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.