Major League Baseball's Opening Day is upon us and as the 2011 season kicks off today and tomorrow at stadiums across the country, it's time for red, white and blue bunting, fresh-cut grass, hot dogs and Cracker Jack, and the crack of the bat.
And let's not forget, it's time for music.
"The Star-Spangled Banner" preceding every umpire's "play ball" announcement to players' theme songs as they step into the batter's box. The closers' dirges of ninth-inning intimidation booming through amped-up ballpark sound systems, from New York Yankee Mariano Rivera's entry to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" to San Diego Padre Heath Bell's saunter to the tune of Breaking Benjamin's "Blow Me Away."
It's on-field, post-game concerts and the tradition of the seventh-inning chant to "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," and almost every pitch and every at-bat are chronicled with melody and rhythm in this most American of lexicons.
Yes, ballparks are like concert halls, and the guys with the bats and gloves in their hands make up the other group of rock stars playing nightly shows during the summer. And as America's favorite pastime revs up for another 162 games at loud ballparks near you, there will be plenty of music to fill the air.
Since 1985, John Fogerty's "Centerfield" — from his GRAMMY-nominated album of the same name — has been a stadium favorite, blasting away before first pitch and as soon as the gates open during batting practice.
"I have always felt that springtime and spring training is the most hopeful time," said Fogerty when asked about the song's theme during an interview with TampaBay.com in 2010. "It's almost a metaphor for life. Everything is brand-new, you're going to start all over. Everybody is in first place on opening day. So I tried to get that sense of hopefulness, almost like a motivational speaker."
The song is no doubt a baseball classic, but Fogerty's signature line, "Put me in, coach," applies more to Little League than the big leagues, where "skip" is more appropriate for the manager who determines playing time.
Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days," from 1984's Album Of The Year-nominated Born In The U.S.A., revels in the timeless message of nostalgia brought forth by the Boss while watching the boys of summer in all their glory. And while you might question Springsteen's reference to a four-seam heater as a "speedball" instead of a "fastball," the sentiment is still appreciated.
Another ballpark favorite is the 1985 mixtape classic "Your Love," by the Outfield. The only references to baseball occur in the name of the British band, and the name of the album (Play Deep) on which the song appeared, but somehow the killer guitar riff and opening line of "Josie's on a vacation far away" are as American and baseball as peanuts and run-scoring sacrifice flies.
There is also "Sweet Caroline," the 1969 chestnut penned by New York's very own Neil Diamond. The Boston Red Sox have adopted the song and play it between the eighth inning, overwhelming Fenway Park with its raucous chorus as 37,000-plus fans repeat the trademark "so good" refrain three times in unison.
Diamond has revealed that the inspiration behind the song was Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President John F. Kennedy and wife Jacqueline Kennedy. Aside from the Kennedy family's ties to Massachusetts, why has the song become a Red Sox tradition?
"I think they consider it good luck," said Diamond in an interview with The Associated Press in 2007.
The GRAMMY winner brought the Red Sox some luck when he performed the song at last year's opening night in Fenway Park, which could not have looked "so good, so good, so good" to his hometown Yankees or their fans.
And then there's the celebration song following a victory at Dodger Stadium, the ballpark nestled in Chavez Ravine overlooking downtown Los Angeles. When the boys in blue pick off a win against a division rival such as the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants, Randy Newman's 1983 ode to Los Angeles, "I Love L.A.," rings that much louder as the cars spill out onto "Century Boulevard (We love it)/Victory Boulevard (We love it)/Santa Monica Boulevard (We love it)/Sixth Street (We love it)," or wherever they happen to be going. But given the city's traffic, rather than cars spilling out, it's more like attempting to exit the parking lot at a glacial rate. We love it, indeed.
You never really know what you'll get during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field in Chicago, where the tradition of getting a famous (or even semi-famous) celebrity to lead the crowd in Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer's classic 1908 paean to hardball, "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," can go from the sublime to the substandard depending on the singer and/or the amount of beer consumed prior to the seventh. (See Osbourne, Ozzy, Vedder, Eddie, or, yes, Hung, William.)
On a slightly more consistent note, you'll hear Frank Sinatra's version of "New York, New York," as soon as the final out is recorded at any game at Yankee Stadium. In other stadiums, you'll hear Terry Cashman's 1981 song "Talkin' Baseball," which features the indelible line about "Willie, Mickey and the Duke." (That's Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider.)
Finally, one of baseball's grandest traditions is the singing of the national anthem. And who better to perform the anthem than artists and musicians? Artists singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at opening day this year include GRAMMY-winning tenor Plácido Domingo in Los Angeles; GRAMMY winner Jason Mraz in San Diego; and actress/singer Haley Swindal in New York.
The bottom line is that music and baseball go together as well as a close play at first base and a manager running out of the dugout to argue with the umpire. No matter where you go during the upcoming season, you're going to find something to smile at — and sing along with.
(Matt Sycamore is a freelance music writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest and has a lifetime batting average of .217.)