Opening Day Double Play
There's a saying that rock stars want to be athletes, and athletes want to be rock stars. And when these two iconic vocations collide, the audiences reap the biggest benefits.
The synergy between music and America's favorite pastime became evident once again as Major League Baseball returned to ballparks nationwide this past week with the fanfare and pageantry of opening day festivities, complete with some A-level GRAMMY talent.
Not surprisingly, Los Angeles had one of the league leaders in GRAMMYs on hand when seven-time winner will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas threw out the first pitch at the Dodgers' home opener at Dodger Stadium on April 13.
"Let's Get It Started," not only a GRAMMY-winning song for the Peas, turned out to be a fitting sentiment for what the Dodgers hope will be a third straight division-title-winning season. It also served as a precursor to another GRAMMY moment as two-time winner and country chanteuse LeAnn Rimes sang the national anthem.
A similar theme played out in stadiums across both the American and National Leagues as other home openers were graced with voices of GRAMMY gold.
In Boston, the Red Sox christened their home opener on April 4 with four-time GRAMMY winner Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, who sang "God Bless America" with his daughter Chelsea, and GRAMMY winner Neil Diamond, who crooned his "Sweet Caroline" in the eighth inning to honor a Fenway Park tradition. GRAMMY-nominated singer Keri Hilson chipped in too, singing the national anthem.
Arguably the most powerful GRAMMY winner in the country, none other than President Barack Obama himself (a two-time winner in the Best Spoken Word Album category) honored a time-honored tradition in throwing out the first pitch at Nationals Park in our nation's capital on April 5. The tall left-hander wore a Washington Nationals jacket and the cap of his beloved Chicago White Sox and smiled as his pitch sailed away from the strike zone. Fortunately, the catcher, Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, won a Gold Glove in 2009 and was able to haul it in.
"I was a little disappointed with the pitch," Obama said during a visit to the Nationals' broadcast booth. "It was high and outside. I was intentionally walking the guy. Fortunately, Zimmerman has a tall reach…. If I had a whole inning, I would have cleaned up."
On April 5 the Texas Rangers scored a fitting national anthem singer in GRAMMY-nominated country star Neal McCoy, who belted one out of the park in front of an adoring crowd at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, while Atlanta Braves fans were feted by two-time GRAMMY winner Travis Tritt, who sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Turner Field.
The Florida Marlins had their arms wide open for a rousing national anthem performed by Scott Stapp, the GRAMMY-winning lead singer of Creed, during their opening night festivities in Miami on April 9.
Down the California coast, the San Diego Padres' home opener at Petco Park on April 12 was honored by the presence of GRAMMY winner Colbie Caillat, who did her own "island-style" rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
A particularly special pregame event took place at Safeco Field in Seattle for the Mariners' home opener on April 12. GRAMMY-nominated indie rock darlings Death Cab For Cutie, who hail from nearby Bellingham, Wash., played a special baseball-themed, two-song set.
Fronted by Mariners fanatic Ben Gibbard, Death Cab launched into a pleasing country-rock version of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" before tearing into a searing cover of GRAMMY winner John Fogerty's famous baseball staple, "Centerfield."
"It's great having a band like Death Cab that's both local and has national recognition," Mariners Marketing Director Gregg Greene said. "We were really excited to get them, the fans were excited, and what's really cool is they're huge fans of the team."
As GRAMMY winners and nominees cleaned up at opening days all over baseball, fans are sure to see more musical performances throughout the 162-game schedule and into the post-season.
For example, nine-time GRAMMY winner Sheryl Crow sang the national anthem at the 2009 All-Star Game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and Mary J. Blige, who also has nine GRAMMYs to her credit, was among the artists who sang the national anthem during the World Series last fall.
Recent Best New Artist GRAMMY winner the Zac Brown Band performed the anthem at Comerica Park in Detroit last year and also played at PNC Park, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, for a fireworks show. They will hit a few more big-league parks on a tour later this year opening for the GRAMMY-winning Dave Matthews Band.
Brown may have summed up the attitude of all rock stars who want to be baseball heroes when he admitted that playing festivals in front of hundreds of thousands and appearing on national television with a guitar in his hand are much easier than singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before a ballgame.
"It's amazing how nervous I get doing that," Brown said. "Probably because I'm such a huge baseball fan."
(Matt Sycamore is a freelance music writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest and has a lifetime batting average of .217.)