Walk-up songs strike a fun college baseball chord
South Carolina first baseman LB Dantzler strolled to the plate as Justin Bieber’s “Baby” blared over Carolina Stadium loudspeakers at the Gamecocks’ 2013 opener, and the college baseball world stopped to listen. The first baseman’s new walk-up song got giggles in the ballpark and caused a social media stir.
“I figured it would be something funny, that fans would get a kick out of it, and just keep everything light,” Dantzler said.
Goal achieved: Dantzler emerged as the winner of South Carolina’s “Best Walk-Up Song” poll via Twitter.
Dantzler popularity or Bieber Fever?
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Dantzler blasted a home run in that first at-bat of the season.
“I think it could have been an omen,” he said. “I think I need to keep it. I have the fever.”
Music has meshed with baseball for decades, from classic organ interludes to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch. Post-game concerts are common throughout professional baseball.
But walk-up songs — those precious few seconds meant to inspire player and fans — have become as anticipated as pitches and swings. The rage ranges from Major League games to resourceful youth league infielders who have big sisters willing to manage boom-box requests.
At the rowdy intersection of college life and baseball popularity in the Palmetto State, South Carolina and Clemson players are walk-up royalty.
“We try to create a little excitement in the ballpark,” Clemson junior second baseman Steve Wilkerson said. “For some people it helps them get in the zone.”
Wilkerson’s walk-up song is a homemade mix of tunes.
Conner Bright of the Gamecocks enters to the dramatic guitar and electric rattle of “Sail” by AWOLNATION.
“I found that song in the summer and used it when I was playing summer ball,” said Bright, a Wando High School graduate. “It’s nothing real crazy, but it sort of calms me as I go to the plate, and that’s what I like about it.”
Make no mistake, most college players take walk-up-song selection as seriously as practice.
“Oh yeah,” Bright said. “Some guys change their songs six or seven times before the season starts.”
Changes are allowed, but rare.
“It’s a big decision,” Bright said.
Walk-up selections are an eclectic mix of rap, hip-hop, R&B, rock, old-school and country.
Clemson players Maleeke Gibson and Joe Costigan go with Young Jeezy hits (“Get Right” and “Lose My Mind”). Teammate Tyler Slaton walks up to Jerry Reed’s “Smokey and the Bandit” theme song “Eastbound and Down.”Three Gamecocks favor the Beastie Boys — “Make Some Noise” for Joey Pankake, “Intergalactic” for Erik Payne, “Paul Revere” for TJ Costen.
Third baseman Chase Vergason rocks with Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.”
Outfielder Sean Sullivan prefers Nirvana’s iconic “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Bonus creativity: College of Charleston second baseman Blake Butler leaves the on-deck circle to the threatening beat of Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.”
Cougars catcher Ryan Welke likes Rihanna’s “Rock Star.” First baseman Tyler Jackson opts for Trace Adkins’ “I Got My Game On.”
Country themes are popular at The Citadel. Third baseman Bailey Rush walks up to Jason Meadows’ “100 Percent Cowboy.”
Bulldog exceptions include infielder Calvin Orth (Tom Petty’s “Last Dance with Mary Jane”) and outfielder Drew DeKerlegand (Audioslave’s “Gasoline”). Outfielder Tyler Griffin goes hard with “Next Big Thing” by Jim Johnston, better known as professional wrestler Brock Lesnar’s theme song.
South Carolina catcher Grayson Greiner picked “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
“I heard the song about two weeks before the first game,” Greiner said. “I just kind of like the beat. It’s kind of more of a funny song and everybody in the country was kind of starting to like that song, so that’s what I went with.”
Pitchers rarely come up to bat in college baseball, but they have entry music often every bit as popular as walk-up songs.
The most famous example is former San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman and his AC/DC “Hells Bells” intro (also the entry song for Citadel freshman pitcher Zach Lavery).Matt Price, one of the stars of South Carolina’s College World Series championships in 2010 and 2011, ran from bullpen to mound to “The Price is Right” game show jingle.
Current South Carolina relief pitcher Adam Westmoreland enters to Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls.”
Michael Roth, the Gamecocks’ reliable College World Series starter for three trips to Omaha, warmed up last season to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”
Walk-up song history is sketchy, but Kate Kilpatrick of NBC Washington last year found the likely source: Nancy Faust, the Chicago White Sox organist from 1970-2010. Faust in the early 1970s began playing official state songs after learning the hometowns of White Sox players.
Four decades later, Chipper Jones’ walk-up song was so well-known, the Braves’ third baseman heard Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” at road games during the 2012 farewell tour that ended his 19-year Major League career.
Minor league players consider walk-up songs a major matter. Before becoming a big league All-Star, Josh Hamilton as a member of the 2000 Charleston RiverDogs regularly approached home plate at Riley Park to Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion.”
Walk-up songs are personal, and sometimes personalized.
D.J. Reader, Clemson’s 335-pound first baseman (and defensive tackle) has picked Lil Wayne’s “Go DJ.”
“I guess whatever gets you going to get that aggressive attitude at the plate,” Wilkerson said.
For LB Dantzler, it’s the playful pop sound of Justin Bieber:
“You know you love me
I know you care
Just shout whenever,
And I’ll be there”
“A lot of times I can’t even hear my walk-out song, so I’m not concerned with picking something to pump me up,” Dantzler said. “Into the season I wouldn’t really get pumped up by the same song anyway. Just something fun for fans.”
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff.