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Five for Friday: Baseball Walk-Up Songs

Opening Day. For baseball fans, the phrase is the equivalent of "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas." And with Major League Baseball getting underway this week, we salute a thoroughly modern addition to the game: the walk-up song. While ballpark organs once soundtracked a player's stroll from the dugout to the batter's box, one is now more likely to hear a Kendrick Lamar or AC/DC tune as a hitter gets in position. Such songs serve many purposes – ranging from exciting the crowd to giving fans a glimpse into the personal tastes of ballplayers. While many players opt for crowd-pleasing hits, a few use the moment to get creative. Here are five of our favorite walk-up songs and a bit about the athletes who use them.

Fountains of Wayne, "Stacy's Mom"
Part of the appeal of Fountains of Wayne's 2003 power-pop hit "Stacy's Mom" relates to the way in which it teeters between innocence and innocence lost. The tale, about a teenaged boy who has his eye on his friend's mom, balances nostalgia (memories of mowing the lawn) with present-day realities (a divorce). It also boasts a bright and hooky mid-80s guitar riff, conveying good, silly fun. It remains odd, however, to hear it blasting out of major-league ballpark. But the tune was nonetheless adopted by Oakland Athletic-turned-New York Yankee pitcher Sonny Gray. It's unknown whether he's having a laugh – perhaps joking about his boyish looks – or sending a message to an unrequited crush. But considering Gray has made a career out of a childhood game and, to quote the song, is "all grown up now," "Stacy's Mom" isn't as out of place as it may initially seem.

Dean Martin, "That's Amore"
Plenty of sports stadiums employ so-called "kiss cams," which try to coax unsuspecting fans into getting intimate in front of thousands. Yet only one team has a "love doctor." The nickname belongs to the Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who uses his stroll to the plate as a chance to romance fans with Dean Martin's swoon-inducing standard "That's Amore." Is Cervelli referencing his love of the game or his infatuation with the ladies in the stands? One indication Cervelli actually has romance on the mind comes courtesy of a between-innings Jumbotron segment in which the backstop dispenses free relationship advice to fans in the seats. When in Pittsburgh, submit your questions via Twitter, and maybe you'll go home with something more than just the aftertaste of a hot dog.

Run-DMC, "It's Tricky"
Rhyming isn't as easy as it looks, rap the members or Run-DMC on the 1986 cut "It's Tricky." And what happens off the stage ain't a picnic, either. One by one, the trio of Joseph "Run" Simmons, Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels, and the late Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell dodge over-zealous fans and persnickety rumors. The song also represents back-to-basics rap, with a well-chosen sample (the Knack's "My Sharona") and thick, bouncy beats. It's the type of high-energy, call-and-response track Run-DMC often made appear so effortless. But you know what else is tricky? The sharp downward spike of the changeup from Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Zach Davies, who took the field to the tune in 2017 and found a song that enables him to brag while still attempting to get a party started. Still, as someone who relies on an off-speed pitch, Davies could be better described as "crafty" rather than "tricky."

Ramones, "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)"
The Ramones have become staples at sporting events around the globe thanks to the near-universal appeal of "Blitzkrieg Bop." Adrenaline-racing guitars and a chant of "Hey-ho! Let's go!" make it an easy choice for revving up a crowd. Oakland Athletics catcher Josh Phegley dug a little deeper into the band's catalog for his walk-up music. A punk-rock lifer – Phegley has also used the Mighty Mighty Bosstones – chose a lesser-known albeit beloved Ramones tune in "My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)." The mid-80s cut, inspired by a Ronald Reagan controversary, remains the rare Ramones work to get overtly political and features one of Joey Ramone's most impassioned vocal performances. And since most fans would no doubt prefer politics be kept out of sports, the song also features an easy-to-shout "ba-ba-bal" refrain.

Chris Stapleton, "Parachute"
"You only need a roof when it's raining," sings tough-voiced Americana artist Chris Stapleton on "Parachute," a song whose mix of acoustic and electric guitars feel like they're in search of a Western. Rough and tumbling, the track goes from a trot to a gallop as it touches on themes of lost love and regrets. Playing in San Diego, third basemen Chase Headley rarely needs the cover of a roof – and he probably isn't thinking of a former relationship each time he takes to the plate. So forget the message and focus on the attitude. Even as Stapleton touches on cold nights and one too many affairs with booze, his scratched vocals and churning guitars imply determination. And ultimately, a song about forgetting the past seems the perfect fit for a game in which success is determined by not failing three out of 10 times.

Photo credit: Violeta Alvarez

March 30, 2018

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