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The art and science of at-bat music04/29/2011 10:00 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill / MiLB.com
The increasing prevalence of baseball walk-up songs -- and the public's fascination with them -- isn't difficult to understand. There are very few occupations in which one's introduction is accompanied by the swagger-inducing backbeat of a favorite tune.
"What would your walk-up song be?" has therefore become a common question amongst baseball fans, one that leads to endless thought, debate and consideration (feel free to add your own opinions in the comments section or on MiLB.com's Facebook page). And, not surprisingly, the players themselves usually approach the topic with the same amount of careful consideration.
Music is a powerful thing, after all, and the proper selection could be the difference between a warning track flyout and a game-deciding home run. You never know.
He's the man
When it comes to unique walk-up songs, it would be hard to top the annual selections of Indianapolis Indians third baseman Josh Harrison. Since his freshman year of college, the 23-year-old Pirates prospect has approached the plate while custom-written tunes blast over the stadium PA.
"Other guys might have to figure out what to walk up to, or might want something that someone else has, but I don't have to worry about that," said Harrison. "My brother does mine."
The Week That Was
"Looky looky look at me! Ain't I fresh as I can be? Still I prevail when they test and throw the best at me. Cuz I'm the man. I'm the man. You can tell from my stance I'm the man."
The combination of such strut-worthy lyrics with a giddily propulsive beat quickly made "I'm the Man" a Blair County Ballpark favorite as the Curve proceeded through an Eastern League championship season.
"It definitely surprised me," said Harrison of the song's popularity. "Fans were starting to ask me where it came from, and when I would tell them my brother made it, they'd be like 'Well, where can I get it?' But it's just something [Shaun] does in his free time -- he loves to make music. I've never had any teammates ask if he could make a song for them too, but you never know."
And while the insistent repetition of the words "I'm the Man" indicates a somewhat immodest approach, Harrison makes clear that the song helps to establish the proper at-bat mindset.
"There's a lot of confidence and swagger, but you have to have confidence in the way you carry yourself. Otherwise you won't make it in this game," he said. "And I'm very big on family, so to hear something that my brother wrote helps me stay in the right frame of mind. It relaxes me."
Democracy in action
Earlier this season, Altoona starting pitcher Jeff Locke walked to the plate to a team-selected Lil Jon song. He was less than thrilled with the experience.
"I'm a New Hampshire guy, I'm not familiar with rap," said Locke, a proud resident of North Conway. "I decided that if there was going to be music, it was going to be music that I wanted to hear."
So Locke came up with a thoroughly modern-day solution to his walk-up angst: he logged in to Twitter to solicit suggestions from his followers. What resulted was a deluge of recommendations, many of which were from New Hampshire friends, family and former teammates.
"I wanted a song that would mean more to me than a 'rah rah woo woo' kind of thing that gets a guy pumped up. I wanted something that would make me relaxed," he said. "And so many of my friends and family back home knew I was really into Dave Matthews Band -- for my birthday this past November I got tickets to their final show at [TD] Garden. ... I like to play the guitar as well. I'm not that good at it, but it's something I like to have fun with."
A Twitter consensus was eventually reached, and Locke's new song is a live Dave Mathews version of the iconic "All Along the Watchtower." But the work wasn't done yet. After an extensive period of focused listening and a brainstorming session with teammate Jeremy Farrell, Locke determined that the track should start precisely at the 3:48 mark. That's the snippet of music that will be heard at Blair County Ballpark this season, not only when Locke bats but also when he takes the pitcher's mound.
"A lot of starting pitchers want their walk-out music to start at the start of a song. That makes sense, they're starting pitchers," said Locke. "I'm a starting pitcher too, but if I did that there wouldn't be any music. It would just be fans yelling for the first 25 seconds."
Now that Locke has found what seems to be an ideal choice, he plans on keeping it for a long time to come.
"It's really nice to have something that no one else has, instead of the same old country, or the same old rap," he said. "I think this is going to stick with me for a while, unless I start getting hit all over the park."
(Almost) Anything goes
Of course, walk-up music presents many opportunities for comedic ballpark moments. A prime example comes from Kevin Huisman, a veteran of Minor League front offices who in 2006 worked in the Stockton Ports control room.
"Tommy Everidge, our first-baseman, decided that he wanted the New Kids On the Block's 'The Right Stuff' as his walkup song," wrote Huisman in an email. "We were all a little surprised, but the first time we ran it, [relief pitcher] Scot Drucker made it his mission to have a good time with it. Our bullpens at Banner Island Ballpark were out behind the left field wall, with chain-link fencing allowing the fans to see in. Well, it started with Scot and one or two other guys waving their arms when the song came on. Then some of the fans caught on. "By shortly after the All-Star Break, the guys in the bullpen would be sitting on the two rows of bleachers in the bullpen, and coordinating synchronized arm waving, with the front row going one way and the back row going the other way. The fans loved it, and I think it fueled Tommy's performance that season, as well."
Drucker, a 2010 Toledo Mud Hen who will soon be suiting up for the independent Grand Prairie Air Hogs, has fond memories of those Stockton days.
"I don't know how fond the coaches and manager were of us doing that, especially if we were losing, but we generally picked the right times to do it," he recalled. "Tommy was a stocky guy, and he looked pretty funny when he ran. So me being a prankster, I would try to get the soundboard guys to play the 'Super Mario Brothers' theme song whenever he drew a walk."
Drucker often takes a similarly light-hearted approach with his own selections. In Toledo last season, he dusted off the New Kids On the Block once again and took the mound to the saccharine sounds of "Step By Step."
"Oh, yeah, I've got to make fun of myself as well," he said. "I've seen it all. Some guys want to take a comical approach, others need something that's going to get them all fired up for 10 seconds. It doesn't matter, really, as long as it's clean."
The final word
John Foreman, the Altoona Curve's Director of Creative Services, is in charge of determining if his player's requests are indeed "clean."
"Even if a clean version of a song exists, that doesn't always mean it's necessarily ballpark appropriate," said Foreman, who handles nearly every aspect of the team's walk-up requests. "If I'm able to, I'll edit out [offending] words myself, or maybe ask the player if we can start at the second verse instead of the first."
Foreman previously worked for the Class A Short-Season State College Spikes, and he notes that players at that level were far more likely to change up their choices throughout the season.
"I think that maybe, at this level, the fans are more likely to identify with a player through what song he's chosen," he said. "A lot of people in the crowd, not to mention gameday employees, know who's coming up before they even hear a guy's name. As soon as they hear the song, they know exactly who it is."
And as for what those songs might be, it really depends on the player's background.
"You definitely see more rap and hip-hop than anything else, but the guys from Texas are more likely to choose country, and the guys from Latin America are going to go with Latin music," said Foreman.
What it all adds up to is an increasingly entrenched part of the ballpark experience, one that Drucker summarized thusly.
"Knowing a song is coming can help you focus, and some guys do think it gives them a little something extra," he said. "It's a nice routine to have, as long as you don't go too crazy with it, and something that the fans can relate to."