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The Spin Rate: John Ross of Wild Pink

Wild Pink's John Ross dishes on growing up on the O's.

From walk-up songs to seventh-inning stretches, music and baseball are inextricably interwoven. The Spin Rate is a weekly look at the stories behind the bands and artists who share a love for the sport, and the songs that draw inspiration from the annals of baseball lore.

Growing up in North Virginia with at least a passing interest in baseball carries a different timbre in 2022, when fans have a pair of D.C metro area-adjacent squads to root for. But in Wild Pink lead singer and guitarist John Ross’ youth, the Expos were still the Expos, and the Nationals didn’t exist to draw him away from his region’s only ballgame in town.

“All I had was the O’s,” Ross said in a phone interview.

Ross participated in Little League ball with his brother, positioned at first base but admiring shortstop from across the diamond. (Cal Ripken Jr.’s ironman imprint, of course, made it the coolest position by default.) He also drew inspiration from fleet-footed Baltimore outfielder Brady Anderson in his infield playing days.

Later in our conversation, trading player names in classic remember-that-guy fashion, Ross also recollected Albert Belle’s career twilight with the Orioles, recalling the troubled masher as “kind of a salty guy, but a great hitter.”

“But Cal was the main guy,” Ross said.

Ripken’s workmanlike heroics resonated unmistakably, inimitably, with a young Ross. He had a sister living in Baltimore, and his whole family would venture out to the ballpark together (he still has some of the souvenir ice cream helmets to prove it). His brother still has a copy of the newspaper heralding Ripken’s claim to the most-consecutive-games-played MLB record.

The other ballplayers Ross counts among his favorites are cut from a similar cloth of interwoven captaincy and consistency: David Wright is right up there with Ripken (Ross sort-of-adopted the Mets after moving to New York), and Ross mentions longtime Giants catcher Buster Posey in the same breath.

“They’re just guys who always showed up,” Ross said.

That sense of longevity is also a sentiment enshrined in lyrics from a yet-to-be-released Wild Pink song: No spoilers, but Ripken earns himself a name drop.

Which, for the record, won’t be the first time Ross has referenced NoVA athletics on an album. On “How Do You Know If God Takes You Back?” from the band’s 2017 self-titled LP, Ross muses, “Then I said something dumb, like/The Redskins hate the Cowboys/’Cause Kennedy died in Dallas.”

 

 

That off-the-cuff sports quip “just came pretty naturally,” Ross, who also grew up a Washington football fan, said. Scanning the same album’s tracklist might lead casual listeners to consider if “Playing Through a Dip Related Injury” might borrow from baseball’s past with chewing tobacco, but it’s instead about a “traumatizing incident” when Ross pulled a thumb muscle opening a jar of salsa before going on tour.

The specificity of those references in Ross’ lyrics are a hallmark of Wild Pink’s sound, anchoring listeners in the band’s shimmering brand of indie rock. Released as a single at the tail-end of 2021, the sprawling, nine-minute “Florida” might not call back to the spring ball Ross took in after he had moved to the eponymous state, but does, amusingly, use Guy’s American Kitchen as a lyrical landmark.

 

 

Ross still tries to make it to a couple of ballgames a year. His favorite stadium is Oracle Park, which he said is “less about baseball and more about geography.” (McCovey’s Cove is part of the San Francisco Bay, which earns a nod in “The Shining But Tropical.”) He estimates he’s been to probably seven or eight stadiums, including catching the Rockies and then-Devil Rays during their inaugural MLB seasons.

“I’ve just never had a bad time at a ballpark,” Ross said.

 

Photos by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire & Dorien Monnens on Unsplash | Adapted by Michael Packard (@artbyMikeP on Twitter & IG)

Erik van Rheenen

Erik van Rheenen is a Syracuse University alumnus, aspiring novelist, Yankees fan, live music enthusiast, and a believer in long-winded lists and the Oxford comma. You can find him on Twitter @therealvandyman.

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