Baseball and rock'n'roll go extremely well together. Going to the ballpark to see your team is like going to your favorite club to see a great local band. You get to hang with your pals, drink a few beers, watch the action, and swap stories. But hey, word to the wise, when you are sitting in the baseball stands quaffing down the brew and talking to your boys Louie and Jackson there about your favorite new bands, don't forget to be paying attention for the screaming foul ball that might be headed your way (more on that particular risk later).
Baseball provides much superior stories and context for rock'n'roll than other sports - colorful figures, terrific jargon, quirky unwritten rules, a rich history, bizarre mishaps, managers in uniform, and timeless statistical milestones (.300 hitter, 20 game winner, etc.). And no one tells better baseball stories than the Baseball Project, the alternative rock version of the Traveling Wilburys - highly skilled, experienced craftsmen on loan from their day jobs and having a ball - Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey from R.E.M. and the Minus 5, and drummer Linda Pitmon (Miracle 3), with various all-star guests, including Craig Finn, Ben Gibbard, Robert Lloyd, Ira Kaplan and Steve Berlin.
Some songs here on the Baseball Project's second record center on an individual player: "Ichiro Goes to the Moon", "Pete Rose Way", "Here Lies Carl Mays", and "The Straw That Stirs the Drink" (a hilarious homage to Reggie Jackson, written in the first person and delivered perfectly matter-of-fact by Wynn, "There are superstars and then there's what I am"). Other songs here outline an aspect of the game or baseball culture ("Chin Music", "Fair Weather Fans").
One of the best songs here, "Panda and the Freak", a garage rock high-velocity fastball, touches both bases, starting with a celebration of the rich history of nicknames in the sport ("Goose, Bird, Penguin, Rooster, Vulture - and your bird can sing. And the greatest nickname of all time Death to Flying Things)", and then honoring in detail two current players on McCaughey's beloved San Francisco Giants. Seen here performed live last summer with pinch hitter guest Mike Mills from R.E.M.:
Fans of The Hold Steady (like say, me), especially those from Minnesota, will love Craig Finn's emotional ode to his beloved team "Don't Call Them Twinkies" ("The Minnesota Twins are making Minnesotans proud..... These are grown men, these are heroes, please don't call them Twinkies"). And for Mr. Minnesota out there, you get a double shot of your baseball love because Linda Pitmon grew up outside the Twin Cities, and in "Fair Weather Fans" she too passionately displays her undying loyalty to the Twinkies (oops, so sorry Mr. Finn, Tigers fan here and old habits die hard; "my bad!").
You can listen to "Please Don't Call Them Twinkies" inside this link: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/music_blog/archive/2010/09/dont_call_them.shtml
But the best story here is one I'd never heard. Did you know that Hall of Famer Bob Feller, the "Heater from Van Meter" himself, once threw a pitch that was fouled off and struck his own mother, and on Mother's Day no less?! More recently, the Twins' Denard Span ripped one into the stands and hit his mom (a Spring training game so at least not on Mother's Day, thank god). It's all true and now captured in song. Learn all about foul balls targeting in on loved ones in the wickedly funny cautionary tale "Look Out Mom".
Another bonus to this record - the fine explanatory liner notes for each song, as here where McCaughey recounts the Span incident and concludes "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!"
The song that may be the most biting and memorable is "Buckner's Bolero" where McCaughey painstakingly outlines every lapse in judgment by other Red Sox that preceded that fateful error in the 1986 Series (e.g. "If Jim Rice had twice taken an easy extra base....And Bob Stanley sure picked a bad time to uncork a wild pitch, and I'm sure he's still thinking that you could have blocked it, Rich.... If one play killed the Sox, can you please tell me which?"). McCaughey's sympathetic version of history paints Buckner as the ultimate scapegoat, whose solid 22-year career ("10,000 at bats and close to 3,000 hits") was obliterated by one routine, albeit historically untimely, fielding error. These lyrics are required reading for all you grudge-carrying Buckner haters out there: http://lyrics.wikia.com/The_Baseball_Project:Buckner
Here's an earlier live version of the Buckner song without the delicious spaghetti western/Latin drama (trumpet, pedal steel etc.) of the new recorded version:
Of course, being a diehard Detroit Tigers fan, I have an especially soft spot for the warm nostalgic lead track, Steve Wynn's "1976", a jangly ode to the great Mark Fidrych, sadly now deceased, but forever etched in our memories as the carefree pitcher who captured the nation in his magical rookie season, "Golden hair flowing down, on your knees grooming the pitcher's mound." I love the spirit and jangly sound of this one and have had this tune rattling around in my head for a week. Listen here:
As on their previous effort, the music and writing on Baseball Project 2 is so strong, that fans of The Dream Syndicate, R.E.M., the Hold Steady and smart guitar rock will find plenty to like here even if they don't care that much about baseball. It is a very good thing when you get an entire record of Steve Wynn, Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey going at it on guitars. But Volume 2: High and Inside is a baseball fan dream. The lyrics are remarkably well done, sure to warm any fan's heart with their detail and sharp wit.
Heads up people! The Baseball Project have outdone themselves. I find this a bit stronger overall than the debut record simply because the tunes are even better.
And by the way, with Opening Day upon us this week, I'm feeling, highly objectively of course, that despite Cabrera's off the field problems, Zumaya's most current injury, and a somewhat questionable starting rotation after Verlander and Scherzer, the Tigers could surprise people this year....and I've not lived in Michigan for 30+ years now, so, like Ms. Pitmon, "a fair weather fan is not what I am even though my zip code has changed."
Band web page, tour dates etc.: Baseball Project Page at Yep Roc Records
Official site: http://thebaseballproject.net/
Link at stevewynn.net