Thanks to The Baseball Project, those who love hardball and songs that rock have a new alternative
Indie rockers generally don't need to bring their good fastball when they go on the road. But for the members of The Baseball Project—an alternative supergroup that includes guitarists and songwriters Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey, bassist Peter Buck and drummer (and Wynn's wife) Linda Pitmon—throwing strikes is now as critical as staying in tune. Two albums packed with sharp, witty original baseball songs, Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails in 2008 and this year's Volume 2: High and Inside, have put the band on the ceremonial first-pitch circuit. In the last month McCaughey threw one in Milwaukee, Wynn in Chicago and Pitmon at a minor league game in Davenport, Iowa. "Linda's was high and outside," says McCaughey. "Mine was high and outside. Steve's was just high. Very high." Wynn's defense: "It would have been a strike for Dave Winfield."
Musical explorations of the national pastime often devolve into hokiness, but The BP—the band hatched when Wynn and McCaughey got to talking baseball at a party the night before the 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions—avoids novelty status by combining ardent fandom with serious musical heat. Wynn has led several acclaimed alt bands, most notably the Dream Syndicate; McCaughey fronts The Minus 5 and is a frequent collaborator with R.E.M., which Buck helped found. The result: well-crafted, guitar-driven tunes that celebrate the game's giants (Ted Williams, Curt Flood, Roger Clemens), characters (Dizzy Dean, Satchel Paige) and tragic heroes (Big Ed Delahanty, Harvey Haddix, Carl Mays). "The Straw That Stirs the Drink," sung from the point of view of an unnamed but easily identifiable Yankees slugger, captures the flavor of the Bronx Zoo of the late 1970s: "The captain's a hero, he can't do what I can/The skipper's drunk and beating on the marshmallow man."
"Baseball is full of cool stories, strange twists of fate and moments that become turning points in people's lives," says Wynn. "The songs we write about baseball are as personal as songs we write about anything else." After the release of Vol. 1, the members of The BP learned they weren't the only rockers who embrace the game. Volume 2 has guest appearances by several indie standouts, including The Hold Steady's Craig Finn, Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos and Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo. "Once we made it safe for rockers to like baseball," says Wynn, "they all came out of the woodwork." It's easy to see why.