I’m here at the SABR convention in Chicago, and today we had a lackluster performance from the Cubs at Wrigley, but that’s okay, because the nightcap was the absolutely bang-up job by The Baseball Project. Has there ever been a rock concert at a SABR Convention before? We’ve had plays and theatrical productions, movie previews and premieres, but I don’t recall anything like this.
THE BASEBALL PROJECT is a supergroup of alt-rock veterans including founders Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5, R.E.M.) and Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, Gutterball), drummer Linda Pitmon (Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, Zuzu’s Petals), and Mike Mills (R.E.M.). Also usually with the group is Peter Buck (also of R.E.M.) and some days their keyboard player is even Josh Kantor, the Fenway Park organist.
I’ve been to see a lot of aging alt-rock lately (I’m 48, remember–heck, this blog is now 16 years old) including bands like X and The English Beat, and recall that my first big stadium rock concert was R.E.M., Joan Jett, and The Police at Shea Stadium in 1985. How odd a coincidence to have seen Mike Mills at a baseball stadium when we were both so freakin’ young (it poured rain during R.E.M.’s set and so some of it we only heard from the concrete corridors inside Shea), and to now be taking a selfie with him and getting his autograph on a baseball at a baseball research convention.
Put simply: the concert was great. If you want to know where to find solid American-roots garage rock, that’s what this is. Like discovering a new restaurant that serves up steak and potatoes and fried chicken done to perfection, familiar and satisfying and yet new at the same time. I only listened to one song before the concert (I had watched the video of “Monument Park” on YouTube) to get the taste for what to expect, but I decided to let myself otherwise go into the show without expectations.SABR was the ideal audience for the subjects of the songs, which are all about baseball, including figures and moments from baseball history or other topics related to the game. It’s the one audience that will get every reference in every song. SABR is not the ideal audience in the sense that we’re a fairly aged group with not what I would call a lot of rock and rollers. The result was a highly appreciative but not rowdy audience of about 200 (my estimate, not and official figure) who were rapt by the lyrics and pleased by the melodic down-home goodness of American rock.
I feel kind of like regular garage rock can’t be done un-ironically anymore, which makes this perfect because the point of this band isn’t to try to make a mark as a hot new rock band, but to be — like us — total baseball nerds. But they get to do it 100% within their idiom, which is guitar-driven indie rock.I highly recommend you see this band live. I’m now dreaming of a baseball rock festival (in Cooperstown?) with The Baseball Project, Bernie Williams, and The Bronson Arroyo Band…
Mike Mills asked a major league pitcher recently how many guys are doctoring the ball, and was told “Ninety percent.” So he wrote a song called “Stuff,” about pitchers and their, well, stuff:
“Gaylord Perry had to spit on the ball
The trainer keeps mine in a box down the hall
Michael Pineda couldn’t pitch clean
Instead of pine tar he shoulda used Vaseline”
And here’s a song sung by Steve Wynn about the only guy to every pitch in the major leagues without actually throwing a pitch, Larry Yount:
I also took video of their brilliant song about the 1986 World Series, “Buckner’s Bolera,” but couldn’t excerpt it effectively because it’s that good. You should really just hear the whole thing, so go buy the albums, or listen on Soundcloud:
(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)