Eclectic group of musicians, songs embody life in Minor Leagues
Music permeates all facets of life and our top 10 shows Minor League Baseball is no exception.
May 11, 2020
In recent weeks, MiLB.com went to the movies, tuned into TV shows, watched worthwhile documentaries and turned the pages of books that spotlight the quintessential qualities of Minor League Baseball. Fans chimed in with what else could have made the list for films, television, documentaries and books. Now we turn
In recent weeks, MiLB.com went to the movies, tuned into TV shows, watched worthwhile documentaries and turned the pages of books that spotlight the quintessential qualities of Minor League Baseball. Fans chimed in with what else could have made the list for films, television, documentaries and books. Now we turn up the volume on music. Baseball undoubtedly has influenced pop culture -- and vice versa -- and the music industry has played its own role in keeping up with America's pastime. Classic tunes and odes to the game everyone knows such as "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and John Fogerty's "Centerfield" have echoed across ballparks in the Minor Leagues. But the farm system also plays host to a wide variety of songs specific to the Minors. There are plenty of great bops and karaoke jams about the sport that could make this list truly endless. Take, for example, the group Puig Destroyer's high-octane grinder "Top Prospect," which just missed our top-10 cut. We wanted to focus on songs embodying Minor League Baseball and what makes the game so special to so many different groups of people. MiLB.com's Ben Hill and Tyler Maun highlighted catchy team theme songs on a special edition of The Show Before the Show podcast. Beyond that, a wide array of genres from country to rock have shown a passion for the game. Without further adieu, here are 10 groovy tunes that might "swing" for the fences. Feel free to let us in on ones we have missed on Twitter.
No. 10: "Littlest League Possible" (Guided By Voices) Our countdown starts off with a 2014 song that lasts just slightly south of 90 seconds. The American indie band that originally formed in 1983 in Dayton -- the home of some very devoted Minor League fans -- talks about having fun and hitting home runs in the littlest league possible and making a "big splash." Songwriter Robert Pollard notes he could be playing in the Texas League, but instead he prefers to be a big fish in a small pond. He explained in Rolling Stone his thought process beyond the words: "I think one earns it when entering one's golden years. It also means that you don't necessarily have to act your age." Special note should be made of Tobin Sprout's fun guitar riffs on the leadoff track of Guided by Voices' 20th full-length album. No. 9: "Baseball Glove" (Gord Bamford) We go north of the border for this 2013 down-home jam at No. 9. Even for a holiday-themed song on the Christmas in Canada album, this one went out of its way to center around baseball. Gord Bamford, an Alberta born-and-bred country singer, sings from the point of view of a child who just wants a baseball glove as a present, while his other family members ask for extravagant gifts. Sticking to his Western Canada roots, Bamford rocks some Class A Short Season Vancouver Canadians gear while sitting in the stands at historic Nat Bailey Stadium during the music video. He pays homage to Canadian superstar pitcher Roy Halladay, even having a poster of the future Hall of Famer in a Blue Jays uniform in the child's room. It's a story every baseball fanatic can relate to, just wanting something as simple as a "genuine cowhide Rawlings pro special" glove as a gift on Christmas morning. The Canadians' homages made it an easy pick for our list.
No. 8: "Larry Yount" (The Baseball Project) Robin Yount ranks as one of the game's greatest players, racking up more than 3,000 hits during his Hall of Fame career. But did you know he had a brother named Larry who wasn't quite as successful? The Baseball Project -- a supergroup with R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Scott McCaughey, The Dream Syndicate's Steve Wynn and his dynamic drumming wife, Linda Pitmon -- delivered four releases completely about baseball. In our No. 8 song, the band tells the tale of the pitcher who almost was. A fifth-round Draft pick of the Astros in 1968, Larry Yount reached the Majors in 1971. But he felt a twinge in his elbow while warming up and never faced a batter. He was credited with an appearance but never actually logged an inning in The Show. The song details "what might have been" for the hurler living in the shadow of his more successful brother. At one point in the 1970s, both Younts were in the Brewers organization, but Robin made it big (literally) and Larry remained in the Minors. The right-hander toiled for seven seasons in the Minors before calling it a career. This soft rock song tells the Readers' Digest version of Yount's career in a meaningful way. It delves into something almost anyone can relate to: how one freak injury can cost a chance at a bigger prize. But that doesn't diminish the fact Yount was a professional ballplayer, even if he fell short of the ultimate dream. No. 7: "Cardinal Rules" (Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin) The No. 7 song gets the bat on the ball perfectly for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. Lead singer John Robert Caldwell describes putting on a "rally cap" and having time for "one more bat." The enigmatic indie pop band used the song for its encore when it was released in 2010, and the vibrant guitar solo, organ and piano parts show why it was a perfect choice. Plus, "Springfield, all right!" is a fantastic catch phrase to support the Texas League club. We can totally envision this coming on the videoboard at Hammons Field when the club needs a couple of runs late in the game (if it isn't already).
No. 6: "Good Enough to Dream" (Terry Cashman) You think we'd have a list without the man behind "Talkin' Baseball?" Of course, he was going to make this in some capacity. We chose this one at No. 6 because the soft tune found on Cashman's 1994 album, Passin' It On: American's Baseball Heritage in Song, daydreams about being on the field with the heroes on the diamond. He "spent his summers in the sun," which seems to be an allusion to Cashman's days playing in the Minors with the Tigers organization. We all have our dreams and Cashman's appeared to be set on playing ball professionally. Another "almost" story, Cashman's soft voice intertwines with some sweet saxophone sounds to make this one a bittersweet song that hits the feels. He also made passing references to life on the farm in his songs "Opening Day" and "Now They're Writing Songs." No. 5: "Night Bus Home for You" (Isotopes) We first met up with the Isotopes in "Baseball Punx" during our top-10 list of Minor League documentaries. This punk band, which shares its name and logo with the Pacific Coast League club in Albuquerque, has a number of baseball-themed songs. But at No. 5, this 2015 selection, in particular, brings home the Minor League experience. While the lyrics "Seasons come and seasons go without you" might literally refer to the changing of seasons, the night bus mentioned in the title evokes the feeling of those road trips just about every pro has found himself on over the course of his career. We're envisioning the song's use as menu music on a future baseball video game.
No. 4: "Minor League" (Grant Green) There's nothing minor about this major jazz tune except its title. (Sorry, just had to say it.) Our No. 4 song is Grant Green's 1964 production of a song by legendary jazz pianist/composer Duke Pearson and delivers a big-band jazz feel via a seven-minute instrumental. While there may not be any voices detailing life in the Minors, it delivers a great sound that any fan can imagine listening to in a swanky jazz club after taking in a Minor League game around New Orleans or Memphis. There's Green's guitar, Joe Henderson's tenor saxophone, James Spaulding's alto sax and great drumming by Elvin Jones to keep the beat slightly off-kilter. It's fun and upbeat, completely reminiscent of watching a game in the late innings at your favorite Minor League park. Those uninitiated in jazz probably will take to it like a first-rounder at the complex level, while those who love the form will be ready to promote Green to The Show. No. 3: "31 Seasons in the Minor Leagues" (Magnolia Electric Co.) If this song had been around when seminal Minor League movie Bull Durham came out in 1988, it probably would have been in the film, or at least on the soundtrack. It charts for us in the No. 3 spot. The 2005 rock track features an organ, immediately giving it a baseball touch. And the lyrics seem to be describing someone in the mold of Kevin Costner's character, Crash Davis: "I've been in long enough to know when it's no good. I've been in long enough to know I ain't even getting close." It's a self-reflective tune in which late singer/songwriter Jason Molina has spent enough time playing to know he's never going to take that next step. Truly, that sentiment can apply to many different lines of work but particularly hits home for Crash Davis types toiling in the Minor Leagues.
No. 2: "Laughing River" (Greg Brown) The setting for this 1992 folk tune is along the Laughing Whitefish River, a 19-mile stretch in Michigan. But as singer/guitarist Greg Brown explains, there's "no place I didn't go" in our No. 2 song. With a nice harmonica sound backing the lyrics, Brown looks back at playing 20 years in the Minors without ever making it to The Show. He's saying goodbye to the bus rides so familiar to all the players who have ever spent time in the Minors and "trading in this old bat for a fishing pole." In this point of view, Brown's character is hanging up the spikes and already planning his life of retirement. He may have fallen just short of making it to stardom, but he's able to take a fond trip down memory lane to look at the bigger picture of his career. It was an obvious fit for Brown's "Dream Cafe" album. No. 1: "Cheap Seats" (Alabama) If there's a song that breaks down the best of Minor League Baseball in just under four minutes, this is it, making it an easy choice for the No. 1 song. First off, without even delving into the lyrics, the 1993 music video features a game between the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts and the Carolina Mudcats, former denizens of the Southern League. OK, there's a little bit of irony to the lyrics, "Our ballclub may be Minor League, but at least it's Triple-A," since neither of the clubs were a step away from The Show. But there is a medium-sized town feel to the song that gives off a vibe of being a Minor League anthem. There's just something about the lyrics, "We've got a great pitcher, what's his name? Well, we can't even spell it." It feels like it speaks to how transient and quick-moving players' journeys through the Minors can be. There's talk of flat beer and hot dogs, but in the end, there really isn't much that beats a great view from the "Cheap Seats." Few things are better than catching a game with a couple of friends and some tasty snacks and beverages, and this song by a legendary country band captures that feel to a T.
Andrew Battifarano is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @AndrewAtBatt.