What happens when your band’s debut album is a run- scoring hit with both music and baseball fans? If you’re The Baseball Project, you grab some friends to fill out your bench, take batting practice by writing songs for ESPN and deliver a strikeout pitch with Volume Two: High and Inside. The recent album from Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey, Linda Pitmon and Peter Buck is another winning collection of songs about the game’s greats that will be pleasing to those who love America’s pastime — and fans of intelligent, melodic and fun rock.
The Baseball Project was born out of McCaughey and Wynn discussing their love of the game over dinner and drinks a few years ago. “It finally took flight at the R.E.M. pre-Hall of Fame induction party in New York,” Wynn remembers. “Everyone was happy. The wine was flowing, the food was incredible and spring training had just started. Scott and I talked baseball until most of the party guests had cleared out. And we actually remembered it the next day.”
When the first Baseball Project album, Volume One: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, was released in 2008 Wynn, McCaughey, Pitmon and Buck had yet to play one note as a unit in front of an audience. But after playing throughout the U.S. in 2009 the quartet were — as McCaughey jokes — “a well-lubricated touring machine,” which allowed the band to complete the basics for their second album in just two days. Wynn adds, “We definitely knew how to play as a band when we went in this time and I think you can hear that chemistry on the record.”
2011 saw the Baseball Project touring throughout the major league season, appearing at a number of spring training games, the South By Southwest Festival in Austin, numerous clubs and minor league stadiums across the U.S.A., at major league games in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, and even in the Netherlands, Italy, and Croatia. The group welcomed pinch-hitters like Mike Mills of R.E.M. on stage along the way, and they’ve been joined on record by such luminaries as Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, Decemberists Chris Funk and John Moen, Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan and The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn.
The success and critical acclaim of Volume One opened up new opportunities that these veteran musicians never imagined. Millions saw the group’s stellar international TV debut on Late Night With David Letterman. McCaughey is still amazed they appeared on the long-running weekly Major League Baseball program This Week in Baseball. “I can’t say I ever thought I’d hear or see myself on TWIB — that was awesome,” McCaughey exclaims. “As a kid I dreamed of it, but I would have been making a diving catch in the outfield instead of bashing on an electric guitar.” The band also struck up a relationship with ESPN that saw them launch The Broadside Ballads series. Wynn and McCaughey took it upon themselves to write and record a song per month for the 2010 season that were available as free downloads at ESPN.com.
As for its forthcoming engagement in Todos Santos, the Baseball Project is excited to perform “Fernando,” a tribute to the Mexico’s legendary Fernando Valenzuela, which was included on the group’s first album, and was written and sung by Steve Wynn in Fernando’s native language.