Baseball & Country Music: Part 3 – Songs About Baseball

It occurred to me the other day listening to Alabama’s Mountain Music that there aren’t a whole lot of country songs about baseball. There are a bunch of reasons why football might have the edge, particularly wrt high school football, but still once I got to thinking about it I was surprised by how few country baseball songs I could come up with.

Cheap Seats (recorded) by Alabama is one of the two songs closest to the mark I can think of. This song paints a great picture of baseball. It hits the bases of hot dogs, flat beer, jawing at the umpire and of course cheap seats, but also nicely straddles the line between loving the game and just going because it’s something to do and something to watch. I love the lines “we got a great pitcher what’s his name” and “the game was close, we’ll call it a win” and then the reference to the dive bar band’s “kinda minor league sound”. For me the song captures both true love of baseball and simple enjoyment of the game as a means of having a couple of beers with friends. The other song is The Greatest by the great Don Schultz and of course with Kenny Rogers singing it. It hits baseball from the kids angle that I would have expected to be more widespread. To make an incredibly sweet song short, the little kid throwing up pitches to himself in ballfield and swinging and missing repeatedly comes to the realization at the end of the song that he’s the greatest pitcher in the world. It’s the American pastime as a vehicle for youthful optimism.

Even though it’s not strictly country, I’d be sad not to mention John Fogerty’s Centerfield which is at least on par with Cheap Seats and The Greatest. From the references to Casey at the Bat and a bunch of baseball greats to the great line “put me in coach, I’m ready to play” – I like everything about this song.

Trace Adkins’ Swing isn’t a good song, but worth mentioning because it at least has an obvious baseball setting and more interestingly was co-written by a young Chris Stapleton. Other songs weave baseball more softly into an Americana background. I like Aaron Watson’s nostalgic love song line about leaving town to play college baseball but losing out “cause you know the big leagues never called/and you went and fell in love with him”. And I also like Kip Moore’s “I didn’t have the grades but I had myself a major league fastball/got a call from the minor leagues in Wichita/ blew out my arm the first year”. The latter in Reckless, not to be confused with Watson’s Reckless, and on Moore’s Up All Night which is a very good, and his best, album.

Like in Mountain Music, there are probably a whole lot more songs like this, not explicitly about baseball but weaving in the pastime in hitting themes like nostalgia, opportunity and optimism and painting the wonderful American landscape.

Baseball & Country Music: Part 2 – Country All-Stars

There are some baseball players with truly great taste in country music, and there are also some truly great players with a taste for country. And then of course there are those most special of cases where the two come together.  My listings below of players and their associated songs do not necessarily represent current music choices.  In some cases it was more fun to look at songs players have chosen within the last couple of years, including when there was a real gem a year or two ago but their more current choice was less exciting.  These listings necessarily reflect my imperfect information, in many cases drawn from local sports reporting, and if I’ve misstated any player’s preferences I’d be happy to talk the confusion out over a game of catch.

Player performance combined with choosing country songs that align with my music preferences are the main drivers of the rankings below. Also weighing in were my feelings on what would be an appropriately motivating walk-up song and my desire to present more fun examples of player music choices which resulted in my not duplicating players across the various lists.  For example, Dillon Gee’s choice of an RRB song would clearly have put him towards the top of Players Who Like Great Modern Country, but his incongruous other choice of Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang made him a more fun entry onto the weird combos list.  These rankings also evidence my favorable disposition towards more unique music choices (e.g. God’s Gonna Cut You Down is an awesome and intimidating song for a dominant relief pitcher, but it loses a little something each additional guy that picks the song).  On the flip side I’ve given short shrift to even great players who like relatively common artists or songs.

5 Elite Players Who Like Country:

5. Buster Posey – Hell on Wheels (Brantley Gilbert)
4. John Lester – I Use What I Got; Gonna Know We Were Here (Aldean)
3. Corey Seager – U Turn (Chase Rice); Night’s on Fire (David Nail)
2. Zack Greinke – Runnin’ Outta Moonlight (Randy Houser); Anywhere With You (Jake Owen)
1. Kyle Seager – Life is a Highway (Rascal Flatts cover); Night’s on Fire (David Nail); Wild Ones (Kip Moore)

Top 8 Players Who Like Great Modern Country:

8. John Danks – Should’ve Been a Cowboy (Toby Keith)
7. Mark Reynolds – Country Boy (Aaron Lewis); Barefoot Bluejean Night (Jake Owen); Cruise (FGL)
6. Josh Osich – Right Where I Need to Be (Gary Allen); American Outlaws (Whiskey Meyers)
5. Dan Uggla, Colin Rea – Homegrown (ZBB)
4. Aaron Hill – Knee Deep (ZBB plus Jimmy Buffett); It’s a Great Day To Be Alive (Travis Tritt)
3. Bryan Flynn – Freight Train (Aaron Watson)
2. Charlie Morton – Gin, Smoke, Lies (Turnpike Troubadours); Palmetto Rose (Jason Isbell
1. Brock Holt – Ragged as the Road (Reckless Kelley), My Hometown (Charlie Robison), Dance Her Home (Cody Johnson) [Editor’s Note: Mr. Holt’s music choices, only some of which are listed here, evidence fine, fine taste indeed. And he’s a heck of a ballplayer.]

Top 10 Players Who Like Great Classic Country:

10. Cody Allen – God’s Gonna Cut You Down (Cash); Outsiders (Church)
9. Wade Miley – Thank God I’m a Country Boy (John Denver), Backwoods (Justin Moore)
8. Kevin Gregg – A Country Boy Can Survive (Hank Jr.)
7. Alex Wilson – Snake Farm (Ray Wylie Hubbard)
6. Daniel Mengden – Long-Haired Country Boy (Charlie Daniels)
5. David Robertson, Kendall Graveman – Sweet Home Alabama (Skynyrd)
4. Lucas Harrell – When the Man Comes Around (Johnny Cash)
3. Devin Mesoraco – Fishin’ in the Dark (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band)
2. David Ross – Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler) (Alabama)
1. Mark Lowe, Adam LaRoche – Copperhead Road (Steve Earle)

Top 7 Elite Baseball Players Who Like Great Country:

7. Mark Buehrle – The Wind (ZBB)
6. Matt Holliday – Chicken Fried (ZBB)
5. John Lackey – Friends in Low Places (Garth Brooks)
4. Jake Peavy – Ramblin’ Fever (Haggard)
3. Adam Wainwright – Song of the South (Alabama)
2. Matt Carpenter – Long Hot Summer Day (Turnpike Troubadours cover)
1. Madison Bumgarner – Fire on the Mountain (Marshall Tucker Band); Simple Man (Lynyrd Skynyrd)

Top 5 Weirdest Country Combos:

5. Bryce Harper – Wagon Wheel (Darius Rucker cover); Flower (Moby); Boyfriend (Bieber); The Best is Yet to Come (Sinatra)
4. Andrew Cashner – Chillin’ It (Cole Swindell); How to Be the Man (Riff Raff)
3. Paul GoldSchmidt – It’z Just What We Do (FGL) and We Went (Randy Houser); One Step Closer (Linkin Park)
2. Matt Cain – She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy (Kenny Chesney); Hillbilly Deluxe (Brooks & Dunn); Men in Black (Will Smith); Team (Iggy Azalea)
1. Dillon Gee – Shotgun (Randy Rogers Band); Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang (Dr. Dre & Snoop)

There are plenty of very good players with very good song choices that I haven’t mentioned in the lists above. These players are probably the core of baseball country: significant baseball talent and above average country music choices.  See, e.g., Ross Ohlendorf/ Brent Morel/ Matt Wieters (Barefoot Bluejean Night), Joe Blanton/ Jeff Clement (Hillbilly Deluxe), Joe Paterson (How Bad Do You Want It), Chris Owings (Sunny and 75), Andrew Benintendi (I Love This Life); Billy Butler (Chillin’ It, Drunk on You); Gordon Beckham (Chicken Fried); Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Eight Second Ride); Paul Janish (Ain’t Going Down till the Sun Comes Up); Travis Wood (You Can’t Hide Redneck).  The good taste of baseball talents like these perk our ears up when we least expect it and let us rock out to 15 or so seconds of a nice country song when we’re already living life pretty good at a baseball game.

Baseball & Country Music: Part 1 – An Introduction

One of the fun traditions in going to an MLB game is hearing the music that each player chooses for his walk up to the plate, or in the case of relief pitchers when they are coming into the game, in particular in search of fun country songs.  Sometimes this stuff is referred to as entrance or intro music which is appropriate for relief pitchers, but I prefer the terms walk-up for batters and walk-on for relief pitchers. I guess for starting pitchers qua starters, warm-up music is the best term.

These song choices are small windows into players’ personalities.  For some of the players I’ve heard about, song choice is motivated by the preferences of children or other family members or the actual or perceived preferences of fans (David Wright sometimes lets his brothers choose his songs and a few years ago opened his walk-up music up to a fan vote.)  In some cases I’ve read about players being apathetic about the music played when they come to bat, but extremely rare is the player who has chosen to come on to silence (see e.g., Brian McCann).  In most cases though, I think players are choosing songs that represent their music tastes or that they think will motivate them in their performance and that’s pretty interesting to hear.

Of Simple Man, Jacob deGrom’s said: “I never picked anything in the minor leagues. I would always just tell them, ‘Play whatever.’ But then I didn’t really like the song they were playing when I got called up. So I just decided to change to ‘Simple Man.’ I like slower music like that. It kind of calms me down, I guess. I don’t want to get too amped up going into the first inning.” Cody Allen, one of the Country All-Stars I’ll talk more about in Part 2 of this post, said of one of his choices – Outsiders by Church – “I’m a big country music fan and it’s just an awesome song. I used to listen to it every morning on the way to the gym. It sounds good over the speakers, especially a certain part right in the middle of the song. I had a good year last year, so I rode with it.”  Awesome.  Allen definitely sounds like the kind of country guy I wouldn’t mind throwing back a few Lonestars with.  And Joe Beimel, one of a number of closers aptly choosing Cash’s God’s Gonna Cut You Down, recounts facing Lance Berkman three days in row and then the “last day I got him out, and on the play I had to run over and cover first. After the out, he looks at me and says, ‘What is your entrance music?’ I told him the song and the next year, he started using it when he came up to hit. I was like, ‘Really, dude?’ But I’m sticking with it. I’m more likely to change my socks than my entrance music.”

There are a couple sites that purport to track the songs each player chooses. None of them are great.  MLB.com is the most official listing, but based on my familiarity with Mets’ players’ music and sports reporting on the music selections of other players, this listing is not so accurate.  Relying on this data (I believe for the 2015 season) Baseball Prospectus says 411 players had only 1 song compared to 145 with more than 1, but I think in reality a great many more players than indicated have multiple songs.  Even if the underlying data is outdated or incomplete, there are still some super interesting statistics that can be run, e.g. on the interaction between genre or song choice and on-field performance.  MLBplatemusic.com seems to take a wikipedia-like approach letting readers update entries for players and has the virtue of being searchable by artist, but the presentation doesn’t distinguish between current and outdated walk-up choices and isn’t comprehensive.  Getting perfect data here is a tough enterprise, particularly accounting for the ability of players to add and subtract the number of their picks and change those picks themselves and the frequent influx of minor leaugers into the MLB in season.  Plus, added to this, is that at least a couple of players I’ve read about seem to have performance-related triggers around their (warm-up) music (imagine God’s Gonna Cut You Down feeling awkward after a 6-run first).

Focusing in on the New York Mets for a moment, country fans include Curtis Granderson – Tim McGraw’s Indian Outlaw, Eric Campbell – Eric Church’s Broke Record and Jacob deGrom – Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man (not quite country, but close enough to mention). And from first-hand observation Jonathan Niese (no longer, of course, a Met), David Wright and Zack Wheeler have also chosen to come on to country music.  So just by way of example re: the reliability of the data discussed above, MLB plate music only reflects deGrom and Wright’s country choices and MLB.com gets Campbell, deGrom and Granderson right (but for Granderson failing to mention that he only choose Tim no more frequently than every third song).

In any event, depending a bit on the season and more on how narrowly we defined other categories of music, country comes in about third or fourth place in terms of genre over the past few seasons. Hip hop/ rap take the number one slot, followed by latin music/ reggaeton and then a pretty close competition between rock & roll and country.  At the top of the country heap are Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert, Eric Church and Lynyrd Skynyrd (more rock or country depending on the song), with MLB.com putting each of these artists in the overall Top 20 with Aldean tied with Drake for the top spot with 15 players choosing Aldean songs. Johnny Cash, Tim McGraw, Zac Brown Band and Florida Georgia Line also do well.

Overall Eric Church’s The Outsiders, Jason Aldean’s The Only Way I Know and Lights Come On (and My Kinda Party and Just Gettin’ Started Tonight, but surprisingly not Dirt Road Anthem), Brantley Gilbert’s Kick it in the Sticks and Hell on Wheels, Cole Swindell’s Chillin’ It, Florida Georgia Line’s People Back Home (and assorted other selections from FGL), a few scattered Luke Bryan hits, and Johnny Cash’s God’s Gonna Cut You Down, are most of the most common country selections.

But for me the most fun comes when we get to some of the more unique country selections, the players that choose songs I really like and the players who choose country who are also great at baseball…so stayed tuned for Part 2!