Scott McCaughey says he still likes playing in “bad rock clubs.” So what’s not to love about plugging in a cheap PA system, hammering out chords on the concourse of a Spring Training ballpark in the late March desert sunshine alongside seasoned big-league musicians, and belting out lyrics to songs about baseball?
“I can’t wait,” says McCaughey, a touring member of R.E.M. and co-founder of the supergroup inspired by the Grand Old Game known as The Baseball Project.
“I don’t know how it’s all going to work, but one thing I do know is that I’ll get to see some games.”
McCaughey, who also plays with the Young Fresh Fellows and the Minus 5, conjured this off-shoot of a band with Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate, steve Wynn and the Miracle 3) in 2007 and drafted legendary R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and drummer Linda Pitmon (Golden Smog) to fill out the roster.
And after their Yep Roc Records debut, Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, came out to critical acclaim in 2008 and did its part in chronicling the stories of Curt Flood, Satchel Paige, Ted Williams, Jack McDowell, Fernando Valenzuela, Ed Delahanty, Sandy Koufax, Jackie Robinson, Mark McGwire and Willie Mays, McCaughey and co-writer Wynn kept going.
The result, Volume 2: High and Inside, dropped March 1 and listens and reads, lyrically, like a timeless piece of baseball lore — another exploration into the annals of the game’s sublime, sad and spontaneous.
“Don’t Call Them Twinkies,” for example, is a rollicking history of the Minnesota Twins with lead vocals and lyrics provided by none other than indie rock darling and Twins fanatic Craig Finn of the Hold Steady.
Frontman Ben Gibbard of the Seattle-area band Death Cab For Cutie contributed to the surf-rock paean to his Mariners hero entitled “Ichiro Goes To The Moon.”
And the band’s resident Giants fan, Bay Area native McCaughey, couldn’t resist by including “Panda and the Freak,” a San Francisco tune about Pablo Sandoval and Tim Lincecum that predated the club’s magical World Series run last fall.
“Who would have known that they’d end up winning the title?” McCaughey said. “I was really thrilled with that, and then I started thinking that if we had waited a bit longer, we could have thrown Aubrey Huff and Brian Wilson in there, too, because they were so memorable.
“But the great thing about baseball is that the stories never end.”
This album’s stories also include “1976,” a Wynn-penned song about the late Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, a song about the man whose error in the 1986 World Series helped seal Boston’s fate against the Mets called “Buckner’s Bolero,” and tunes about Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson Carl Mays, Tony Conigliaro, fair-weather fans, pitchers throwing at batters and more.
With the album in stores and Buck and McCaughey free to roam with R.E.M. off the road, the band is gearing up for a week near their hardball heroes. Yes, it might be the end of Spring Training as they know it, but they feel fine.
“We set up regular nighttime gigs, but when we got the idea of playing at the stadiums, we had a promoter get in touch with the teams and they were into it,” McCaughey says. “I think they envisioned us doing it acoustically, but we thought nobody would be able to hear us.
“So now we’ll be out there on concourses or wherever they put us, setting up in the morning for an afternoon game, and we’ll see how it goes. We don’t really know what to expect, but I’m sure we’ll have fun.”
Fans can expect to hear, well, “old” Baseball Project songs as well as the soon-to-be-base-hits off the new record.
They’ll undoubtedly catch “Harvey Haddix,” from the first album, which laments the former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher’s infamous lost perfect game while masterfully managing to crowbar the names of every pitcher who has thrown a perfecto in Major League history into the song. And yes, that has now been updated to include Mark Buehrle, Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay, all of whom turned the trick after the song was initially recorded.
And while Armando Galarraga didn’t historically make the cut and might not have, even if Jim Joyce made the right call last year (“His name would have been tough,” McCaughey says. “So many syllables.”), McCaughey says proudly that there will be a Volume 3 and the ultimately heartwarming tale of Galarraga and Joyce will probably be represented in song.
“Having a Volume 1 and a Volume 2 most definitely means there will be a 3 and 4 and who knows how many more?” McCaughey says with a laugh.
“Why not? We love doing it, and baseball history is a gold mine. t’s not like we’re lacking for material.”
Check out The Baseball Project at the following Arizona gigs next week:
Tuesday, March 22: Peoria Sports Complex (prior to White Sox vs. Mariners)
Wednesday, March 23: Camelback Ranch at Glendale (prior to Dodgers vs. White Sox)
Thursday, March 24: Scottsdale Stadium (prior to Indians vs. Giants night game)
Friday, March 25: Surprise Stadium (prior to Giants vs. Royals evening game)
Friday, March 25: Nighttime concert at Martini Ranch in Scottsdale
Sunday, March 27: Goodyear Ballpark (prior to D-backs vs. Reds)
Monday, March 28: Goodyear Ballpark (prior to Cubs vs. Indians)
Here’s The Baseball Project playing Letterman a few years ago:
And here’s the Mormon Tabernacle (“Fletch” reference … sorry. Had to do it.)