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'BAMA SLAMMA: Going To Bat To Save the Music

By Alex Mcphillips, Crimson Staff Writer

If you don’t have an iPod, you should really consider purchasing one.

Or at least get mad scientist Prof. Markus Mobius—the dean of psych study giveaways—to hook you up somehow.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, with those blazing white headphones nestled in my ears, I swaggered into Harvard Hall feeling pretty good about myself.

Spellbound by the first acoustic strains of Bubba Sparxxx’s rap opus, “Deliverance,” I took a seat in English 150, fished out my textbook, and then popped my knuckles as if to say, “You are no match for me, Percy Bysshe Shelley.”

Then I realized something profound. In a way, I had just experienced the small—nay, the magnificent—glory of walk-up music.

“What is walk-up music?” you ask. My answer to that query: child, we have much to discuss.

Pioneered by shortstop Rabbit “Three-Finger” Waddell in the late 1800s, “walk-up music” first took root in the ancient sport of baseball. But without the technological capacity of today’s state-of-the-art venues, Waddell was forced to hum the latest ditties as he “walked up” to the batter’s box.

Nowadays, world-class athletes demand world-class Dolby digital in-stadium sound, which blasts world-class personalized tunes as hitters approach the plate.

Sometimes the songs are a part of ritualized habit. Chipper Jones, third baseman for the Atlanta Braves, used Black Sabbath’s “Crazy Train” for nearly 10 years before he switched to Lil’ Jon’s remixed version before this season.

Sometimes the tunes relay a sort of secret message to fans. After battling through the worst slump of his career last season, Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter stepped up to the plate as Eminem announced, in his song “Square Dance,” how “It feels so good to be baaaaaack!”

Harvard baseball captain Schuyler Mann recently gave me the low-down on the phenomenon.

“A good walk-up should just be something in the background,” he wrote me by email, “that allows you to relax at the plate, or get pumped up, or give you confidence.”

With nearly an infinite number of songs in the universe at one’s disposal, the choice can be daunting. Mann, who picked Jean Knight’s definitive Motown piece, “Mr. Big Stuff”—he wanted “something diva,” he told me—testified that the decision wasn’t so hard.

“[Just] whatever is your cup of tea,” he added.

This season, Harvard’s O’Donnell Field has served as a sort of nerve-center for some of the world’s most eclectic walk-up music.

That is, until Crimson coach Joe Walsh pulled the plug as the season began to wind down—an action Mann deemed an “annual tradition.”

“I like them, but others don’t,” Mann reported, “and that’s the way it goes.”

Apparently, when Princeton visited O’Donnell Field on the April 10 weekend, the only music to be heard was the rumble of controversy. It seems that Matt Vance, the team’s freshman centerfielder and leader in stolen bases (with 12), danced an Irish jig in the on-deck circle to the violin theme from “Boondock Saints,” which serenaded Drew Casey, the batter at the time. Harvard’s coaching staff didn’t take kindly to the gesture.

“I didn’t mean to offend anyone or get the songs taken away,” Vance solemnly professed, adding, “my bad.”

Junior shortstop Morgan Brown remembered that walk-up songs “didn’t make it all the way through freshman year either.”

“Some people got a little too into them and they became distracting rather than helpful,” reported Brown, a fan of the Hans Zimmer theme from the Jerry Bruckheimer movie “Crimson Tide,” adding, “it’s fun to have them while they last.”

Now forgive me, Harvard coaches, but as I understand it, baseball is supposed to be fun.

This assault on music in our schools has got to stop anyway, and a good place to show we mean business is across the River.

And so it is with this column space that I call for the return of walk-up music to O’Donnell Field.

If I don’t hear “Burn, Baby, Burn”—sophomore Brendan Byrne’s walk-up piece—at least once during Sunday’s critical Ivy League season-ending doubleheader against Dartmouth, I’ll have no choice but to do something about it.

What exactly I mean by that statement, I have no idea.

One thing is for certain, at least (cue Bubba Sparxxx). One way or another, I will have deliverance.

—Staff writer Alex McPhillips can be reached at rmcphill@fas.harvard.edu. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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