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Ballpark Tunage

By David M. Goldstein | 6 April 2010

Rejoice: the 2010 baseball season is upon us. Hope springs eternal, and, as of this writing, both the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees have currently identical win/loss records. Fathers will bring eager sons to the ballpark, 16 ounce Coors Lights will be sold for $7.75, and upon hearing the sounds of the overloud PA systems used in modern ballparks, a vital question will be raised-why do professional baseball players always have such shitty taste in popular music?

This is entirely an assumption based off the many songs I’ve heard repeatedly played at numerous major league ballparks, it’s not like I’ve actually hung out with the players and quizzed any of them. A major league baseball player is given the liberty of selecting the music that gets played when he comes up to bat or trudges out to the pitcher’s mound, and generally speaking, a lamer assortment of tunes you will never find. Standards include Nickelback, Korn, aggro Christian rap-metal mooks POD, and lots of Linkin Park. Man oh man do ballplayers have an unexplained hard-on for Linkin Park. Granted, baseball, even moreso than American football, is not exactly a sport that rewards going against the grain, ‘lest you be ostracized from the clubhouse as the dreaded “free spirit.” But the music at most ballparks doesn’t seem to have evolved beyond 2002, and it’s been ages since the game has had a bona fide music nut like ’90s hurler “Black” Jack McDowell, a Replacements obsessed starting pitcher who fronted a legitimately decent rock band and used to hang with Eddie Vedder and REM’s Mike Mills.

When Japanese infielder Kazuo Matsui played for the Mets, he came out to bat to the Bruce Lee theme, which was totally cool, and the music guy at late ’90s Mets home games used to play Rush’s “Limelight” whenever John Olerud strolled to the plate, ostensibly because he’s white and Canadian (your move, Jason Bay). I’d be curious to see what wacky San Francisco Giants starter (and reigning NL Cy Young winner) Tim Lincecum rocks out to on his iPod, if only because he looks exactly like Mitch Kramer from Dazed and Confused and therefore totally smokes weed, which was blatantly obvious even before the cops pulled him over and found the stuff in his glove compartment. But these are exceptions to the general rule; I’m more than willing to assume that the majority of ball players still think of Stone Temple Pilots as edgy.

And nowhere is this unoriginality more evident than in the musical selections favored by “closers,” the surly relief pitchers entrusted with slamming the door in the ninth inning, securing the final three outs to send everybody home happy. The closest baseball equivalents to the ice hockey goon, ideal closers are supposed to be slightly thuggish, fearless dudes capable of reaching the mid-‘90s on their fastball. Their entrance into a game is supposed to strike fear into the hearts of opponents while whipping the home crowd into frenzy, and their introduction music is supposed to reflect this.

So, sigh, this results in plenty of AC/DC, lame Metallica, and modern Reggaeton from those pitchers of a Latin American ilk. Tireless San Diego Padres (now Milwaukee Brewers) closer Trevor Hoffman is often credited with kick-starting the trend, ominously taking the field to the church bell tolling evil of AC/DC’s “Hells Bells,” which is still somehow novel (when he does it, anyway) after all these years. “Thunderstruck” and “Welcome to the Jungle” also both get obviously overused in this manner.

Then of course there’s Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” a groan inducing, stadium-sized pud-pounder that’s become so associated with professional sports that you’d be excused for thinking that Major League Baseball commissioned the band to write it. A few years ago when the Mets picked up good ‘ol boy Billy Wagner for their ninth inning duties, there was a NY sports media “controversy” because Wagner, and robotic New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera both used “Enter Sandman” as their introduction music. Wagner was seen as a carpetbagger who “stole” Rivera’s song, made even stranger by the fact that Rivera claimed to not actually even like Metallica at all and only listened to “Christian” music. The real controversy here should have been why either of them picked the song at all; true Metallica fans would have realized that entering to “Creeping Death” would have been so much fucking cooler.

If you’ve read this far, you can guess that yours truly has spent an inordinate amount of time imagining what my “closer music” would be had I skills to accurately throw a baseball harder than 40 miles per hour. Here’s a quick list of the three songs that always first come to mind.

The Stooges :: “Down On the Street”

What can possibly be more rock and roll than the first song from the Greatest American Rock Record of All Time? Everything, from Iggy Stooge’s inhuman growling, to the whip crack snares evoking gunshots, to the fire breathing wah on Ron Asheton’s guitar, reflects the aura of violence and menace that I’d want to evoke if I were going to win one for the home team with a steady diet of 90+ mph fastballs and unhittable breaking stuff. The tune would be especially effective as a hometown rally cry for members of the Detroit Tigers. Detroit fireballer Joel Zumaya is probably going to have to close out a game or two this year. He once openly admitted in 2006 to having to miss playoff games with wrist problems brought on by too much Black Sabbath on Guitar Hero (really). This is his song.

The Pixies :: “Bone Machine”

First the crowd hears the Albini drums, then the Kim Deal bass line, then that immortal D-minor riff and fractured screaming courtesy of Black Francis. In addition to just sounding really cool, while instantly turning any pitcher who used it into an indie-rock pinup, “Bone Machine” would so completely confuse the staid players on the opposing bench that they’d forget to swing the bat. Again, it’s highly recommended as a hometown song for Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. But he already uses the Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” which though perpetuating Boston stereotypes of Irish drunkenness, takes care of the hometown aspect, and is actually a pretty legitimate jam in its own right.

Nirvana :: “Serve the Servants”

Of course, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the more obvious choice, and you’d be surprised how very little that song gets played at sporting events (probably because Kurt Cobain is less than family-friendly). But “Serve the Servants” wins out, on account of the ugly-awesome Albini production and the protracted THUD!!! at the start of the song, which again, will totally confuse the crap out of the opposing team.

Got any suggestions for unconventional closer and/or at bat music? The comments are open.