Opening-day fever will grip the nation's baseball fans this week — and one band's got the perfect soundtrack in store.
The Baseball Project is made up of four baseball-loving musicians, who get together exclusively during the Major League season to play loving odes to the game and its history. The group has just released its second album of songs all about the national pastime, Volume 2: High and Inside.
If it sounds like insider territory, fear not. As members Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey tell Weekend Edition host Liane Hansen, baseball is often just a backdrop in the lyrics.
"If you are as big a baseball fan as we are or even a bigger fan, we cover all the bases," says Wynn, pausing to apologize for the pun. "A baseball fanatic will get all the fun references and arcane knowledge. But if you're not a baseball fan, they're just good stories about universal things that baseball players happened to live through."
As an example, Wynn points to the new album's opening track, "1976." The song is about the late Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych — the American League Rookie of the Year in the title year — but if you're not familiar with Fidrych, says Wynn, "You can just appreciate it as a song about lost youth and nostalgia and the way we hold on to memories from a long time ago."
Speaking of nostalgia, the album's title is a reference to a kind of pitching that McCaughey says has gone out of style: high off the ground and close to the batter. That may be for the best – "Tony (Boston's Chosen Son)" is a tribute to Boston's Tony Conigliaro, who was severely injured by such a pitch – but McCaughey says he's still of two minds.
"It's a fine line between being a guy who's not afraid to go inside and being a headhunter," says McCaughey. "You definitely don't want to see anybody get hurt. But we do appreciate the grittiness of the old-school players."
LIANE HANSEN, Host:
Opening day fever will grip the baseball nation this week, so what better way to celebrate than with this little ditty?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FAIR WEATHER FANS")
THE BASEBALL PROJECT: (Singing) 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...
HANSEN: That song is on a new CD, "The Baseball Project, Volume 2." It celebrates all things baseball and is put together by a band that only gets together during the Major League season. Two of its members, Peter Buck and Linda Pitman, cannot be with us, but Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey are. They're in the studio of member station WUGA in Athens, Georgia. Hey guys.
M: Hey there.
M: Hey, how's it going?
HANSEN: It's going well. I'm excited about opening day. Let me ask you, how inside is this recording? Is it for fans only?
M: Like, for example, you know, the opening track on the record, "1976," is about Mark Fidrych in that great rookie year he had. But if you didn't know who Mark Fidrych is you could just appreciate it as a song about lost youth and nostalgia and the way we hold on to memories from a long time ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "1976")
BASEBALL PROJECT: (Singing) 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.
HANSEN: Volume 2 is called "High and Inside." Volume 1 was released in 2008 - "Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails." I do love the vocabulary. And there's one title called "Chin Music." So, let's play a little "Chin Music."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHIN MUSIC")
BASEBALL PROJECT: (Singing) Back in the '50s when Maglie was pitching, you sent a little message now and then. They called him the barber 'cause he gave a mighty close shave. Ah, chin music, a little chin music, (unintelligible) or anyplace.
HANSEN: Explain the term chin music.
M: It is a great phrase, isn't it?
M: I mean, chin music is a bean ball, a pitch thrown at the batter's head, you know, send a little message to kind of back him off the plate. And I guess, you know, the idea here was just go up on your chin. Maybe you can hear the music of the fastball sailing by. I'm not sure which key that's in.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHIN MUSIC")
BASEBALL PROJECT: (Singing) We're gonna get high and inside, high and inside, high and inside, high and inside...
HANSEN: This is a song about pitchers and what separates the veteran from the rookie and is that the willingness to pitch high and inside?
M: I think, I mean, obviously, a pitcher still will challenge a hitter. And, you know, there are a lot of tough guys, you know, who will use intimidation. But I think that's more of an old school kind of thing. I remember I grew up a Dodger fan listening to Don Drysdale, who was an announcer on the Dodgers. And he would spend half the game just criticizing pitcher after pitcher for not being willing to throw inside. I kind of like that. I think he wanted more batters knocked down, more concussions.
M: And it dandied(ph) on.
HANSEN: We have to talk about that though, because concussions are a concern and you actually pay homage to a former Red Sox player, Tony Conigliaro, who was hit in the head by a ball. So, on the one hand you have, you know, "Chin Music" as something that's good but on the other hand you have consequences, and Tony was one of them.
M: Yeah. It's a fine line between, you know, being a guy who's not afraid to go inside and being a headhunter. You know, and you definitely want to see anybody get hurt. But we do appreciate the grittiness, I guess, of the old school players.
HANSEN: In one song you write, a long season can end in a terrible play - tragic - and you have a litany of them under the title of "Buckner's Bolero." Before I ask you about that, how much research do you do into the statistics and then, you know, you have to form them into lyrics that rhyme.
M: You know, I have to say some of our songs do get pretty wordy, you know, but somehow I think we've made it work pretty well actually. You know, "Buckner's Bolero," I had read a book about the 1986 Mets, actually, and it culminated in the World Series, of course, with the Red Sox. And the whole idea came to me, you know, that any one little thing could change, you know - and you can name a million things - that that really, really famous play would never have happened and Buckner wouldn't be remembered for that ball that squeaked past him, you know, in the World Series.
HANSEN: And you do sort of list his other stats at the end and your moral seems to be, yeah, he made one bad mistake. He was the goat but look at the rest of his career, which, as you say, nobody tends to do.
M: Right. But then I also make the point that maybe nobody would have really remembered him at all if he hadn't made that bad play.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUCKNER'S BOLERO")
BASEBALL PROJECT: (Singing) And it's not fast and you just made historical footnote, and your 22 years playing ball might be forgotten. Maybe Bill Buckner was lucky, his luck was so lucky.
HANSEN: The tune "Look Out, Mom" continues this theme of errant baseballs.
M: True. It's a dangerous game, baseball.
HANSEN: It is, it is. So, you're reiterating the warning to fans to keep their eyes on the ball and bring a glove.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOK OUT, MOM")
BASEBALL PROJECT: (Singing) (unintelligible) seems a fine young man, doesn't curse, abuse or litter. And when the Twin City Twins are racking up wins, it'll start with the lead-off hitter. But now a fine young man looks after his clan and he gets some killer seats by the dugout. They've having so much fun in the midday sun but, oh, you gotta be on the lookout. Look out, mom. Look out, mom. You better keep your eye on me.
HANSEN: Look out, mom - I mean, are your moms baseball fans?
M: And they went and they were all people gathering around and hoping that she wasn't, you know, badly injured. And it turned out it was his mom. He got her, you know, these great seats for the game right in the front row, and the first batter in the game and he nailed her with a line-drive right in the chest.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOK OUT, MOM")
BASEBALL PROJECT: (Singing) The best (unintelligible) when the game is progressing and you're messing around in the stands. And you've had a few beers and you've been (unintelligible), baby, talking about your favorite new band. You gotta stay on your toes because everybody knows that the rocket comes fast and hard. Better keep your head up, use the mitt or a cup, or they'll be carrying out of the yard. So, look out, mom, look out, mom, don't want another casualty...
M: The fun thing about the Baseball Project for us is that there is no end to the song you can write. You know, we all have other bands - we all have actually multiple other bands - and, you know, and we do a lot of other records. But with The Baseball Project we know what we're writing about. The songs aren't going to be about, you know, construction work or deep-sea diving. You know, we're writing about baseball, and there's a million stories in baseball to tell.
HANSEN: Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey are two members of the band that just released "The Baseball Project, Volume 2: High and Inside." They're at member station WUGA in Athens, Georgia. Thanks, guys. Play ball.
M: All right.
M: Thanks a lot, Liane.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PETE ROSE WAY")
BASEBALL PROJECT: (Singing) Oh, Brandon, Bronson, Joey, oh, Aaron, John and Jay, so many lessons to be learned, going down the Pete Rose Way, going down the Pete Rose Way. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.