The Baseball Project began the title of their debut album with “Volume 1,” but I have to wonder whether they really expected there to be a “Volume 2.” After all, how many good songs can one band write about baseball?
As it turns out, at least enough to fill up two great albums. Because “Volume 2: High and Inside” is just as good as the terrific first edition, and it may find an even larger audience, since several of the songs focus on recent or current players. “Panda and the Freak” is sure to get heavy airplay at AT&T Park this season, while fans of the Mariners are sure to hear “Ichiro Goes to the Moon” blaring out of the P.A. system at Safeco Field. In the Midwest, you might hear “Don’t Call Them Twinkies” at Target Field, or “Pete Rose Way” outside the Great American Ballpark. Back east, you might even hear “The Straw That Stirs the Drink” at Yankee Stadium, particularly if Mr. October is in the ballpark.
There are three songs on the album about Boston Red Sox players, but you’re not likely to hear any of them played at Fenway Park anytime soon, mostly because it would be too painful. But they’re three of the best songs on the album – “Buckner’s Bolero” is an amazing account of events leading up to one of the most infamous plays in the history of the game, a play that the triumphs of 2004 and 2007 have probably not erased from the memory banks of Bosox fans. “Tony (Boston’s Chosen Son)” is a tragedy, about a player – Tony Conigliaro – who might have been great, had his eyesight not been destroyed by a fastball that collided with his eye. “Twilight of My Career” is another tragedy, but of a different type – it tells the story of Roger Clemens and his great years for the Yankees after the Red Sox let him go and wished him well “in the twilight of his career” However, as we now know, the Clemens story does not have a happy ending, so you might actually hear some Sox fans silently clapping at the end of this one.
There really isn’t a bad song on the album – other highlights include “1976,” about the magical summer of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, and “Fair Weather Fans,” in which each of the band members tells the story of how they’ve struggled in dealing with new teams in new cities as they’ve made moves during the course of their lives. But for me the album’s masterpiece is “Here Lies Carl Mays,” which tells the story of the pitcher who threw the pitch that killed Ray Chapman – who was, as the album liner notes point out, the only player to die directly from injuries that occurred during a major league game. The song carries an elegiac tone, as it weaves a sad story:
It’s so peaceful here in the Riverview graveyard
And sometimes it felt that way out in the green ball field.
But life can take a turn right before your eyes
And you know you’ll never be the same again.
The band members of The Baseball Project are Steve Wynn, Linda Pitmon, Scott McCaughey, and Peter Buck. Buck, the guitarist for R.E.M., is by far the best known, but it is Wynn and McCaughey who handle almost all of the songwriting duties. Each of them has a fine eye and ear for detail, and the ability to turn a nifty phrase. For example, Wynn nails Reggie Jackson like no one before him, with these great lines:
I’m a card carrying member of Mensa
I’ve got MVP trophies on my credenza
Go ask the Daily News, they’ll tell you what I can do
Mr. October’s got a little something for you
With two terrific albums under their belt, you have to wonder how long this can go on. All I know right now is that I can’t wait for Volume 3.