Art by Rafael Amado Deras
Justin Kloczko is shouting like his dad at the TV screen.
No sport has had songs written about it as much as baseball. America’s pastime has long birthed great stories, so it make sense that artists have used it as source material for folk spirituals to heartland rock. But for some reason, baseball even attracts people who don’t really like the game to write about it. Beach House, a band that looks like they know nothing about sports, wrote a song about baseball, and it’s good.
Ryan Adams, who is admittedly averse to sports, has referenced the game in a couple really good songs. His song “Nuclear” sort of nails what it feels like to stand in the middle of a windswept ball field, where he remembers seeing a girl for the first time when “the Yankees lost to the Braves.” It’s an odd reference because whenever you think of the Yankees and Braves, you think about the time the Yankees beat the Braves to win the 1996 World Series. But to Adams, it was maybe just a marker to recall a passing stranger.
Then there are the songs written by sports nerds who just know a good story when they see one. Although Todd Snider’s “America’s Favorite Pastime” gets dangerously close to sounding like the fake acoustic hip hop of Jason Mraz, it’s about one of the most impossibly legendary games ever played: Dock Ellis’ 1970 no-hitter he threw for thePittsburgh Pirates while totally cooked on LSD. According to Ellis, he took a hit of acid thinking he wasn’t pitching that day, but found out two hours before a game against the San Diego Padres that he was gonna throw. The dude was still spooked on L when he showed up to pitch, but once he started pitching he found it was as easy as throwing a beach ball two feet into the ocean.
There’s a bit of an alternate history of baseball in these songs, like Belle & Sebastian’s folk whisperer “Piazza, New York Catcher,” which references New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza’s being gay, a weird rumor that circulated in baseball circles in the early 2000s. Piazza went as far as to hold a press conference denying he was gay, which he caught shit for because he didn’t use the opportunity to just straight up say being gay shouldn’t be an issue in baseball, a notoriously conservative game.
Another reason why baseball songs rule: they’re also made for losers. Peter, Paul, and Mary’s song “Right Field” is for all those people who’ve ever spent time banished to the outfield, staring at the sky and chasing butterflies instead of feeling part of the game. The song is sung in a sort of awe-shucks attitude from the perspective of an indifferent player. When the player looks up after a long drive, the ball magically falls into his glove.
I tried to avoid making your average Dropkick Murphy’s, walk-up playlist. Sorry Kenny Rogers. It includes songs that aren’t just about baseball, but feel like baseball. There’s some ambient pedal steel and other instrumentals that place me right under the glow of a lit up park. That haunted Field of Dreams vibe. There’s something about the game that suspends time. Whole lifetimes seem to freeze between pitches. And I’m not talking about boredom. Maybe there’s a warm summer rain falling, or you’re being lulled into the cosmic wonder of baseball from the radio. It’s a very reflective, meditative sport. It gives you space to think.