Angels’ Mike Trout likes Drake. The Nationals’ Bryce Harper opts for Sinatra. Some go with a feel-good ballad from an 80s band called The Outfield. At least a half-dozen players use “Turn Down for What.” This is the world of baseball “walk-up” music, the songs that blare through the stands as the batters of the home team stroll to the plate.
Managing a team’s walk-up music is actually a far more complicated task than simply being a stadium’s DJ. The New York Times sits in the box with Mike Castellani, the Mets’ sound guy, who’s in charge of cueing up the right tune for each player. Sitting in a room in Citi Field with 35 monitors, the audio engineer has to watch carefully to see which batter is making his way to the plate and quickly launch the right song:
To avoid confusion, he sorts the songs to be used not by the name of the artist but by that of the player. To play the song for a Lucas Duda at-bat earlier this season, for example, he entered the code “LD1.” Soon, “All Along the Watchtower,” the Jimi Hendrix version, was thumping through the stadium’s speakers as Duda approached the batter’s box.
Walk-up music was actually invented by the Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust, who began assigning signature songs to different players as they walked onto the field. As sound systems improved in stadiums, technicians were able to play recorded music and began getting input from players on what they wanted. These sometimes end up making headlines: The Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez has gotten quite a bit of attention for choosing “El Mariachi Loco,” a traditional Mexican song that has become a crowd favorite.
For the Mets, Castellani serves as a kind of music supervisor for the players as well. He is in charge of making sure that one player doesn’t dupe another’s selection—nothing could be more embarrassing than two players walking out to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” He’s also in charge of finding the 15-second snippet of a song that’s sanitized for all-ages. That’s sometimes the hardset part of the job.
Oakland’s Josh Reddick really gets the crowd going with “Careless Whisper”
Thanks to the ease of digital music, players can change their songs frequently, sometimes as often as every game. If you want to keep up with the latest in major league picks you have to head to a site like MLB Plate Music. According to the same site, rap/hip-hop is the most popular genre with Drake as the most popular artist.
Although I’d always thought of these songs as acoustical intimidation tactics to pump up the crowd and rattle the other team, it turns out some players pick songs that mellow them out. Psychologist Jonathan F. Katz tells the NYT that he believes the right song could even enhance performance:
“Music is a factor in getting people in the right mind-set,” Katz said. “Now, the body and the mind work interactively, right? If you’re kind of anxious and nervous, the tension in your arm and how you hold the bat and your grip could be affected.”
He added, “The better the physical and mental state that a batter is when he gets in the batter’s box, the better position he is to hit.”
Ah yes, the performance-enhancing opening strains of “Welcome to the Jungle.” Be sure to read the whole story at the New York Times.
Top image: Fans dancing to Josh Reddick’s “Careless Whisper” introduction