Players choose walk-up music to inspire, evoke emotions
When Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison steps to the plate at PNC Park, his brother Shaun is with him, ready to take his own artistic swing.
Josh's brother, a hair-cutter by trade, has fashioned the tunes Josh uses to announce his arrival ever since he played at the University of Cincinnati.
Baseball players call it “walk up” music — a 10- to 12-second snippet of a song of their choosing played over the public-address system when the announcer calls their names. It has been a fixture of in-game entertainment for about 20 years, give or take, throughout Major League Baseball.
MLB even has an app that enables fans to check out players' song choices, said baseball and baseball-music historian Vinnie Richichi of The Fan radio station (93.7 FM). Players started picking music in the late '90s, Richichi said.
“They see it as an expression of who they are,” he said. “For a select few, it is about ‘branding,' setting up a personality for that player.”
For Josh Harrison, it's about connecting with his brother.
“Shaun makes the beats and sends it to me in spring training, and that is what I usually go with for the season,” Josh Harrison said. “A song can make you more relaxed and get you ready for your at-bat.”
Players seem to forge a bond with a musician's style or message.
“As long as it is ballpark-friendly, it's very rare that I would ask a player to consider another music selection,” said Matt Zidik, manager of game presentation at PNC Park. “Every person is unique, and music can evoke different emotions in different people, so who am I to say what song is going to pump up an individual player?”
Pedro Alvarez starts the game with Notorious B.I.G.'s “Juicy,” then follows with a nod to his roots with Jay Z's (featuring Santigold) “Brooklyn Go Hard.”
Kanye West (“Black Skinhead”) steps into the batter's box with veteran catcher Russell Martin.
The White Stripes (“Seven Nation Army”) is on Neil Walker's side, with A$AP Rocky's “Wild for the Night” for his second at-bat.
Fiery pitcher A.J. Burnett finds that Marilyn Manson's “Beautiful People” works well for mound warm-ups, and “The Walking Dead” theme — he's a fan of the TV series — when he swings the bat.
Players choose the number of songs and the order in which they are played and can change their music.
“Most just pick a song they like. and there are not too many changes,” said Jim Trdinich, Pirates' director of baseball communications, who takes the requests.
All-Star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen makes changes “just because he loves music and, when he hears something new, he likes to freshen it up,” Trdinich said. Among McCutchen's recent faves: “Church Clap” (KB, Lecrae) and “Outta Your Mind” (Lil Jon, LMFAO).
First baseman Garrett Jones added ZZ Top's “She's Just Killing Me” and Ra's “Do You Call My Name” for rotating at-bats, retaining Metallica's “Whiskey in the Jar” as a third song.
“Some players carry over the same song from the previous year and some come up with new ones. Some even change them every other homestand,” Trdinich said.
Shortstop Clint Barmes changed his songs a few times, Trdinich said, but seems to have settled on Journey's “Don't Stop Believin'. ”
Zidik said his department records at least one minute of a song into the park system in case it's necessary to fill time. Players designate the point in the song they'd like to begin with. Barmes, an '80s music fan, begins his Journey hit at the beginning, even though his 10 seconds or so runs out before the title lyrics.
“I didn't want people to think I was referring to me and my situation (when he endured an extended offensive slump),” he said. He gets a kick out of the fact that fans sing the classic line to him when the music stops.
Athletes select songs to evoke “the emotion that places you in the proper mindset to do your job,” Zidik says. “A song could be chosen because the lyrics have some deeper meaning, or it could be as simple as they just like the beat.”
Catcher Tony Sanchez may have the most eclectic of song choices, because the genres drastically differ — from hip-hop (Tony Montana's “Future”) to a dance-techno beat (Cedric Gervais' “Summertime Sadness”) to a soft country number (Chris Young's “Neon”).
“It's great to have our own music,” said outfielder Travis Snider said. “At different times of the game, you want a different effect with your walk-up music.” He typically picks something “that will get me fired up, although, sometimes, I don't hear it if I'm locked in,” he said. He will change a tune if he isn't hitting well.
Fan favorite Michael “The Fort” McKenry would just like to hear his music play again. That would mean he came off the disabled list.
He leans toward Christian rappers and songs with inspiring messages.
“Sometimes, a song is for me. Sometimes, it is for somebody else,” he said.
Rex Rutkoski is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.