The Baseball Project-Volume 2: High and Inside
Figuring out a way to combine baseball and rock and roll while getting paid for it has surely been a dream of countless Americans over the years. After all, there are few things that evoke more passion and debate than these two. Unlimited arguments have taken place throughout the years over the validity of certain teams, players, bands, and moments. Should Pete Rose be in the Hall of Fame? Who’s the better manager, Torre or Cox? Page or Hendrix? Beatles or Stones?…the list goes on and on. Baseball and rock music make for great debate, so why not combine the two?
Such has been the ethos of The Baseball Project; a whimsical collaboration between Steve Wynn, Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, and Linda Pitmon. Three years ago, their first collection of baseball themed rock songs titled Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails proved a great success as the four displayed their baseball acumen by singing about prominent players in the game’s hallowed history like Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, and Curt Flood. The collection garnered great fanfare, as the album was not only well received by the music press but also featured prominently on ESPN”s wide-ranging coverage of Major League Baseball.
This time on Volume 2: High and Inside, the band takes a more personal approach to their fandom, explaining their allegiances to the Giants, A’s, and Mariners in “Fair Weather Fans”, while McCaughey again toasts the Giants in “Panda and the Freak”, a pulsing caricature of last year’s World Series Champions’ two most charismatic stars, Pablo Sandoval and Tim Lincecum. Guest vocalist Craig Finn from The Hold Steady brings the bar rock front and center on his hometown shout-out to the Minnesota Twins, “Don’t Call Them Twinkies”, a song so infectious that it blasted through the speakers last fall at Target Field as the Twins battled the Yankees in the AL Division Series.
More star power and the Mariners pop up later in the album as Seattle native Ben Gibbard lends backing vocals to the tribute to Pacific Northwest icon Ichiro Suzuki’s sustained brilliance in “Ichiro Goes to the Moon”. As has been the case in the baseball world itself over the last decade, however, the Boston Red Sox gain frequent mention and celebration on this record. In “Buckner’s Bolero”, McCaughey re-imagines a life of platitude for Bill Buckner rather than the 25 years of grief he has bore for letting Mookie Wilson’s ground ball skip between his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Wynn explores the ups and downs of former Sox ace Roger Clemens’ career trajectory after he spurned Boston in 1996.
And most notable is “Tony (Boston’s Chosen Son)” a swirling, kaleidoscopic ode to fallen Boston hero Tony Conigliaro, whose dichotomous and tragic career is spooked up with violins that hearken back to Dylan’s mystical portraits on Desire. Like true baseball purists, The Baseball Project also excels at referencing obscure and forgotten notes of the game. Throughout the 13 tracks, details are nuanced, stats are recited, and lineups are recalled, giving the album an air of authenticity that proves the band members’ devotion to the game and prevents the songs from sliding into cheeky camp territory. It also doesn’t hurt that everyone involved is an accomplished musician in their own right. The album is full of tight hooks, sweeping melodies, and sturdy back rhythms which should appeal to non-baseball fans as well. In fact, Wynn and McCaughey have noted the musical cohesion that has developed in the span since the first release and have been expressing their excitement about taking these songs on tour, which appropriately enough will kick off next month at Spring Training in Arizona. Most of all, this album is a fun listen; a collaboration between kindred spirits who are knowledgeable enough to educate listeners about America’s National Pastime, and talented enough to rock out while doing so. Use it to warm you up over the remaining winter cold stretch and keep it spinning as the Boys of Summer hit the field again in a few short months.