The songs of summer
Walk-up music, or the music that plays when a batter or pitcher enters the game in baseball, has become a defining characteristic of a ball player's image, and the tradition is spreading to other sports.
If you could pick a song to herald your arrival at work, what would it be? A hard-driving, heavy-metal anthem? A swingy Sinatra tune? Sadly, blasting music when entering the office is wildly inappropriate for most of us, but for Major League Baseball players, it’s part of the job.
Walk-up music – the tunes played over stadium sound systems to announce batters and pitchers entering a game – has become a baseball tradition in recent years, so much so that the song a player chooses can become a defining characteristic of his image. Retired New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera jogged to the mound to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” In Boston, Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino takes his at-bats to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” while the Fenway crowd sings along.
Other sports are starting to catch on. First-round picks at this year’s National Football League draft were allowed to choose entrance music for the first time. When quarterback Johnny Manziel was drafted by the Cleveland Browns, he walked out to “Draft Day,” a song by Drake that features lyrics about ... Johnny Manziel.
What makes a great walk-up song? The best ones are “distinctive, more than just something that sounds good or pumps you up,” says Steve Reese, who runs designatedhits.com, a database that tracks the walk-up music used by every player in the majors. “Personally, I’d want everyone in the ballpark to know I was coming up, whether they were in their seats or in line for a hot dog.”
It seems simple enough at first, but choosing a tune that can convey one’s very essence in 10 seconds or so can be tricky. As a result, the songs are dominated by male artists from rock, hip-hop, and country. Drake is the most popular walk-up song artist, according to mlbplatemusic.com.
There are a few delightful exceptions. Manny Ramirez, now retired, took to the plate to the brooding strains of Mozart’s Requiem. Washington Nationals infielder Zach Walters charmed the nation’s 6-year-olds when he began rotating through songs from the Disney film “Frozen.”
A growing number of players are moving beyond using their choices as mere entrance music. After an announcer joked that Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki’s batting hot streak was due to his stealing pitchers’ signs, Tulowitzki changed his music to the 1990s pop hit “The Sign,” by Ace of Base. Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp used Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” as a rebuke to the racist remarks made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling in April.
These are all good things to keep in mind when choosing your own walk-up music – even if you just sing it in your head.