Broadside Ballads

D’ya like baseball? D’ya like story songs? How about story songs about baseball? How about story songs about baseball written by a supergroup of alterna-cool elder statesmen including the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn, drummer Linda Pitmon, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5 and, well, a zillion other side projects. These four got together last year and formed a band that specializes in baseball songs. They call their band – duh – The Baseball Project and they released their debut full-length album Vol. One: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails in 2009. While they’re working on Volume Two (due out next year), they’ve partnered with ESPN’s The Life this summer to provide running baseball commentary in song. And those songs – six of ’em so far – are being made available for free dowload at the Baseball Project’s label home, the always awesome Yep Roc Records. No small feat: these songs have actually given me a reason to care about baseball this year.

I mean, seriously, with the exception of my sons’ little league games and the occasional excursion to Warner Park to watch the Madison Mallards play (and eat a few brats), I like stories and movies about baseball a lot more than I like baseball itself. I never miss a chance to watch Major League II when it comes on the TV. But when the guys in the Baseball Project start singing about “Lima Time”, the references are pretty much lost on me in the same way that that punchline in Modern Family about Diana Ross’s RCA period was mostly lost on the majority of the network prime time viewing audience. But it doesn’t matter that much: the band plays a handsome variety of laid back folk rock – think The Traveling Wilburys at a Miller Park tailgate party – that sounds great even when I don’t know the relevant background of the song’s lyrics.

Moreover, songs like “Phenom”, in which a 21-year-old ponders his ability to live up to his own hype – “Man of the hour, and that’s 400 percent of your 15 minutes of fame, and they say that I’m the most in the Washington Post… I just want to stick around for a while” – resonate outside of the sport they pay tribute to on an allegorial/metaphorical level. I love the relentless (and hopeless) optimism of “Cubs 2010”, the jangly, swinging, Woodie Guthie-ish singalong of “30 Doc”. And I’ve never been to or even cared about a baseball season opening day, but I can, nevertheless relate to the sense of excitement and expectation of “All Future and No Past” – Before a game is played! Before an out is made! – especially when the song sounds like They Might Be Giants fronting the Byrds on a Bob Dylan cover.