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.
Tigers Jaw – “Thank You, Noah Lowry”
Naming a song for a starting pitcher whose star burned brightly but briefly in the Giants’ mid-2000s rotation feels like a geographical curveball coming from Scranton-native Tigers Jaw, but the band’s gratitude for Noah Lowry comes from a reverence for a different West Coast ace.
“From the early days of the band, we had a fondness for Randy Johnson,” said Ben Walsh, lead singer of Tigers Jaw, in an email interview with Pitcher List. “From his look, to his pitching prowess, to the hilarious commercials he’s been in, to his photography, his double-kick flaming baseball drum kit, and finally his connection to Seattle grunge music — Randy is endlessly fascinating.”
When the band first pressed a record to vinyl — their 2008 self-titled sophomore album — The Big Unit graced the screen-printed cover of a limited tour variant.
So, with Randy Johnson’s mythology woven, to some degree, into the band’s DNA, how did Lowry seize the spotlight as the namesake of a track on 2010 LP Two Worlds? Johnson closed out his storied career with the Giants in 2009, signing to a San Francisco squad where Lowry was already sporting his signature #51 on the back of his uniform. In deference to the Hall-of-Fame-bound veteran, Lowry swapped to #60.
“The ‘thank you’ was for giving up the number so that Randy didn’t have to wear a different number that far into his career,” Walsh said.
Squint, and some of the song’s lyrics could be construed as obliquely about baseball — “And with these tired hands/we’ll count our losses/and start all over again” might as well be a mantra for a struggling pitcher — but, since the title came after it had already been written, Walsh promises any baseball references are purely coincidental.
Though Walsh and his bandmates gravitated to Johnson’s folkloric orbit, his first baseball loyalties were rooted a little closer to home. Growing up in Scranton, Walsh played baseball from his tee-ball days through eighth grade and followed the Yankees and Scranton-Wilkes Barre Red Barons.
“I played pickup games and home run derbies in parking lots in my neighborhood,” Walsh said.
Walsh’s maternal grandparents hailed from New York, sharing their love for the Yankees during a historic moment where it was tough not to love the Yankees — Walsh fondly recalls the team’s “incredible run” in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“I loved that so many of their core players at that time had come up through their farm organization, so I sort of lost my love for the team when they began buying out big-name players and stacking the roster with egos,” Walsh said.
The Core Four-era Yankees built a powerhouse squad on homegrown prospects, but the Triple-A Red Barons (a Phillies minor-league affiliate through 2006) gave Walsh a chance to watch stars on the rise before they reached the big leagues. Some of those marquee names? Jimmy Rollins, Scott Rolen, and Ryan Howard.
It wasn’t just the future Phillies superstars who were a ballpark draw: The Red Barons were buoyed by an “incredible mascot” (Walsh’s high praise) named The Grump, who’d pilot a quad bike around the field and do a jump off the pitcher’s mound.
The Scranton-Wilkes Barre side pivoted to the Yankees in 2007 and then rebranded as the RailRiders in 2013, but Walsh’s memories of the team’s Phillies’ roots have lived on in keepsakes saved from that era.
“I have a collection of various Red Barons memorabilia, although the team itself is long gone,” Walsh said.
Even though Walsh’s playing days have been left to the Scranton parking lots of his youth, the members of Tigers Jaw often enjoy returning to the ballpark daydream of what song they’d have blaring from stadium speakers while walking up to the plate.
“It definitely changes every time,” Walsh said. “It’s always an extreme song, though, not necessarily something any of us would listen to every day casually.”
Walsh has always enjoyed the way a batter’s chosen walk-up song uniquely links music to baseball, and how, in a way, it feels sort of like a professional wrestler’s entrance music.
“It’s funny how that specific musical context is such fertile ground for discussion on how to properly ’set the tone’ for your at-bat,” Walsh said.
Photos by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire & Dorien Monnens on Unsplash | Adapted by Michael Packard (@artbyMikeP on Twitter and Instagram)