Friday, April 29, 2011

The art and science of at-bat music - Minor Leaguers give a great deal of though to their tunes

04/29/2011 10:00 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill /

The increasing prevalence of baseball walk-up songs -- and the public's fascination with them -- isn't difficult to understand. There are very few occupations in which one's introduction is accompanied by the swagger-inducing backbeat of a favorite tune.
"What would your walk-up song be?" has therefore become a common question amongst baseball fans, one that leads to endless thought, debate and consideration (feel free to add your own opinions in the comments section or on's Facebook page). And, not surprisingly, the players themselves usually approach the topic with the same amount of careful consideration.

Music is a powerful thing, after all, and the proper selection could be the difference between a warning track flyout and a game-deciding home run. You never know.

He's the man

When it comes to unique walk-up songs, it would be hard to top the annual selections of Indianapolis Indians third baseman Josh Harrison. Since his freshman year of college, the 23-year-old Pirates prospect has approached the plate while custom-written tunes blast over the stadium PA.

"Other guys might have to figure out what to walk up to, or might want something that someone else has, but I don't have to worry about that," said Harrison. "My brother does mine."

The sibling in question is older brother Shaun, an amateur rapper and producer whose most recent compositions include "I Ball" and "I'm Da Man." Harrison is alternating between the two this season in Indianapolis, with the latter a popular holdover from his 2010 campaign with the Double-A Altoona Curve.
"Looky looky look at me! Ain't I fresh as I can be? Still I prevail when they test and throw the best at me. Cuz I'm the man. I'm the man. You can tell from my stance I'm the man."

The combination of such strut-worthy lyrics with a giddily propulsive beat quickly made "I'm the Man" a Blair County Ballpark favorite as the Curve proceeded through an Eastern League championship season.

"It definitely surprised me," said Harrison of the song's popularity. "Fans were starting to ask me where it came from, and when I would tell them my brother made it, they'd be like 'Well, where can I get it?' But it's just something [Shaun] does in his free time -- he loves to make music. I've never had any teammates ask if he could make a song for them too, but you never know."

And while the insistent repetition of the words "I'm the Man" indicates a somewhat immodest approach, Harrison makes clear that the song helps to establish the proper at-bat mindset.

"There's a lot of confidence and swagger, but you have to have confidence in the way you carry yourself. Otherwise you won't make it in this game," he said. "And I'm very big on family, so to hear something that my brother wrote helps me stay in the right frame of mind. It relaxes me."

Democracy in action

Earlier this season, Altoona starting pitcher Jeff Locke walked to the plate to a team-selected Lil Jon song. He was less than thrilled with the experience.

"I'm a New Hampshire guy, I'm not familiar with rap," said Locke, a proud resident of North Conway. "I decided that if there was going to be music, it was going to be music that I wanted to hear."

So Locke came up with a thoroughly modern-day solution to his walk-up angst: he logged in to Twitter to solicit suggestions from his followers. What resulted was a deluge of recommendations, many of which were from New Hampshire friends, family and former teammates.

"I wanted a song that would mean more to me than a 'rah rah woo woo' kind of thing that gets a guy pumped up. I wanted something that would make me relaxed," he said. "And so many of my friends and family back home knew I was really into Dave Matthews Band -- for my birthday this past November I got tickets to their final show at [TD] Garden. ... I like to play the guitar as well. I'm not that good at it, but it's something I like to have fun with."

A Twitter consensus was eventually reached, and Locke's new song is a live Dave Mathews version of the iconic "All Along the Watchtower." But the work wasn't done yet. After an extensive period of focused listening and a brainstorming session with teammate Jeremy Farrell, Locke determined that the track should start precisely at the 3:48 mark. That's the snippet of music that will be heard at Blair County Ballpark this season, not only when Locke bats but also when he takes the pitcher's mound.

"A lot of starting pitchers want their walk-out music to start at the start of a song. That makes sense, they're starting pitchers," said Locke. "I'm a starting pitcher too, but if I did that there wouldn't be any music. It would just be fans yelling for the first 25 seconds."

Now that Locke has found what seems to be an ideal choice, he plans on keeping it for a long time to come.


"It's really nice to have something that no one else has, instead of the same old country, or the same old rap," he said. "I think this is going to stick with me for a while, unless I start getting hit all over the park."

(Almost) Anything goes

Of course, walk-up music presents many opportunities for comedic ballpark moments. A prime example comes from Kevin Huisman, a veteran of Minor League front offices who in 2006 worked in the Stockton Ports control room.

"Tommy Everidge, our first-baseman, decided that he wanted the New Kids On the Block's 'The Right Stuff' as his walkup song," wrote Huisman in an email. "We were all a little surprised, but the first time we ran it, [relief pitcher] Scot Drucker made it his mission to have a good time with it. Our bullpens at Banner Island Ballpark were out behind the left field wall, with chain-link fencing allowing the fans to see in. Well, it started with Scot and one or two other guys waving their arms when the song came on. Then some of the fans caught on. "By shortly after the All-Star Break, the guys in the bullpen would be sitting on the two rows of bleachers in the bullpen, and coordinating synchronized arm waving, with the front row going one way and the back row going the other way. The fans loved it, and I think it fueled Tommy's performance that season, as well."

Drucker, a 2010 Toledo Mud Hen who will soon be suiting up for the independent Grand Prairie Air Hogs, has fond memories of those Stockton days.

"I don't know how fond the coaches and manager were of us doing that, especially if we were losing, but we generally picked the right times to do it," he recalled. "Tommy was a stocky guy, and he looked pretty funny when he ran. So me being a prankster, I would try to get the soundboard guys to play the 'Super Mario Brothers' theme song whenever he drew a walk."

Drucker often takes a similarly light-hearted approach with his own selections. In Toledo last season, he dusted off the New Kids On the Block once again and took the mound to the saccharine sounds of "Step By Step."

"Oh, yeah, I've got to make fun of myself as well," he said. "I've seen it all. Some guys want to take a comical approach, others need something that's going to get them all fired up for 10 seconds. It doesn't matter, really, as long as it's clean."

The final word

John Foreman, the Altoona Curve's Director of Creative Services, is in charge of determining if his player's requests are indeed "clean."

"Even if a clean version of a song exists, that doesn't always mean it's necessarily ballpark appropriate," said Foreman, who handles nearly every aspect of the team's walk-up requests. "If I'm able to, I'll edit out [offending] words myself, or maybe ask the player if we can start at the second verse instead of the first."

Foreman previously worked for the Class A Short-Season State College Spikes, and he notes that players at that level were far more likely to change up their choices throughout the season.

"I think that maybe, at this level, the fans are more likely to identify with a player through what song he's chosen," he said. "A lot of people in the crowd, not to mention gameday employees, know who's coming up before they even hear a guy's name. As soon as they hear the song, they know exactly who it is."

And as for what those songs might be, it really depends on the player's background.

"You definitely see more rap and hip-hop than anything else, but the guys from Texas are more likely to choose country, and the guys from Latin America are going to go with Latin music," said Foreman.

What it all adds up to is an increasingly entrenched part of the ballpark experience, one that Drucker summarized thusly.

"Knowing a song is coming can help you focus, and some guys do think it gives them a little something extra," he said. "It's a nice routine to have, as long as you don't go too crazy with it, and something that the fans can relate to."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A New Attitude

As an athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach, my role is to prevent injuries and enhance performance through the improvement of overall and sport-specific athleticism. Since I started my career in the strength and conditioning realm, my tendency is to attack injury prevention and reconditioning from a performance training philosophy. As I entered the athletic training field, I found myself approaching performance enhancement through functional / injury prevention strategies.

I’m old enough that my education seemed to be set against the backdrop of the “old school” tough love approach and the transition into the “new school” evidence-based approach to training / reconditioning. So, I understand when players make comments like, “My goal is to stay out of the training room this year.” Or, when coaches chide a player for being on the treatment table or in the whirlpool tub, I can relate to the coaching philosophy. But, at the same time, I can understand the big picture of the sport-specific dynamics and my role in the sports performance team.

Baseball is primarily a repetitive stress and overuse injury type sport. An athlete who avoids the training room because of pressure or the belief that if he reports a complaint, then the athletic trainer will keep him off the field is backward. The opposite is routinely true. When a player waits to report an injury that began as a nagging little discomfort and has progressed to a more significant pain that hinders or affects his performance on the field, it’s too late. By then, the athletic trainer or medical professional often has no other recourse than to “shut down” the player from activity to allow for rest, healing, and recovery. When in reality, early communication and assessment between the athlete and the athletic trainer could more than likely allowed for continued sports participation while at the same time addressing the physical needs of the injury.

We need a new attitude.

When I meet with my teams and newly arriving players, I feel that it is important to stress my underlying philosophy that the athletic training room should be viewed as an extension of the weight room and ultimately, the field. As I mentioned, my role is to help players stay on the field and perform at their optimal level. When the sports medicine team has a strong understanding of the sport-specific needs of the athlete from an injury prevention and performance standpoint, programs can be adjusted and fine-tuned through specific techniques in the training room. Therefore, the athlete can get the most out of their performance training and this training can hopefully provide greater carryover on the field.

What about “The Training Room Rat”?

Besides the athlete who needs encouragement to approach the medical team and communicate small issues before they become large, there is the other end of the spectrum that consists of the player who is constantly requesting and needing attention. The role of the athletic trainer in this case is to provide education and initial guidance to allow the player to transition to the weight room and become an active participant in his performance training programs.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

Monday, April 11, 2011

Developing Our Coaching Language

As modern day strength and conditioning coaches we seek out our information in many places… Journal articles, colleagues, blogs, magazines, YouTube, Google, and countless others. Our ability to share and acquire new training techniques is greater than it has ever been before. As a result, we must be more critical than ever in planning to ensure that the exercises we choose for our athletes are appropriate, effective, and taught correctly.

Last month, I read a blog post by Vern Gambetta titled, “Pedagogy – The Foundation of Coaching” (; March 8, 2011). In summary, Coach Gambetta believes that coaching and teaching are synonymous, and that his generation of coaches, before ours, benefitted from being trained and assessed as teachers and instructors. For those who don’t know, Coach Gambetta was trained to be a physical education teacher and has published a variety of articles on teaching speed mechanics to athletes. Being taught to teach (i.e. lesson planning, organizing groups, where to stand, speaking effectively, and demonstrating exercises systematically) is an area that many young coaches have scarcely covered in today’s exercise science based curriculums. In any philosophy of coaching, choosing effective language is the key to portraying the importance and goals of the methods we implement.

One challenge we face is that the professional language of the strength and conditioning field (used in journals and text books) is over-scientific for most of the players, hitting coaches, and pitching coaches who we work with on a daily basis. Over-coaching athletes with lengthy scientific exercise descriptions and difficult to read training programs can create confusion among players who are seeking simple solutions to improve their performance and technique.

Every year players bring me programs from their off-season trainers which are difficult to read and implement in any setting other than the facility where they were designed. Sadly, the players who pay for these routines often do not fully understand the programs themselves and are coming to ask what a particular exercise is or why they are performing it. Is this confusion really necessary, or would we all be better served by choosing simpler and more consistent language with our athletes?

My advice for coaches is to use the simplest and most efficient training cues possible. Most coaches can write programs for developing strength, losing body fat, and/or improving speed and agility. However, all effectiveness will be lost if the coaching verbiage does not resonate with the athlete. I would like to conclude this post with a quote.

“How you coach is as important as what you coach.” –Vern Gambetta

Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS
Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach
Texas Rangers

Monday, April 4, 2011

Listen – it’s your body, not mine.

I have sat through a number of clinic visits and physician’s visits since becoming an Athletic Trainer. There is one thing that has always entered my mind when I sit in the office with my student athletes.

Where is the communication?

I have listened to copious amounts of talking by the physician and not much by the athlete. After the visit is over the athlete usually starts firing off one question after the other on the way out the physician’s office.

In the past, it was accepted that whatever a physician said was the end all be all. If the physician said, “take two of these and call me in the morning,” that’s what you did and you didn’t question it. For example, I had an athlete that had a visit with a soft tissue specialist. I was not able to go with the athlete, but I have worked with the soft tissue specialist in the past – so I knew I would get details from the visit one way or another. However, when the athlete returned from the visit he could tell me nothing about it. I asked what he did and the athlete could not tell me anything!

I have been an advocate of being an informed patient since I have been an Athletic Trainer. I don’t expect you do be able to recite Gray’s Anatomy or have a detailed Biomechanics lecture after a visit with the physician - but you can’t exit the room and just say “I am not sure what he just did.”

As an athlete, at any level, you need to have an understanding of what the physician is talking about when it comes to your health and well-being. Ask the essential questions. What? Why? How? What can I do? Why did you give me this pill? What’s it going to do? Don’t sit back and just accept what the physician has to say. I am not saying you have to challenge the physician’s recommendations, but get the reasons behind why they recommend it.

Be an informed patient – it will help you out in the long run.

Chris Ham, MSA, ATC, CES
Athletic Trainer
Vanderbilt University Baseball