Proof That God Loves Us: The Baseball Project

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy -- Joe Mauer*

I'm in my 40s, now, so I don't have the relationship with pop music I used to. When you are young, music often feels like it expresses what you can't. It's not uncommon for young people, especially those most passionate about music, to follow an act's every release, imagining that their new songs express some of the same complicated, confused emotions the listener possesses. This can be an intense relationship in a great way (sharing new songs with your friends), a confused way (thinking "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" is about 60s's turmoil, when it's really about the turmoil of being the Beatles), occasionally a disturbed way (being Charles Manson.)

(I followed several acts through my 20s, and related to their every new album. I won't say which. I'm dumb, not that dumb.)

When you get older, you find that it isn't as hard to express yourself as you once thought it was. Maybe you've gotten better at doing so, maybe others are older and more receptive to different voices, maybe it's a combination of the two. The acts you liked stop making music (breakups/death), or you just stop reacting as intensely to their music the way you once did. You don't hear deep artists churning with conflicted feelings; you hear talented musicians trying to sell records. Which is what they all were the whole time.

As an older guy, then, I find myself enjoying many older artists than I did when I was young. Not because those artists express old-man emotions, but because they wrote good songs, and I ignored them in my youth since they didn't Speak To The Now Me. I can love an old Motown or Sinatra tune that is about nothing more than getting laid. I still like my former favorites, too, but I do so remembering what those songs meant to me then, not expecting them to mean the same things now.

This makes it hard for me to appreciate a lot of new artists. I'm not making the mistake (I hope) of imagining "my" music was great and new stuff is crap. I just haven't the time to hear and re-hear new music, concentrating on my mood and how the music fits it.

Which makes The Baseball Project such a colossal joy. If garbage pop is defined by being catchy on first listening while intolerable with repetition, and "deep" music defined by being "difficult" at first but revealing fascinating intricacies with subsequent hearings, The Baseball Project lives in the middle ground. The songs are immediately catchy, and you can enjoy them (most of them) innumerable times.

These are all veteran musicians from other bands, some of whom were hugely successful, some who weren't. They're doing something different than expressing profound, hard-to-put-a-finger-on emotions (the feelings of youth) here. They're enjoying performing music. The Baseball Project songs work as standalone stories, which (in this case) happen to be about baseball. Some of them have an obviously angry or affectionate tone; some are more detached, like what you'd read in a baseball historian's writing. All are enormously hummable (these guys, and one gal, are certified pros.)

I'm happy to say the new Baseball Project album is just as good as the first two. And just as elegiac, to use a cheesy word. This is music made by grownups for grownups; many songs are essentially about aging, set against baseball's repetitive rhythm of seasons starting, ending, players shining, diminishing. Not that less seasoned performers don't make music grownups can enjoy, or that the music young people relate to is flawed in any way. But it takes some perspective to look at getting older the same way a baseball fan looks at another losing season. Losing sucks, and your team might never win a Series in your lifetime, but is that a reason to stop enjoying baseball? Nope. It's still worthwhile -- just like making music is worthwhile even if you aren't trying to do anything more than have a good time and share it with some others to boot. (Maybe more fun, actually.) And getting old has its definite drawbacks; doesn't mean you quit enjoying life. (As the band puts it tongue-in-cheekly, "there's always time for an extra inning of love," which had me chuckling mightily.)

TwinkieTown Baseball Project newbies might check out their "High And Inside" album, which has three Minnesota Twins-referencing songs. Or my favorites from each of their records; "Ichiro Goes To The Moon," "To The Veterans Committee," and (the one that epitomizes the band, IMO, a friggin' great song) "Pastime." Or, just screw it. Dive right into "3rd," get your stories about baseball, from the obscure (Pascual Perez, Larry Yount) to the likes of Hammerin' Hank, done with a freewheeling energy and experienced skill.

And keep an eye out for if the band tours. They've done tiny local clubs in the past; they might do so again. And they show no signs of the bat speed slowing down after three solid albums (to use a requisite baseball metaphor.)

For an older music fan, The Baseball Project is proof God loves older music fans and wants us to be happy.

*-- Actually, Benjamin Franklin.

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