Runs, Hits and Errors: Baseball, Music, The Making of Stars and a Culture of Shared Experience


With less than a week to go before the winter meetings begin fever pitch media coverage is reaching a crescendo, well at least as much as baseball hot stove reporting can hit the high C. I love being a baseball junkie. Somehow fever pitch in this king of sports still feels a little clubby; a little like you’re on the inside track of something that the masses haven’t figured out yet. Which puts me in mind of another passion. If you’ve read my bio, you probably know where I’m about to go. If you haven’t read the bio, give yourself the right context for two minutes and return to read the rest of the column.

Oct 28, 2012; London, UNITED KINGDOM; Patrick Monahan of the music group Train prior to performing during the opening ceremony of the NFL International Series between the New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams. Mandatory Credit: Joe Toth

When I was a young music writer and passionate music consumer I remember catching on to bands even before they could see the crest of a rising tide that would eventually sweep them to worldwide fame. They were nothing, yet you saw all the potential wrought from hard work and dedication that would someday make them battle hardened, consummate professionals. I saw this in bands I covered like The Cars, Talking Heads, Extreme and The Pretenders.

"It was thrilling to watch their rise. You could look around a room, exchanging knowing glances and musical moments with fellow thrill seekers who “got it” and, without ever meeting, somehow got you."

Many times the most magical and transcendent moments musicians create are made on their way up – when the masses aren’t looking. It happens in clubs and small halls all over. Get on a bus, drive 500 miles, set up it, do a show or two, break it down and do it all over again in another town 500 miles aways. It’s this relentless drive that causes riotous fans to cleave to them and in turn fuel the band’s creative juices, creating a culture of shared experiences and collective memories that can be retold to fellow insiders. The journey is the reward, which sometimes can lead to abandonment once the artist has reached their popular but not always creative musical peak. Once the great ones reach the summit they are able to maintain creative relevancy and an uncompromising spirit of truthfulness that defines a career, not just an arduous climb and precipitous fall.

Baseball players follow a similar career trajectory. Unlike other professional athletes in football or basketball who arrive in their respective professional ranks from high school or college purportedly ready for the elevated play, increased speed and strength required and mentally fit to withstand the strain of the game, baseball players start – at least most of them – at the bottom and play their way to the top. It can take years of dedication, both physical and mental endurance and sometimes a little luck.

"Before they make it – and that’s a precious few – baseball players get on a bus, drive 500 miles, play a game or two, pack it up, break it down and do it all over again in another town 500 miles aways. Somehow that sounds familiar. Their clubs and small halls are the minor league ballparks that litter the nation. They start out – even the great ones – with raw talent and a dream."

September 30, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) reacts to third base umpire Jim Reynolds (right) after getting tagged out at third base by Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre (left) during the first inning at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE

Mike Trout, just 21-years old, appeared to have come out of nowhere in 2012. Fans of the Arizona Angels, Cedar Rapids Kernels, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and Arkansas Travelers starting back in 2009 exchanged knowing glances and knew they were onto something big as Trout moved through the ranks.

Similarly, Bryce Harper , 20, had Scottsdale Scorpions, Hagerstown Suns, Harrisburg Senators and Syracuse Senators fans winking and nodding in anticipation of his call up.

In the Ken Burns film Baseball: A National Heirloom, essayist and The New Yorker contributor Roger Angell encapsulated this musical/baseball duality. Angell said it about baseball exclusively but it could just as easily have been said about music. “Baseball is like joining an enormous family with ancestors and forbearers and famous stories and histories, Angell said, “and it’s privilege. It means a lot. And the people who tell me they hate baseball – they’re out of baseball – they sound bitter about it. I think that they sense what they’re missing. I think that they feel that there’s something  they’re not in on which is a terrible loss and I’m sorry for them.”

Raw talent honed to a fine point by burning desire and hard work; a system in which you gotta pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues. Baseball? Music? You decide. Oh yeah, did I mention the winter meetings are right around the corner?

Got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues
And you know it don’t come easy
– It Don’t Come Easy, George Harrison