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Inside the prank-filled, thoroughly-researched world of at-bat music

Before the start of the 2009 season, Torii Hunter was consumed with an arduous chore: finding the perfect song to introduce him for his at bats at Angel Stadium.

"It's like research," he later explained. "Google all day. iTunes all day. Man, it took all of spring training [that year] to find a song. Then I was just listening to it in the car one day and was like, 'Wow, rewind that.'"

Hunter had his eureka moment when the lyrics of Lil' Wayne's "Dinnertime" came across the radio:

They say I couldn't play baseball at all And now everyday of my life I ball.

Hunter knew he had his at-bat song, one that he has used off and on for the past two seasons.

"When you're looking for a walk-up song, you try to pick something that's dear to your heart," Hunter said.

That's the veteran outfielder's take and it's a common one shared by a host of ballplayers. But the walk-up song is also an essential part of a player's brand and, along with this batting stance, a chance for personal expression. Thus, the music played when a home players walks to the plate can be an explanation of self, audition for support, anticipation of the moment, exhibition of beats, proclamation of faith or fodder for pranks.

Ah, yes, the pranks. Take this one, courtesy of the Rangers' Michael Young, who comes out to Beastie Boys songs "Sure shot" and "Sabotage." While playing for Class A Hagertown in a 1998 game at Cape Fear, N.C. Young recounts an amusing incident in which the girlfriend of an opponent wanted to give her boyfriend a nice surprise and had the player's intro song switched -- to Boyz 2 Men's "End of the Road."

"I think it was the end of the road after that," Young said. "When he found out, I think he kicked her to the curb.

"Guys were laughing about it for the whole series."

The origin of the intro song as theater is believed by many to be rooted in the early 1970s when the Yankees played "Pomp and Circumstance" upon closer Sparky Lyle's entrance into games. And it accelerated in the 1989 movie Major League when Charlie Sheen's character. Rick Vaughn, a fictional closer for the Indians, ran onto the field to the raucous "Wild Thing."

Some players are already preparing for the 2011 season. Earlier this month Blue Jays rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia took to Twitter seeking advice, asking, "Walk out music.... hip hop or old school rock n roll??" Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval was asked by a follower what his song would be, and he replied that he wasn't sure yet but it "will be a surprise."

More attention surrounds these songs than ever before -- the Internet is full of message boards listing and critiquing players' choices -- and as of June 2010 even historic Wrigley Field now plays requested songs for Cubs hitters, breaking the long-standing tradition of using organ music to introduce each batter.

Though Major League Baseball doesn't specify a finite number of seconds that a song clip can play, the league, ever mindful of the pace of the game, does have explicit instructions governing music. For instance, when an out is made with no one on base, the public-address announcer should introduce the next hitter no later than when the ball reaches the third baseman as the defense throws the ball around the horn. The batter's music should start immediately after he's announced and should stop when he reaches the dirt cut-out around home plate.

Starting pitchers have their own music, but those tunes are often lost in the shuffle of the top of the first, the crowd often still settling into their seats, securing concessions for the first few innings and gossiping with friends they met at the ballpark.

Closers have better luck securing fans' attention spans. Mariano Rivera, of course, instills the fear of God into opponents when he trots out of the Yankee Stadium bullpen to Metallica's "Enter Sandman." Recently retired Padres and Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman appeared to the ringing of AC/DC's "Hells Bells." Red Sox fireman Jonathan Papelbon emerged to "Shipping up to Boston," the biggest hit of local band Dropkick Murphy's and a song that was featured prominently in Boston crime film "The Departed."

But the intro song in baseball today is the art of the batter, who will often walk to the plate four or five times a game and can choose either to have the same song or different cuts off an entire EP played.

Inspiration for these songs comes from all places. Three players turned heads last spring when they chose Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A." Yankees designated hitter Nick Johnson explained that it was the favorite song of his four-year-old daughter; Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki explained that he chose it for his younger fans, telling the Colorado media, "I know Miley Cyrus is huge, so why not put it up there? I can take the ribbing from the guys." And outfielder Cameron Maybin, then with the Marlins, said he used it for one day "for laughs."

And then there's Mark Teahen of the White Sox who chose the Justin Bieber song "Baby" for a game when the teen sensation was in attendance at U.S. Cellular Stadium.

Sometimes the music can get players in trouble. In 2002 when Manny Ramirez was with the Red Sox, he made a last-minute request, via a clubhouse employee, to have his song changed just before a game. The new cut was "Good Times (I Get High)" by Styles, which has drug-themed lyrics and profanity. Boston immediately changed its policy to prohibit spontaneous requests.

Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, a born-again Christian, said he likes for his songs "to have a little message in them about faith." He admits to not being very tech-savvy, so his wife helps him pick the best 10-second clip and send it to the team.

"If I can get just Jesus' name in there," Hamilton said, "that's the important thing."

Early last year he used a Casting Crowns song called "Until the Whole World Hears" and picked these lyrics from the chorus:

Ready yourselvesReady yourselvesLet us shine the light of Jesus in the darkest night Oh, Ready yourselvesOh, ready yourselves

At other times he used Toby Mac's "Showstopper" with its line of

It's automaticDon't mind the staticJesus fanatic

For many players, it's not what word appears in the song -- it's what words don't. Rangers catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli used Lil' Wayne's "Men Lie, Women Lie" last year and had to delicately slice out a G-rated clip.

"You try to pick the part that's not going to have a cuss word in it," Napoli said. "I look for the edited version, but sometimes there's not one, so you have to look at the [timer] seconds and play from here to here."

Mets third baseman David Wright is among those who seek help in choosing his songs.

"I send a text message out to each one of my brothers and use whatever they recommend," Wright said. "I let them each pick out one song."

By his recollection, his brother Steven picked "Ants Marching" by Dave Matthews Band; Matt picked "Blow Me Away" by Breaking Benjamin; Dan picked "Grindin' " by Clipse; and for himself Wright picked "Ladies and Gentlemen" by Saliva.

For most of 2006 Wright used The Beastie Boys' "Brass Monkey" but he decided to retire it before the '07 season, so in spring training that year, the club held an online contest via mets.com. The fans voted for four songs he used that year, all of which were better options than when Wright first broke into the majors -- in those early days the club played "You Got It (The Right Stuff)" by New Kids on the Block.

"I don't even think it was a prank," Wright said. "It was just because of my last name."

Wright's wasn't the only song-related contest. In late 2008, before Hunter latched onto Lil' Wayne, he hatched a plan with rapper friend Ludacris to appeal to children who may not otherwise pay attention to baseball.

"We were trying to use hip-hop to get inner-city kids interested in playing the game of baseball," Hunter said.

They invited kids to write songs, post them on Ludacris' site WeMix.com, which gives young musicians a chance to upload their music for a broader audience, and Hunter would adopt the winning tune as his walk-up music.

About 4,000 children submitted songs in the Diamond Cut Contest. The winning tune was "Luv of Da Game" by Ripchord and Tazuh.

MTV weighed in this summer, with its own "2010 Baseball At-Bat Music All Stars," a list whose most curious inclusion is Astros rightfielder Hunter Pence, who was sometimes introduced to Katy Perry's "California Gurls" despite being born, raised, schooled and now employed in Texas.

But, Pence explained, the club was going through a seemingly tongue-in-cheek phase where they were listening to cheesy pop songs. Infielder Geoff Blum opted for La Roux's "Bulletproof," and third baseman Chris Johnson chose the Kellis song, "Milkshake."

Some players are fans of a band's whole catalog, like former Astro Craig Biggio, who regularly walked to the plate to the accompaniment to several different U2 songs. White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski is friendly with a few members of the band Creed, so he picked one of their songs, "Bullets," last year. The Rays' Ben Zobrist hears an even more familiar voice when he walks to the plate -- his wife's. In 2009 he began using a song called "The Tree," sung by none other than Julianna Zobrist, a Christian pop singer.

Some hang onto a song for a long time. Boston catcher Jason Varitek primarily walks to the plate to the guitar riffs of "Kryptonite", a 3 Doors Down tune that peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 -- in 2000.

Others, like Red Sox rightfielder J.D. Drew and White Sox corner outfielder Carlos Quentin, choose to walk to the plate in silence.

And then, of course, there are the pranks. In September, as payback for an undisclosed practical joke earlier in the season, Diamondbacks first baseman Adam LaRoche arranged for "It's Raining Men" by The Weather Girls to be played the first two times teammate Kelly Johnson stepped to the plate.

Even the coaches sometimes get into the act. When Angels outfielder Reggie Willits, who in the majors enters to Jason Aldean's country hit "Hicktown," was playing for Class A Rancho Cucamonga, his club's hitting instructor, James Rowson, had the PA announcer put on a surprise track. As Willits -- listed at 5'11", 185 pounds -- got ready to bat, the stadium filled with song lyrics about little hands and little feet.

"Everybody knew about it but me," said Willits, who couldn't recall the name of the song. "I was so zoned in that I didn't really think much about it. Then as I'm digging in, I glance over at our dugout, and everybody's cracking up, so then I listened and started laughing at the plate, which is pretty rare for me to do that, because I'm a pretty serious guy at the plate."

Willits at least found irony in the joke -- Rowson is 5'11" too. "He's also a pretty short guy," said Willits, "but won't admit to it."

At-bat walk-up songs aren't usually such a laughing matter. Picking a tune isn't a fraction as important as swinging the bat, of course, but that doesn't mean players aren't spending their preseasons preparing their playlists, as well as their play.

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