Empty nest: Letting Timmy go

 

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Timmy and Buster brought me back to baseball, and only partly because the former Little League mom in me couldn’t resist players named “Timmy” and “Buster.”

In 2009, with an empty nest, I found more time to follow the San Francisco Giants again, and to really learn the game. Tim Lincecum, the slender, free-spirited “Freak” with the spring-loaded, high-kick windup, and his crewcut battery mate Buster Posey quickly became my Special Boys™. In the wake of the Barry Bonds steroid scandal, Tim became the new face of the Giants, and not a moment too soon. His shoulder length hair flying from under his cap, his chill attitude, even his pot bust (which launched a bootleg trade in “Let Timmy Smoke” T-shirts), all seemed made for San Francisco. He was never “Tim” or “Lincecum,” to fans, always “Timmy.” Even the Giants’ broadcasters, even manager Bruce Bochy, called him by the diminutive. But this little guy was as tough as they come. In his prime, his changeup was electric strikeout stuff, and he is the only pitcher to no-hit the same team in consecutive seasons (the San Diego Padres in 2013 and 2014, taking 148 pitches to complete the first one).

Without Timmy, the Giants would not have won their 2010 World Championship (and maybe not 2012, either). It’s that simple. In his first postseason start, Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, he recorded 14 strikeouts in a complete game two-hit victory. In Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies, he entered in relief on one day’s rest, helping the Giants clinch the pennant. It was Timmy who started Game 5 of the 2010 World Series, who was carried on his teammates shoulders with his long hair blowing in the Texas breeze, at game’s end.

Timmy’s complicated delivery started to go wonky in 2012, but he accepted a postseason bullpen role with his typical graciousness and grit. He was the winning pitcher in long relief in the Giants’ 2012 NLDS victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Despite the no-hitters in 2013 and 2014, Timmy’s pitch command was erratic and there were stints on the DL throughout 2014 and 2015. So, Timmy the free agent and his surgically repaired hip are now off to the L.A. Angels. I wish the Giants had given him another shot, but he wants to be a starter again, and that wasn’t in the plan here. I miss him and wish him the best of luck. The only bright side to Timmy leaving home is that at least he didn’t go to the Dodgers.

I’ll never get used to a Giants rotation that does not include Tim Lincecum. If he had played for Boston or Philly, he would have been eaten alive when he started to skid. But whenever he took the mound at AT&T Park, he had the collective hope and good vibes of this fan base beamed his way. Maybe it was his sweet disposition, or the fact that he grew up before our eyes, or the nervy competitiveness he showed even in his most dispiriting seasons, but the Giants’ faithful never gave up on him. We had seen his brilliance, and we never stopped believing we would see it again. Call us softies, but he was our Timmy, and we loved him unconditionally.

Tim Lincecum’s Greatest Hits

1.First San Francisco Giant to win the NL strikeout title (256), 2008

2.Back-to-back Cy Young Awards, 2008-09

3.Tied with Sandy Koufax as the only two pitchers with multiple Cy Young Awards, multiple no-hitters, multiple All-Star Games and multiple World Series championships

4. Complete game shutout with 14 strikeouts (a Giants’ postseason record), Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS vs. Atlanta Braves

5. Winning pitcher, Game 5 of the 2010 World Series, the Giants’ first World Championship of the San Francisco era

6. Strikes out 13 in a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres, July 13, 2013 (and is the recipient of a patented Buster Hug)

 

7. First pitcher in MLB history to throw no-hitter against the same team in consecutive seasons, June 25, 2014

8.Winning pitcher in relief, Game 4, 2012 NLDS vs. Cincinnati Reds (forcing Game 5, which the Giants won on the way to their second World Championship)

9. 108-83 career win-loss record with the Giants

10. THIS:

©Joyce Millman, The Mix Tape, 2016

Man on the mound: Brian Wilson’s Andy Kaufman moment

Through his tenure with the San Francisco Giants, the phrase most often used by the team, media and fans alike to describe closer Brian Wilson was, “He’s a character”. The tatted-up Popeye muscles, the Mohawk, the raging on the mound after closing out a win, the beard — sweet jeebus, the beard.  The survivalist-meets-Rutherford B. Hayes facial hair seemed to spring up overnight, so bushy and so black against his dirty blond hair and freckles that we wondered if it was glued on (no) and dyed (yes). We loved the beard, and the beard became a star in its own right on T shirts,  in commercials, in foam facsimiles worn by fans at games. Somewhere along the way, the beard stopped being just a beard. It became The Beard. And The Beard ate Brian Wilson, as it raised expectations for more, bigger, badder outrageousness.

I’m not going to get into Wilson’s athleticism and competitiveness, which helped my G-men win a World Series in 2010. That speaks for itself.  What’s always intrigued me the most about Brian Wilson is his Andy Kaufman-esque ability to create surreal scenarios and weird, edgy alternate personas. Like Kaufman, Wilson loves to push people’s buttons;  no, he needs to push people’s buttons. Before The Beard, Wilson (at the time, only faux-hawked) caused a buzz with a stunt involving his so-called “neighbor,” “The Machine,” a scantily clad guy in bondage gear, who wandered into the background of the shot during a webcam interview between Wilson and Chris Rome on Rome’s Fox show. What was a guy in bondage gear doing in Wilson’s apartment?  Wilson feigned obliviousness through the interview, while Rome — who is to Wilson what Bob Zmuda was to Andy Kaufman — squirmed.   The following video is an indispensable recap of  Wilson’s appearances on Rome’s show, culminating in The Machine Incident.

Wilson was so strange, and so unlike any other athlete I’d ever watched, that I gave him the benefit of the doubt when others argued that he was simply a calculating attention whore. No, I couldn’t shake the suspicion that Wilson’s bearded, bad-ass eccentricity was a very clever and canny piece of performance art. Even now, I still half-believe that Wilson is playing a role, one that delights in messing with sports fans’ ideas about identity, fame, masculinity, homoeroticism and idolatry. His January 27, 2011 appearance on the George Lopez show, for which he inexplicably dressed as a “seaman”, his beard dyed gray, and worked in the word “seaman” at every opportunity, convinced me that I was on the right track.

The sexual ambiguity of the Machine piece returned in Wilson’s red carpet attire at the July 2011 ESPY Awards, in which he showed up, stag, in a skin-tight Spandex onesie tuxedo, with a rhinestone-studded walking stick and white gloves.

And then there was this commercial for NBA 2K12, in which he performed an extended homage to the Boston Celtics of the 1980s.

There are consistent elements to Wilson’s personae. He’s boastful and macho to the point of absurdity. He snaps off wordy sarcasm like nobody’s business. He dresses bizarrely and makes himself look as unkempt as possible. He introduces a note of sexual discomfort (“Stop looking at my shorts, it’s weird”), and then contradicts it in the next breath when he fixes the camera with a mesmerist’s stare and commands, “Look back at them.”

Now, flash forward to Wilson’s 2012 season with the Giants, which ended in May when he blew out his pitching arm and underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time. Wilson then, for all intents and purposes, disappeared from view. He spent his time recuperating and rehabbing. When he did surface in the dugout during the playoffs to cheer on his teammates, he kept a low profile. He rode a motorized trolley car during the Giants’ 2012 victory parade, barely visible to fans, while his teammates rode in convertibles, some hopping out to walk portions of the route  — as Wilson had done in 2010. To his credit, Wilson is only The Beard when he’s healthy and playing, when he can back up his comedy with a solid contribution on the field. In other words, he only talks the talk when he can walk the walk.

In July of this season, the Giants were unwilling to take a chance on Wilson’s twice-rebuilt arm for the amount of money they would have had to pay him. They declined to pick up Wilson’s option. A free agent, Wilson signed with the  hated Dodgers, the Giants’  arch-nemeses.  Full disclosure:  I was so upset at what I saw as a traitorous move, that I did this to my Brian Wilson garden gnome.

traitor
©Joyce Millman, 2013

I’m not saying my reaction was rational. The guy is entitled to make a living. But there’s a lot of emotion in the Giants-Dodgers rivalry. I’m obviously grateful to Wilson for what he did in 2010, I hope his arm holds up but … seeing him in Dodger blue is not my thing, and a lot of other Giants fans would agree.

Back to the discussion.  Thursday night, Brian Wilson did something very odd. Not Spandex tux odd, just odd. At the end of the Giants’ victory over the Dodgers, while the Giants were in their handshake line and fans were on their feet cheering for soon-to-be free agent Tim Lincecum, Wilson stalked over to Giants’ president Larry Baer’s box at field level, leaned over the railing and began a (by witness accounts) f-bomb laced meltdown, demanding the Giants hand over the 2012 World Series ring he was due.

The Giants say he was invited to the on-field ceremony last April, but never responded, and ignored several attempts by the team throughout the season to set up a date for a private ceremony. When the Dodgers got into San Francisco for their series with the Giants last Sunday, Wilson reportedly told Giants representatives to “leave the ring in my locker.” But a couple of days later, after being loudly booed by Giants fans when he made his first appearance in blue, Wilson allegedly changed his tune and was asking for an on-field ceremony. And then came Thursday’s blow-up.

I am not a beat reporter, I have no direct knowledge of the situation or of Wilson. I speak only as a fan. But several thoughts came to mind as I watched Wilson confront Baer. I think Wilson might have been surprised by the intensity of the booing and heckling directed at him by the fans who once adored him. I wonder how much Wilson might have been hurt by the fact that the Giants’ highly-touted closing prospect, Heath Hembree , now wears his old number 38 — a diss, given that uniform numbers of departed still-active players who made significant contributions to a team are usually put into cold storage for a respectful length of time before being recycled. (The Giants’ venerable clubhouse manager Mike Murphy is the keeper of the numbers, and you can bet he knew what he was doing;  you don’t cross Murph by going over to the Dodgers. And, did none of Wilson’s old teammates question Murphy’s decision?)

So, was the confrontation initiated by Wilson the other night a genuine meltdown from a sensitive player with a broken heart and badly bruised ego?  Did Brian Wilson simply snap, as many believe?

Or, was this the birth of yet another stage persona, the WWF villain in Dodger blue, taunting Giants fans with obnoxiousness and an even bigger, rattier, more intimidating beard — the Jake the Snake of our time?

Remember, Andy Kaufman had a pro wrestling altar-ego too.

©Joyce Millman, The Mix Tape, 2013

UPDATE: (Oct. 27, 2015)  Nah, he’s just a jerk. 

Let’s go Giants!

Since I’ve written about my San Francisco Giants during the good times (ah, that World Series Champions parade last Halloween seems like only yesterday),  I feel it’s fitting that I should write about them in the bad. And it’s bad here in the land of Orange ‘n’ Black, stink-up-the-joint, Titanic-has-hit-the-iceberg bad. Ten games under .500 as of today. Lost 16 of their last 19. In last place in a division that your local Pony League team might be able to crack on a good day. Swept by the Mets at home. No-hit by the Reds. When your number one starter can’t get out of the first inning, as Matt Cain couldn’t in that last Mets game, you know that this team is under a dark, dank cloud.

Not all of the Giants’ misfortune is of its own making. Bad luck is playing a part in this season’s unravelling;  the lead-off hitter, center fielder Angel Pagan went down in mid-May with a hamstring injury that required surgery and is out for the season. Starter Ryan Vogelsong was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken pinkie, which knocked him out of the rotation. Key reliever Santiago Casilla has been out after knee surgery. The infield is playing through a variety of interesting maladies, the most colorful being second-baseman Marco Scutaro’s permanently bent pinkie, another batting injury.

But bad luck, while an integral part of baseball, can’t explain away the team-wide hitting slump (everyone’s bat is dead except for Buster Posey’s), or the starting pitchers taking turns playing, “Where’s my mojo?,”  or the erratic bullpen, or the fact that Pablo Sandoval seems determined to eat himself out of major league baseball. No, these are things that can’t easily be fixed, at least not without intensive psychotherapy.

And save some of that therapy for fans. Predictably, the sports radio shows are filled with callers who’ve turned on the Giants so fast, you’d think this was Boston. I grew up listening to the intense negativity of Red Sox fans taking each losing streak personally, and the thing I’ve always loved most about Giants’ fandom is its ability to see the big picture, to relax and appreciate the wisdom of that overused phrase, “You can’t win ’em all.”

But lately, this town is letting me down. People, it can’t always be Champagne and confetti. Being a fan means that you’re still a fan through the seasons of flat beer and peanut shells. Believe me, the team already knows it’s having a lousy year, it doesn’t need your abuse. And, by the way, it would be really nice if you didn’t sell your tickets on Stub Hub to Dodger fans so they can come in and take over the park. Root, root, root for the home team!  Don’t stop believin’! Together We’re Giant!  Does any of this ring a bell?

Yeah, yeah, you can call me a Pollyanna. But I’m a realist, too;  I know this season is a lost cause. Still, I’m in it till the bitter end. Here’s the thing:  I like being a Giants fan. I like that amazing sense of community I feel at a game. I will wear my World Series T Shirt, and my team scarf, and my cap, and my orange and black Mardi Gras beads, and my 2010 World Championship Snuggy, even if my team is getting it’s collective ass kicked by that aforementioned Pony League team. It’s part of who I am.

I realize that some fans identify so closely with their team that their self-esteem takes a hit when the team goes down. But is that healthy?  No, it is not. So everyone, please take a deep breath and think about a time when the Giants made you happy. Maybe you were depressed, or sick, or you had a really shitty day at work, and all that went away when you turned on the game or went to the yard, and watched Cain deliver a broad-shouldered gem, or Buster stroke one into the left field bleachers, or Pagan win the game with an inside-the-park walk-off homer.  Feel that warm fuzziness?  Mmmm. Now, you can repay the Giants for the joy they’ve given you by picking them up when they need it most — which is now, in case you haven’t noticed.

O,Giants Faithful, heed the words of the greatest baseball song ever written, from the musical “Damn Yankees”:  You gotta have heart.

© Joyce Millman and The Mix Tape, 2013

Reasons to Be Thankful

1. I’m thankful that the good guys won.

2. I’m thankful for Nate Silver and the triumph of science, statistical probability and facts over ignorance, “unskewed” bullshit and wishful thinking.

3. I’m thankful for Bruce Springsteen because . . . just a sec while I get out my list. OK. Put out his best album of the 2000’s?  Done. Tour like there’s no tomorrow, because when you’re 63, there might not be?  Done. Play some of the most joyous and meaningful (not to mention, some of the longest) concerts of his career?  Done. Indelibly associate “Land of Hope and Dreams” with the 2012 MLB postseason; reclaim it on the Obama campaign trail as a vision of all-inclusive America and make everyone forget baseball?  Done and done. Make Gov. Chris Christie cry like a little fangirl?  Done. Re-elect the President?  Done. Be a goofball on national tellyvision?  See below.

4. I’m thankful for Buster and Marco and Zito. For the Panda, the Horse, the White Shark and the Baby Giraffe. For Angel in the outfield and Timmy in the bullpen. For the rally enchiladas and the sunflower seed showers. For Sergio Romo, who just looks illegal. The Giants won the World Series, again. Just typing those words takes my breath away. Is it spring yet?

5. I’m thankful that the grown-ups couldn’t keep Suzy and Sam apart.

6. I’m thankful that more Americans now understand that using their religious beliefs to deny gay and lesbian Americans the legal right to marry is neither legal nor moral.

7. I’m thankful for Claire Danes, cry face and all. And “Mad Men,” still. Louis C.K., and “Louie”, and Louis C.K. parodying “Louie” as Abraham Lincoln on “Saturday Night Live”.  A Song of Ice and Fire . The Dowager Countess.  The many moods of Elvis Costello. Tina Fey. Sporcle. Sushi. Oh, and “Portlandia,” especially the skit with the imaginary Sacagawea. It never gets old.

8. I’m thankful for this song, and the way it still makes me bounce around like a dork:

9. I’m thankful for my men, who make me laugh. And for family. And for friends, old and new, flesh and cyber. And for readers of this blog. Believe it or not, I’m writing as fast as I can.

10. I’m thankful that I didn’t give birth to Justin Bieber.

© Joyce Millman, The Mix Tape, 2012

This train

Some baseball fans were scratching their heads over Major League Baseball’s choice of Bruce Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams” as the theme song of the 2012 Postseason telecasts and ad campaigns. And some Springsteen fans were unhappy that the Boss allegedly sold out to MLB for commercial gain.

To the former, I say, Don’t judge the song by the weird edit used in the ads that cuts out most of the lyrics except “This train”;  go listen to the song on Wrecking Ball or Live in New York City for context and you’ll find a song that, while not written about baseball, perfectly articulates what the baseball postseason is about. And to the latter:  Look, this is baseball, not beer or cars. I’d be pissed off if he sold a song to, say, Budweiser or Cadillac. But I can’t get worked up over a Bruce Springsteen song being intimately associated with Major League Baseball. Baseball is America’s pastime, Bruce is America’s poet, and “Land of Hope and Dreams” is one of Bruce’s greatest poems about America, therefore, “Land of Hope and Dreams” is one of Bruce’s greatest poems about baseball. Let me illustrate. I’ll be using my beloved San Francisco Giants, who just won the National League Pennant World Series [!]  for the second time in three years, as an example, but no disrespect meant to all the other teams and fans who know what it’s like to ride this train of faith, determination and eternal optimism known as baseball.

“Grab your ticket and your suitcase/ Thunder’s rollin’ down this track/ Well, you don’t know where you’re going/ But you know you won’t be back”.

Spring training. Hope springs eternal. Your team has a fresh slate and anything is possible, and where you are in the standings in April may not portend where you will end up in the postseason. The thunder refers to the train, which, in the non-baseball-context of the song, is at once America itself and the communal spirit of individuals coming together with a common dream. You know who else has a common dream?  A baseball team. See how this works?

“Well, darlin’, if you’re weary/Lay your head upon my chest/We’ll take what we can carry/ And we’ll leave the rest”.

Leave your negativity and your steroid-cheating left fielder behind. In the postseason, everyone gets a blank stat sheet and every player has the potential to live up to, and in some cases, beyond his potential.

“Big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams/ Meet me in a land of hope and dreams”.

Fields, dreams, field of dreams . . . baseball!  Again!

“Well I will provide you/ And I’ll stand by your side/ You’ll need a good companion/ For this part of the ride” …

… said Giants’ right fielder Hunter Pence to his teammates in a spontaneous and impassioned sermon after they went down 2-0 in their five-game National League Division Championship series with the Cincinnati Reds. The Giants came back to win three elimination games in a row and move on to the National League Championship series, with Pence sermonizing before every game, telling his teammates to look into each others’ eyes, play for the guy behind you, win every pitch, win every moment.

“Leave behind your sorrows/ Let this day be the last/ Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine/ And all this darkness past”.

The Giants go down 3-1 in their best-of-seven National League Championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals. In Game 5 in St. Louis, the Giants’ starting pitcher is Barry Zito, a former Cy Young Award winner and All Star in seven seasons with the Oakland A’s. Since signing a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Giants in 2007, Zito has never lived up to his potential. Location, mechanics, confidence all spiraled downward. In 2010, he was left off the Giants’ postseason roster;  in 2011, some sportswriters and most fans had written him off as a lost cause. After slowly regaining composure and consistency in 2012, Zito takes the mound in St. Louis with the Giants once again facing elimination and pitches 7 innings of shutout ball. The Giants win the game, come home to win two more elimination games, and the series. Zito walks in sunshine again.

“This train … Carries saints and sinners …”

Catcher/MVP candidate Buster Posey, Perfect Game-tosser Matt Cain and Pence are all saints, manager Bruce Bochy has the patience of a saint and center fielder Angel Pagan looks like the prototype for Hunky Latin Jesus. On the flip side, we have reliever Guillermo Mota, who served a suspension for partaking of a banned substance, and Pablo Sandoval, the poster boy for the sin of gluttony. But every MLB team has its own mix of saints and sinners. And the baseball gods sometimes give the sinners a chance for redemption.

“This train … Carries losers and winners …”

Self-explanatory.

“This train … Carries whores and gamblers …”

And they know who they are.

“This train … Carries lost souls …”

And every lost soul deserves the chance to find himself once again, Tim Lincecum.

“I said this train … Dreams will not be thwarted …”

Pitcher Ryan Vogelsong’s long journey began in 2000 when he made his major league debut with the Giants. He then was traded to the Pirates for a five-year stint that included Tommy John surgery and demotion to the bullpen. By 2007, he was out of Major League Baseball and playing in Japan. He attempted minor league comebacks with the Phillies and Angels, then signed a minor league contract with the Giants in 2011, replacing the injured Zito in the rotation. By July, he was an integral part of the Giants staff, and an NL All Star;  by 2012, he was an ace. In Game 6 of the NLCS, with the Giants again facing elimination by the Cardinals, Vogelsong delivered a dominant performance as the Giants rolled on to Game 7.

“This train … Faith will be rewarded …”

When the Giants made their 2010 World Series run, I had to watch it all from the couch, having been laid up for most of the year by surgery and pain. In 2012, I made it to AT&T Park for Game 7 of the NLCS and stood in the pouring rain watching 36-year-old journeyman second baseman Marco Scutaro make the final out on a pop fly hit by Matt Holliday, the same player who bowled him over in a very-iffy and very hard slide earlier in the series. And with that final, karmic out, a Giants team that was dead and buried twice rewarded the faith their fans placed in them, and the faith they placed in each other when Pence first rallied them with his vision of a land of hope and dreams.

“This train … Hear the steel wheels singin’/ This train … Bells of freedom ringin’ “.

While my faith may have been rewarded, I’m sure the Cardinals’ [and Tigers’] faithful don’t feel so great today. But the beauty of the game is that it all starts again, when the thunder rolls down that track next spring. People get ready, there’s a train a-coming.

© Joyce Millman, The Mix Tape, 2012

Buy me some peanuts and “Gangnam Style”

So it looks like the San Francisco Giants are going into the playoffs with “Gangnam Style” as their rally song. I had never heard of Korean K-pop star Psy or his You Tube dance hit until the night the Giants were on the verge of clinching the National  League West Division Championship;  between the eighth and ninth innings,  AT&T Park erupted with 42,000 fans on their feet riding imaginary horses as the video played on the screen in center field. Even Giants radio announcers Jon Miller and Dave Flemming were caught in the act. After the game, TV cameras inside the Giants’ celebratory clubhouse caught several players doing the “Gangnam Style” dance amid sprays of Champagne as the song blared. Well, there are far worse rally songs a team and its fans can adopt as a good luck charm. “Who Let the Dogs Out,” for instance. Or “Sweet Caroline.”

Oh, settle down Red Sox fans!  Neil Diamond served you well as a talisman. But, seriously, “Sweet Caroline”?  That’s as bad as “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey, which was the theme song of the 2010 World Series Champion Giants team (and a million teams before it), and is still played at AT&T during the eighth inning of games in which the Giants are tied or behind. And we all sing along with the lyrics on the scoreboard, even though lines like “Streetlight people living just to find emotion” read like a bad Babelfish translation.

In case you were wondering which song is played in the eighth inning when the Giants are ahead, it’s “Lights,” also by Journey. What can I say?  They’re from the Bay Area. As someone who had actively scorned Journey, I was unaware of  “Lights” until I moved to San Francisco and attended my first Giants game at old Candlestick Park. There was a beautiful full moon that night, and the sound of a stadium (half-) full of (frozen, wind-battered, miserable) fans singing,  “I want to get back to my Ci-ty by the Bay” penetrated years of carefully honed rock-critic Journey-hate. This is what devotion to a team does to a person. It turns cynics and music snobs into rally-flag-waving softies. And it’s a slippery slope. First you’re singing along to Journey, then you’re high-fiving strangers, then you’re putting “Gangnam Style” on your iPod.

I love that sports can do this to a person. I think I’ve become more forgiving of other people’s musical tastes since I’ve been following the Giants, but that’s probably because I’ve come under the spell of  Zen Master Bruce Bochy, our equanimous manager, whose response to every situation, good or bad,  seems to be a variation of, “Well, I’ll tell you what, it’s a long season …”. Someone should put Bochy’s post-game press conferences on a loop and market it as a meditation aid, stress reliever and cure for insomnia. His folksy, drawling monotone is like a bathtub of warm milk, the calm, positive energy lapping at the edges of your consciousness until it …

Oh!  Sorry!  I must have drifted off there.

Sports and music. The two have been intertwined ever since someone first figured out how to amplify the organist in a stadium. Of course, in-game musical cues have become a lot more complicated. It’s no longer simply “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the Hammond. Now it’s a snippet of  “Start Me Up” here, “Thriller” there, the dramatic prelude to Wolfmother’s “Joker and the Thief” everywhere. Stadium music sets the mood. It gets the crowd into the game. And, for some of us, it sells a few downloads. Oh, the surprises you would find if you could peruse my iTunes library!  Look, here’s “Jump Around”  by House of Pain. Do I normally listen to House of Pain?  No, but it’s closer Brian Wilson’s signature song for when he’s  charging out of the bullpen in the ninth and I was caught up in the moment. Unfortunately, my iPod is the only place I’ve been hearing “Jump Around” this season, what with Wilson shelved for Tommy John surgery and beard maintenance. Oh, but here’s “Song 2” by Blur, which brings happy associations because it kicks up at the final out of every Giants home win. Woo-hoo!  And, of course, we have the aforementioned “Gangnam Style,” which is actually a clever satire on a particular type of male Seoul hipster (I read that on an NPR blog), and once you start listening to it, you can’t stop. I’m not kidding. Can. Not. Stop.

I love going to a ballpark and having my musical horizons expanded. If it had not been used as the walk-up song for Pablo Sandoval and Andres Torres last season, I would never have had the pleasure of dancing around my kitchen to Puerto Rican reggaeton singer Cosculluela’s “Prrrum”. But the opposite can happen, too, when a song you like becomes tainted by unpleasant sports-related association. The Fratellis’ “Chelsea Dagger” is dead to me ever since the Chicago Black Hawks swept the San Jose Sharks in the 2010 playoffs. I can’t hear that song without flashbacks to Hawks fans chanting that stupid do-do-do, do-do-do riff after every goal, and then that makes me think about how impenetrable  Hawks then-goalie Antti Niemi was during that series, and how unspectacular Niemi was for the Sharks last season, and it just makes me want to go kick something. Dammit, where’s my relaxation tape?  Bochy, take me away!

Speaking of the Sharks, if there is ever a 2012-13 NHL season, it might be a good time to retire the creaky “Rock and Roll, Part 2” as the fist-pumping celebration song after Sharks’ goals.  And I say this as someone who has pumped her fist and yelled “Hey!”  One more season of this and we’re going to be pumping our fists and yawning. There has to be a fresher celebration song. I’d be open to anything, anything at all. Except “Sweet Caroline”.

I’d like to hear from other sports/music fans. What are the songs that mean team pride for you?

© Joyce Millman, The Mix Tape, 2012