For the last thirty-some years, I have been a huge fan and had a passion for two things: all things baseball, and music, specifically what was once called “college rock.” In the 1980’s, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bill James, R.E.M, and the Replacements brought me more joy than just about anything else. Unfortunately, at least for me, in those thirty-some years a trip to the ballpark rarely brought aural pleasure. While I will never complain about the classic sound of a ballpark organ jamming away Muzak-style between innings, and aside from the perfection that is “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” generally speaking, the music played before and during games doesn’t really do much for me. I like Springsteen and am ok with John Fogerty, but at this point I would be fine if I didn’t hear “Glory Days” or “Centerfield” for at least a few years.
One of the greatest things to happen in the world in the last decade is the band The Baseball Project. Featuring members of great college rock bands The Dream Syndicate, The Young Fresh Fellows, and R.E.M., The Baseball Project has three albums of songs about baseball culture and history. In my opinion, their songs should be on the mandatory playlist for major and minor league ballparks. But alas, I have only heard their songs in my car on the way to and from games. However, during my trips to major and minor league games during the 2017 season, I had several occasions where I heard music played throughout the park that brought a smile to my face and joy to my heart.
In May, I was in Baltimore and saw the Orioles take on the Red Sox. Of course there was “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” and a lot of other dreck. But during a late game pitching change, “How Soon Is Now” by the Smiths, one of my personal 1980’s anthems, came over the speakers. There is certainly something dissonant in hearing the very English Morrissey signing about loneliness in one of the great ballparks in the U.S., but it sure made me happy at the time.
Another enjoyable music experience came during a Lakewood BlueClaws game on the Sunday night of Labor Day weekend. I really like going to minor league baseball games for many reasons, although music does not usually make that list. Two of my sons and I thoroughly enjoyed this game at this Central New Jersey, Class A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies in the South Atlantic League. The ballpark, the food, and the play on the field were all very cool. Of course, minor league teams almost always have a “night” or hook to make the game experience more attractive to the public, and this was “Beatles Night.” I like the Beatles, of course. And perhaps like millions of people walking the Earth, I truly love a bunch of their songs. But I fully expected that the music played at this game would just be drawn from the “1” compilation of their number one hits. However, whoever was in charge of music did a fine job of mixing up the hits with what classic rock stations refer to as “deep tracks.” They played “Blue Jay Way,” “Dear Prudence,” “Polyurethane Pam,” and two of my personal favorites but certainly not #1 hits, “Yer Blues,” and “Blackbird.” But my favorite moment was when the BlueClaws players took the field to the tune of “Helter Skelter.” That was pretty great.
My favorite baseball/music experience of the summer occurred throughout a Red Sox – Blue Jays game that two of my sons and I attended in July at Fenway. This was my first visit to Fenway, and it did not disappoint. Finally getting to this classic park and seeing the Green Monster in person was very cool. And as an unexpected bonus, our trip to Fenway was more than enhanced by the music played before and during the game, especially many of the songs played on the organ. As we were making our way to our seats well before the start of the game and we were taking in the neat features of Fenway on this hot and sticky evening, there was a song playing on the organ that made me pause. I knew the music but couldn’t immediately place the song. And then it hit me – “Innocent When You Dream” by Tom Waits!! It was perhaps the perfect soundtrack for the moment – subtle and sublime. Then I remembered that the organist for the Red Sox, Josh Kantor, was known for his cool playlist – not Muzak-style but classic and, to some, obscure songs. I had seen him play with The Baseball Project a few years ago at what was a very cool show. There were more great songs to come. He later favored us with The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” which sounds amazing on a stadium organ. Later still came “Punk Rock Girl” by The Dead Milkman, another classic from the 80’s. The music played over the PA was also great. CCR’s “Fortunate Son” was played, which I have to think and hope was a political statement for our time. And in between the eighth and ninth innings came Japandroids’ “The House That Heaven Built,” another song that despite its absolute greatness, I never thought I would hear at a ballpark. Hearing all these great songs put our Fenway experience over the top.
I know that college rock classics of the 1980’s is not everyone’s thing, and that next season I am sure to here “Centerfield” at nearly every trip to the ballpark. But on occasion the music that I heard this season made my trips to the ballpark even sweeter, and gives me hope that I will be surprised by some great tunes played throughout the park in the future.
Rich Puerzer teaches engineering and occasionally baseball at Hofstra University, where he is the Chairperson of the Engineering Department. He has a poster of Mark Fidrych, whom he considers to be among the most rock ‘n roll ballplayers of all time, in his office at home.