The Baseball Project – Volume 2: High and Inside

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I love that the Baseball Project was not just a one-off affair. Whether it was a positive response to the debut or just their continued passion for the project, the band continues to make excellent, baseball-centric songs. As unexpected as Volume 1 was, the follow-up was even more of a surprise. Who is buying these albums? Maybe the relevant Venn diagram here is bigger than I thought. On the other hand, I’ve seen the Baseball Project at the Abbey Pub (I spoke to McCaughey afterwards about our shared appreciation for the Mendoza Line – a baseball-named but not -themed band) and at Space, and the audience is neither large nor varied:  just a bunch of north-of-40-years-old dudes in baseball caps. Anyway, this album I think represents the move from parlor trick to legitimate band, and I am here for it.

What I Think of This Album

This is song-for-song a better album than its predecessor; no sophomore slump after a strong rookie season, the band comes out swinging. This time, the team has added some all-star free agents – guests include Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo (another baseball-named band), the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie, and Steve Berlin of Los Lobos.

An unofficial theme song takes shape on “Fair Weather Fans,” where each of the band members takes a vocal turn proclaiming their respective loyalties (and as I suspected, Buck really couldn’t give a shit – he’s just here to make music). As on the first album, the songs mostly focus on individual players, expertly placing their stories in a larger context. Some are joyous and raucous, such as “Panda and the Freak” and the fantastic and fantastical “Ichiro Goes to the Moon” (featuring science fiction B movie keyboards). Most are poignant, though, if not tragic, with a defense of Bill Buckner (“Buckner’s Bolero”), an apology from Carl Mays (who threw “the pitch that killed”), rueful indignance from Roger Clemens (“Twilight of My Career”), and a nod to Denard Span’s poor mom (“Look Out Mom”).

The highlights from this excellent batch of songs are the sepia-tinged remembrance of Mark Fidrych (“1976” – the only songwriting contribution from Buck) and the epic Craig Finn-sung (and penned) “Don’t Call Them Twinkies.” The latter is a stirring salute to the small-market Twins (“We don’t buy our titles / And we’ve still won two World Series”), flawlessly interwoven with Finn’s memories of growing up in the area (“In ‘87 I was pretty much in heaven / I got my license and a girlfriend / And the Twins had won the pennant”) and shout-outs to communities across the state (“From Nicollet to Hennepin / From St. Paul to St. Cloud / the Minnesota Twins are making Minnesotans proud”). If this song doesn’t put a lump in your throat, then you don’t understand baseball fandom.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Don’t Call Them Twinkies” is a fucking master class in songwriting.

Release Date

March, 2011

The Cover Art

This is supercreepy and I don’t like it one bit. Nope nope nope nope nope.

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