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The Baseball Project swings for fences06/24/2008 11:50 AM ET
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
A typical rock-star meeting turned into a very atypical rock record when the members of the new band The Baseball Project came together in 2007.
The occasion was R.E.M.'s pre-Hall of Fame induction party in New York, and Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5, R.E.M.) and Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3) were knocking back a few beverages and talking baseball.
"I always wanted to do a whole album of songs about baseball," McCaughey says. "I had told Steve that, and he had said, 'Me too.' And that happened a couple times and then (in New York) we actually remembered it. And then we wouldn't let each other forget it. And we went, 'Let's do it.'"
The two rock veterans recruited Wynn's wife, the drummer Linda Pitmon ("a big Twins fan," McCaughey says), hunkered down in Portland for two weeks, and, as McCaughey puts it, "knocked it out" with the help of R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, who played on all of the tracks.
The result is Volume One: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, a paean to the Grand Old Game that hits on many different topics: Curt Flood, Satchel Paige, Ted Williams, Jack McDowell, Fernando Valenzuela, Ed Delahanty, Sandy Koufax, Harvey Haddix, Jackie Robinson, Mark McGwire and McCaughey's favorite player, Willie Mays.
"Some of it took research and some of it was just things I knew, personal songs," McCaughey says. "The Willie Mays song, that was all based on my personal experience seeing him play. So I didn't really have to research that. I did look up some of the games that I had in my memory to see if my memory is right because we're talking about, you know, 40 years ago, and a lot of it actually was."
McCaughey says he's been a fan of the game since he was "so young that I can't remember," but he does remember seeing the "Say Hey Kid" for the first time.
"I was 7 or 8 years old and we lived in Tucson, and we went to a Spring Training game at Hi Corbett Field. It was the Cleveland Indians against the Giants and I saw Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Jim Ray Hart, and I was really impressed.
"A year later, we moved to Saratoga, Calif., in the Bay Area, and the Giants were instantly my team. My dad started driving me up to games in San Francisco at wonderful Candlestick Park (laughs). I saw a lot of games there, and then the A's moved into Oakland in '68 and I became a fan of theirs, too, because they were such a cool team. I wasn't going to not like them because I liked the Giants. I was like, 'Hey, it's baseball. It's great.'"
That spirit has carried over into Volume One: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, which has 13 songs and will be released July 8 on Yep Roc Records.
While McCaughey admits that quite a few of the songs hit baseball from a more poignant, sad side, there are a couple of joyous romps through hardball history, too.
The Wynn-penned "Haddix," for example, laments the erstwhile Pittsburgh hurler's infamous lost perfect game but also craftily crowbars the names of all 17 pitchers who have tossed perfectos into a rhymed meter.
And one of the extra, unreleased bonus tracks is an instrumental called "Golden Sombrero" that pays tribute to the rare baseball feat -- an 0-for-4 day with four strikeouts -- of the same name.
"The point was that we didn't have to be bound by any tradition, but it ended up that the songs we wrote were pretty factual," McCaughey explains. "Maybe we have a lot more respect for the game than we like to think, being the punk-rock, sarcastic guys that we are, but we ended up writing fairly truthful stuff.
McCaughey says writing the songs towed a fine line because they wanted to get the facts into the lyrics but also wanted to make the songs interesting to listen to and slightly poetic.
"You don't want the songs to read like a newspaper article, necessarily, although there's some great newspaper writers, obviously," McCaughey says. "You have to make little changes to make things work out right."
Fortunately, McCaughey says, the National Pastime has enough drama, history and popularity that it's a cinch to write about.
"I think baseball lends itself to have songs written about it because people love the game and are passionate about it," McCaughey says. "It's not going to rival love songs or political protest songs, but our feeling is that the things we love about baseball are the things we write about anyway: great stories, personal feelings that are invoked by watching the game or by remembering times you went to games when you were a kid, and things you do at the games now. It's the triumph and tragedy."
And with the title of Volume One, one can only surmise that there will be a Volume Two and maybe more.
In the meantime, however, McCaughey is on the road with R.E.M. and looking to spend his occasional off days sitting in stadium stands with a cold one and a scorecard.
"I just saw two Giants games recently and got to see Tim Lincecum pitch, and he's so cool," McCaughey says. "When we get to Minneapolis, that'll be my last Metrodome game. And I think I'll be able to catch a game in Toronto, too."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.