftly mix witty lyrics about baseball players past and present with a sharp melodic sensibility and engaging choruses. Opener "1976" is one of the catchiest songs to ever be written about anything from Detroit. (In this case, it's Tigers phenom pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych.) "Ichiro Goes to the Moon" is a manic punk-pop track that marvels at the Seattle Mariners outfielder's ability to eat, build rockets, and yes, play baseball. High and Inside also explores more musical avenues than the first Baseball Project outing. "Pete Rose Way" is a slice of alt-country that echoes one of McCaughey's and Buck's other projects, Tired Pony. And closer "Here Lies Carl Mays" takes the story of the only pitcher to throw a ball that killed another player and turns it into a haunting ballad sung from beyond the grave.
"Fair Weather Fans" describes the band's widespread allegiances to the Giants, A's and Mariners for McCaughey, the Dodgers and Yankees for Wynn, and the Twins and Yankees for Pitmon. Yet the team most represented on High and Inside is none of those -- it's the Yankees' rivals the Boston Red Sox. McCaughey imagines a world where Bill Buckner's legacy wasn't tarnished by a groundball in "Buckner's Bolero." Wynn sings of a different tarnished legacy in "Twilight of My Career," which explores the glorious but sordid post-Sox career of Cy Young award-winning pitcher Roger Clemens. And "Tony (Boston's Chosen Son)" is a violin-driven piece that recalls Bob Dylan's Desire as it honors late beloved Boston player and announcer Tony Conigliaro. Wynn admits, "It's weird that a Yankee fan like me would end up writing more about the Red Sox, but tragedy just makes for better songs and stories than a litany of successes."
The quartet invited a lot of their friends to help out on Volume 2. Wynn explains, "We had wanted to include some like-minded baseball rocker pals on the first record but there just wasn't time so we were able to open the door this time around." Into that open door came contributions from Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard (who adds backing vocals to "Ichiro Goes to the Moon"), Los Lobos' Steve Berlin, The Decemberists' Chris Funk and John Moen, Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan and The Hold Steady's Craig Finn, who supplies lyrics and the lead vocal on the Minnesota Twins anthem "Please Don't Call Them Twinkies." Twins fan Pitmon had bonded with Finn over the team when the Minnesota natives reconnected in New York. And Pitmon says she was thrilled when Finn accepted the job of writing lyrics about their favorite team. She explains, "I think Craig perfectly captured the feelings that a lot of us Twins fans have for our team of humble, hardworking guys that seem to beat the odds more often than not, and Steve really nailed the mood of the lyrics when he wrote the anthemic tune we set it to." Finn says, "The Twins don't win every year, or even every decade. They don't normally compete in the off-season arms race – they develop talent. Thus, when they do win I get to feel elation and bliss, and not just relief. In some way, it's like music; many of my all-time favorite bands aren't that great every night, but when it comes together it feels even sweeter."
The success and critical acclaim of Volume One opened up new opportunities that these veteran musicians never imagined. McCaughey is still amazed they appeared on the long-running weekly Major League Baseball program This Week in Baseball. "I can't say I ever thought I'd hear or see myself on TWIB -- that was awesome," McCaughey exclaims. "As a kid I dreamed of it, but I would have been making a diving catch in the outfield instead of bashing on an electric guitar." The band also struck up a relationship with ESPN that saw them launch The Broadside Ballads series. Wynn and McCaughey took it upon themselves to write and record a song per month for the 2010 season that were available as free downloads at ESPN.com. Wynn says, "It's very exhilarating and also exhausting to come up with tunes based on the calendar rather than the muse, especially since we were all busy and on the move with our own projects throughout 2010 but that made it even more fun. I loved that songs would begin in Virginia, for example, get shuttled off to Berlin, back to New York and then over to Portland all within a few weeks."
The Baseball Project was born out of McCaughey and Wynn discussing their love of the game over dinner and drinks a few years ago. "It finally took flight at the R.E.M. pre-Hall of Fame induction party in New York," Wynn remembers. "Everyone was happy. The wine was flowing, the food was incredible and spring training had just started. Scott and I talked baseball until most of the party guests had cleared out. And we actually remembered it the next day."
Both Wynn and McCaughey's love of baseball and its legendary players made its way sporadically into songs during their distinguished careers. The Young Fresh Fellows named-checked Seattle Mariners slugger Gorman Thomas on "Aurora Bridge" from 1986's Refreshments, while Wynn tipped his cap to Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial in his 1990 solo hit "Kerosene Man."
So with another Volume down, the question needs to be asked -- will there be a Volume 3? McCaughey says it's a certainty, since he still wants to write tunes about "Ted Kubiak, Butch Huskey, Don McMahon, Don Moss, Kris "Iron Man" Benson and Wilton "Peanuts" Guerrero." Wynn adds, "Just open the Baseball Encyclopedia or the 2011 MLB press guide to any page. There are still plenty of tales to tell."
|Item 1: cd|
I remember being enthralled by the youthful exuberance and incredible performance of Detroit Tiger rookie Mark “The Bird” Fidrych in the Summer of 1976, a year otherwise tarnished by post-Nixon malaise, a tanking economy and an aimless pre-punk musical scene. Fidrych had a mythic year, one he never repeated. I had just turned 16 and was having a pretty good year of my own. When he died of a freak accident a few years ago I must admit I was shocked by the photos of the modern day Fidrych. He had gotten older. He was no longer the adorable, curly-haired Bird, but rather a middle-aged guy who had tried to make it through life after his brief moment in the sun. Nostalgia is a funny thing.
Saw your picture in the paper today and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Dead before your time, but so long beyond your prime. Looking nothing like the memory from when I was a kid. Golden hair flowing down, on your knees grooming the pitcher’s mound. And it’s always 1976. The camera lies and the mirror plays tricks. So many things that the years won’t fix. Always 1976, always 1976.
Set against a fading motor city and Richard Nixon’s shame, a rock star had arrived. Fidrych comes alive! And I know it’s hardly fair to say you won’t grow old, but forgive me if I try to keep that faded image in my eyes.
What does it say for the rest of us when our heroes die and leave us alone?
What does it say for the rest of us when we wake up and find this bird has flown?
|2||Panda And The Freak
In the old days, any player worth talking about had a nickname. It’s a bit of a lost art now (add “y” to name, that will suffice), but an oh-so-charismatic San Francisco team has proven worthy of conjuring the game’s colorful past. Yes, the Kung Fu Panda hit a sophomore slump, but that ultra-clutch two-run double in the NLCS is what I’ll remember. Lincecum has defied the odds his whole career, and the Giants defied all odds in 2010. What a year! And those panda hats are still the very best in ballpark wear. Heck, I wore mine to a Billy Bragg/Mavis Staples show…
You heard about the Mudcat, Catfish and the Georgia Peach. The Kitten and the Cobra, the Spaceman and the Beast. Goose, Bird, Rooster, Penguin, Vulture -- and your bird can sing. And the greatest nickname of all time: Death To Flying Things. In old New York it was Turkey Mike, Muggsy and the Big Six. In San Francisco, Baby Bull, Stretch, and the Say Hey Kid. Then came the Count, the Hackman, Jack the Ripper and Will the Thrill. Barry and Jeff Kent, but a dearth of nicknames, that is, until…The Giants got the Panda. The Giants got the Freak. The Panda’s smoking line drives; the Freak is throwing heat. Panda and the Freak!
When it comes to kung fu fighting, he’s no better than Hong Chi Quo. He’s kind of like Bruce Lee if you cross Bruce Lee with a buffalo. He barrels round the bases; he scrambles for ground balls. Zito named him Kung Fu Panda -- that’s our Pablo Sandoval.
They said he wasn’t built to last; they said he was too small. The Mariners passed him right by -- now that was a bad call. Two Cy Youngs, two strike-out crowns, in his first full two years. And if Timmy takes a puff or two, let’s raise a toast, “Three cheers!” The Giants got the Panda. The Giants got the Freak. The Panda’s smoking line drives; the Freak is smoking weed. Panda and the Freak!
|3||Fair Weather Fans
One of the questions most often asked of the starting lineup of The Baseball Project is “Who's your favorite team?” It's a complicated question. Like most Americans, all four of us have called many places our home during our years. Do you support the team of your birth or the team that plays where you're living now? But you know what? Maybe, just maybe, you don't have to choose.
As a kid in Arizona we didn’t have our own team, but I was drawn to the Braves of Aaron, Mathews and Spahn. When we moved to The Bay I got McCovey, Marichal and Mays. It was heaven and then in ‘68 the A’s came along. With Captain Sal, Reggie, Joe Rudi, and Rollie, having two teams to love was out of sight. When Seattle became home I spent my nights in the Dome. I still think the Mariners, Giants and A’s are all right!
A fair weather fan is not what I am, even though my zip code has changed. I might smile and enjoy where I’m currently employed, but your soul can’t be rearranged. It’s hard to understand, it’s so hard to understand a fair weather fan.
I grew up outside of Minneapolis, glued to the radio and the ‘70’s Twins, and the sad sound of crying when they didn’t score enough runs for a Blyleven win. Now I reside in New York City, so I got a little thing for the pinstripes. But when the Twins face the Yanks in the ALDS, you know who this small town girl likes...
And there’s bass player Pete, always fast on his feet. No home team, then for sure. He stays fast and loose but if he had to choose, it’d be the Washington Senators.
I grew up in LA to the sweet sounds of Vin Scully. That’s how I went to bed most every night. There ain’t a prettier park than the one in Chavez Ravine. I’ve seen many games by the palm trees and the lights. But I sure do love Manhattan -- I took on the AL team in ’93. But now that Torre and Mattingly have moved to LA, it makes it so much easier for me.
|1||Don't Call Them Twinkies
Lyrics(lyrics by Craig Finn, music by Wynn/Finn)
Craig Finn: My love for the Minnesota Twins became even more passionate when I moved to NYC ten years ago. Reading the local coverage of all things Yankees made me realize that being a Twins fan is a blessing. The Twins don’t win every year, or even every decade. They don’t normally compete in the off-season arms race – they develop talent. Thus, when they do win I get to feel elation and bliss, and not just relief. In some way, it’s like music; many of my all-time favorite bands aren’t that great every night, but when it comes together it feels even sweeter. The one thing that’s always bothered me is the nickname “Twinkies”. Bad enough when other teams’ fans call them that, but even Minnesotans are known to use that name. To me, that sounds soft, insubstantial, and it hurts. So please don’t call them Twinkies.
In 1965 I wasn’t quite alive yet, but I'm told they gave the MVP to Zoilo Versalles. Oliva hit the singles and Harmon hit the homers. Mudcat Grant won 20 games and they didn't play in a dome yet. The Dodgers came to Bloomington to play for the World Series. The Twins took the first two -- you can even ask Vin Scully. But Sandy Koufax proved to be a bit too much to crack, and the Twins went down in seven but they vowed that they’d be back.
From Nicollet to Hennepin, from St. Paul to St. Cloud, the Minnesota Twins are making Minnesotans proud. We don't buy our titles so there are summers that we stink. These are grown men. These are heroes. Please don't call them Twinkies.
In the fall of 87 I was pretty much in heaven. I got my license and a girlfriend and the Twins had won the pennant. I prayed more in the Dome than I ever did at church. Kirby Puckett had the smile; Kent Hrbek had the smirk. First we tamed the Tigers, then we were dealt the Cards, and they came to the Twin Cities to try to make sense of our park. It was loud, and it was close, and it went to seven games. But the Twins took home the title and that sweet music played.
From Edina to Duluth, from the south side to downtown, the Minnesota Twins are making Minnesotans proud. So hey, let’s make some noise. C'mon, wave those Homer Hankies. These are grown men. These are heroes. Please don't call them Twinkies.
In 1991 the Twins were once again on top. We faced Atlanta in the Series. They thought that they were hot. I’ve never seen nothing so lame as that Fondahawk chop. But we were up against the ropes when Kirby called his shot. And as he ran around the bases, smiling and pumping fists, we all knew that he had won it, though it was only just game six. And the next night Jack Morris came and made his hometown proud. You should watch it in slow motion: Ron Gant was clearly out.
From Mankato up to Brainerd, from Burnsville to Bemidji. Now we're playing outdoor baseball and that’s the way it should be. Raise a toast to Kirby Puckett, raise another to Tom Kelly. These are Minnesota Twins. So please don't call them Twinkies. We've got Justin, we've got Joe. That’s enough reason to party.
We don't buy our titles and we've still won two World Series. Grab yourself a 3.2 beer and raise a toast to Gardy. These are the Minnesota Twins. So please don't call them Twinkies.
|5||High And Inside|
Every time some poor sod muffs a grounder or throws a catastrophic gopher-ball, he runs the risk of becoming a goat, pariah, a lasting symbol of failure, and incurring the bitter wrath of a generation of fans. But usually the very play that becomes so engrained in our consciousness is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the culmination of a series of mishaps, mistakes and coincidences. Bill Buckner’s legacy should never have been hung solely on a squirrelly nubber that got by him. There was so much more to the story…
If Bobby Ojeda hadn’t raged at Sullivan and Yawkey, and hadn’t been traded to the Mets for Calvin Schiraldi. If Oil Can Boyd hadn’t been such a nut case, and Jim Rice had twice taken an easy extra base. If the Red Sox had had a better playoff 4th starter -- instead Nipper served up a big fat slider to Carter. What would Seaver have done if not for his bum knee? Would he have taken the ball and exacted revenge on his old team? If Gooden had pitched like the real Dr. K, or Donnie Moore hadn’t had that nightmare day, that stuck with him till he couldn’t take anymore, and turned his own kitchen into a killing floor.
And John McNamara what the hell was he thinking? Was it him, not the party boy Mets, doing all the drinking? If he’d hit Baylor for Buckner and yanked the first baseman for his by-the-book late inning defensive replacement, that ball would have been snagged (if it’d ever been hit), and Mookie’s last name wouldn’t now be “86”.
Bob Stanley picked a pretty bad time to uncork a wild pitch, and I’m sure he’s still thinking that you could have blocked it, Rich. Then the tying run might have not been tallied by Mitch. If one play killed the Sox, can you please tell me which?
I guess everything happens for some sort of reason, and there must be a tragic end to every long season. But if even one man doesn’t do one thing he does, we’d all know Bill Buckner for just what he was: a pretty tough out for the Dodgers, Red Sox and Cubs. Ten thousand at bats and close to three thousand hits. And he stole plenty of bases before his legs quit. As tough to walk as he was to strike out -- but there’s only one play that ever gets talked about.
Now some kind of fame lies in being a scapegoat. And if
not that, then you’re just an historical footnote. And
your 22 years playing ball might be forgotten. Maybe
Bill Buckner was lucky his luck was so rotten.
|7||Tony (Boston's Chosen Son)
There is a picture of Tony Conigliaro, his eye grotesquely swollen and bruised shortly after being hit by a Jack Hamilton fastball a few weeks earlier. This was just before the mandatory use of batting helmets. He had a miraculous comeback but the damage to his sight made it impossible to go on. After yet another comeback as a Red Sox announcer, he died of a heart attack at 45. If there was ever a case for a baseball tragic opera, it would have to be the tale of Tony C.
Set against the fading Fenway sun, years since the last pennant had been won.
Long since the Bambino had been bought, Boston found the hero it had sought.
Tony, our hearts beat as one. Tony, you’re Boston’s chosen son. In August he was only 22, and there was nothing that he couldn’t do. That bastard Hamilton threw at his head. Tony dropped -- the crowd feared he was dead. Tony, our hearts bleed as one. Tony, what has that pitcher done?
But miracle of miracles on Lansdowne Street. A comeback and a home run swing returning, oh so sweet! But it was never meant to be --Tony cried “I cannot see!” His eyes they fade, the fans they cried, and at 44 Tony died.
Tony, our hearts they still ring true. Tony, we still remember you. Tony, our hearts they beat as one. Tony, you’re Boston’s chosen son.
|8||Ichiro Goes To The Moon
When Ichiro broke the “Japanese Position Player Line” and started his major league career with both Rookie of the Year and MVP honors, it looked to start a huge influx of Japanese players to the U.S. Many have come, and some have made a mark, but the truth is, there is no other like Ichiro, from Japan or any other country. With his style, discipline and respect for the game, I believe he’s been a beacon of light for Seattle and baseball in general. And I firmly believe he can do anything he sets his mind to.
He’ll have a seven course meal that Yumiko his wife prepares, and for his second stomach two ice cream bars and six chocolate éclairs. By day he builds a spaceship; it’s got a periscope and hatch. At night he might go 5 for 5, with a patented sliding catch. For those who haven’t worshipped yet, must resort to bowing soon. There’ll be nothing left to prove, when Ichiro goes, Ichiro goes to the moon.
At age 40 he’ll turn to pitching with a fastball that hits 95, a knuckler that defies gravity, a curve with a 12 to 6 dive. Don’t put him on a pedestal; just treat him with respect. He seeks but his own approval, and earns all that he gets. There’ll be another curtain call, a spacesuit in the trophy room. And I won’t be surprised at all, when Ichiro goes, Ichiro goes to the moon.
|9||The Straw That Stirs The Drink
Free agent Reggie Jackson shows up in 1977 on the New York Yankees, a team with no shortage of superstars or flamboyant hotshots. Is he humbled? Deferential? Silent but determined? Hardly -- our Reggie shows up and tells the newspapers that “those other guys are fine but I'm the straw that stirs the drink.” If you're going to be that cocky, you had better have the goods to back it up. He did and the Yankees won their first World Series championship since the early '60s.
Everybody talks about the new kid in town. They talk behind his back when he’s not around. I’d like to slip in but that’s not my style. Let me see how you’re feeling about me in a little while. The cities got their blackouts and their Son of Sam. There are superstars and then there’s what I am. One of a kind -- they made the tabloids just for me. Look out now ‘cause there’s something that I want you to see.
I’m the straw that stirs the drink. I’m the straw, you don’t even have to think about it. Because they’re waiting outside the clubhouse door. Mr. October’s got it coming and a little more.
The captain’s a hero but he can’t do what I can. The skipper’s drunk and beating on the marshmallow man. My swing’s so sweet they could name candy after me. Stick around until October and then we’ll see. I’m a card carrying member of Mensa. I’ve got MVP trophies on my credenza. Go ask the Daily News, they’ll tell you what I can do. Mr. October’s got a little something for you.
|10||Look Out Mom
We thought about calling this album “Dangerous Game” when we realized a lot of the songs had a rather traumatic slant to them. By chance I was watching the Twins/Yanks spring training game last year when Denard Span ripped a foul line drive into the stands that sent his mother to the medics. You figure, what are the chances? Hey, Richie Ashburn hit the same woman with foul balls twice IN THE SAME AT BAT. Heads up, people!
Denard Span seems a fine young man -- doesn’t curse, abuse or litter. When the Twin City Twins are racking up wins, it all starts with the lead-off hitter. Now a fine young man looks after his clan, and he gets them killer seats by the dug-out. They’re having so much fun in the midday sun, but oh, you gotta be on the lookout. So look out Mom, look out Mom! You better keep your eye on me. Look out Mom, look out mom! I never want you to be foul ball fatality, another foul ball fatality.
Because the batted ball hurts even that much worse than the one that a pitcher throws. They get sprayed all around at the speed of sound; you never know where it’s going to go. Bob Feller threw a fast one and it got plastered, like a missile to his mother’s eye. Just watching her son play, and it was even Mother’s Day -- it could have been the day that she died. So look out, Mom…
You might be thinking that the game is dull. Then Manny Mota hits a screaming line drive, that catches poor Alan Fish on the skull. He left the stadium alive but he only lived another five days.
So let this be a lesson, when the game is progressing, and you’re messing around in the stands. You’ve had a few beers and you’re bending some ears, maybe talking about your favorite new bands. You’ve got to stay on your toes because everybody knows that the rock can come fast and hard. Better keep your head up, use a mitt or a cup, or they might be carrying you out of the yard. So look out mom, look out mom, don’t want another casualty. Look out son, look out little one, I never want you to be a foul ball fatality. Another foul ball fatality.
|11||Pete Rose Way
Maybe Pete hasn’t always handled his problems perfectly, and no, neither have I. He’s still got his record, and a city that worships him. Since I wrote this song in 2009, the Reds turned into division winners, Joey Votto became an MVP, and Sparky Anderson died. Here’s to Sparky, Joey, Cincy, and Charlie Hustle.
The Great American ballpark, where the sun shines all day. Now I’m walking down Riverside, down to Pete Rose Way. The perfect chaos when he slid, the way he made you pay. Every single thing he did, he did the Pete Rose way. “Walk through hell in a gasoline suit if there’s one more game to play.” Diving down this boulevard they call Pete Rose Way…
He’d be the first to tell you how many outs he made. Never said he was the best, but oh, how hard he played. Ask about the Big Red Machine -- now what would Sparky say? I guess he’d probably tell you that they played the Pete Rose way. “Walk through hell in a gasoline suit if there’s one more game to play.” Diving down this boulevard they call Pete Rose Way…
Oh Brandon, Bronson and Joey, oh Aaron, Johnny and Jay. So many lessons to be learned going down the Pete Rose way. Going down the Pete Rose Way...
|12||Twilight Of My Career
In his 10 years with the Boston Red Sox, Roger Clemens established himself as one of the all-time best pitchers. But a few off years in his early 30's caused the general manager to cut him loose, saying “we wish Roger well in the twilight of his career.” He was only 34! Always a fan of the resilient old guy, I was thrilled to see him bounce back with four more Cy Young awards and two World Series championships with the Yankees in the years that followed. It's too bad that those achievements have been tarnished by his connection with steroids. Then again, pride and the determination to prove the doubters wrong can sometimes cause you to take on some drastic and regrettable actions.
I work hard, I earn my pay, and I do the best I can. In Boston town it’s sweat and blood that makes a man a man. But the years are cruel; they take their toll and they get you on the run. 34 and the boss, he said my time here was done.
But it’s all right, I’ll carry on. I will persevere. They wished me well and they let me go in the twilight of my career.
Spent some time up in Canada before I was New York City bound. They got no time for losers in that big city town. So I took some chances, I bent some rules, and I made some ugly ties. The fountain of youth becomes a poisoned well when you fill it up with lies. But it’s all right, I’ll carry on. Now I’m in the clear. I had to prove them wrong, I guess, in the twilight of my career. In the twilight you’ll do some things that you would never do again, but you were just a young man then…
Now my time is done and no one dares to speak my name. Forgotten, a pariah, I’m a ghost that walks this game. I meant no wrong but wrong I’ve done. It’s easy to forget -- you sell your soul piece by piece until there’s nothing left.
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|2014-06-07||St. Louis, MO|
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