Aldean’s “The Only Way I Know” is Jewett’s walk-up song, the senior’s hand-picked tune that plays when he strolls from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box. A flourish established for years at the major league level, borne out of an era when ballpark organists at times tailored their selections to players, more high school teams are now adding these 15-second-or-so snippets of individuality to their game night routine.
Walk-up songs are designed to inspire and focus the pending batter and make the game experience more entertaining for fans. The goal is for the hits over the loudspeaker to keep the hits coming on the field. Hear the bass, reach the base. Feel the walk-up song, hit the walk-off bomb.
Considered by some to be distracting aural clutter that erodes the team concept, walk-up songs these days are punched up on computer programs, no longer on a weathered CD with track one for the leadoff hitter on down through the order.
The songs by nature are a personal choice, and the Patriot players’ selections reflect that. You can go the “here’s who I am” route like Jewett, who chose Aldean’s salute to persistence and hard work. Junior infielder-pitcher Tyler Eikhoff, who comes from a military family and has aspirations of joining the service himself, picked Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).”
You can mimic your idols, like junior outfielder Zack Deering, who had never heard Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” but read on Twitter that Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper had it on his walk-up list. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has been using that song lately.
Or you can go the jokey route. Patriot junior closer Michael Cuilik, bypassing the intimidating tunes favored by many relievers, took the suggestion of pitching coach John Nolan and chose Men At Work’s “Down Under” as his music for when he is warming up on the mound. Why? Because Cuilik is a submarine-style pitcher whose delivery comes from, well, down under most of his body.
“A walk-up song is supposed to exemplify who we are,” said Jewett, who had been chewing on his choices since last summer. “It kind of shows that it’s how you go at it. It lets everybody see what we’re about, how we feel about ourselves.”
“It just makes us a little bit more legitimate,” junior outfielder Scott Cushanick said. “It’s kind of cool because major league players get to do it.”
But the walk-up song is about more than what is pleasing to the ears. It’s about what works between them. Patriot senior outfielder Nick Moore learned that from former Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach Gregg Ritchie, now in his first year as coach at George Washington.
“[Ritchie] said that some people need to be brought down a little bit, not amplified even more,” Moore said. “You have to be in the middle. You can’t be too up or too low.”
Some schools choose not to play walk-up songs, even if they have a suitable sound system and a multitasking announcer. St. Albans Coach Jason Larocque and Seneca Valley Coach Terry Changuris find the personal favorites unnecessary.
“I think walk-up music is yet another example of promoting the individual over the team,” Thomas Stone Coach Bob Marcella said. “I think it continues the ‘SportsCenter’/NBA mentality of ‘I’ll get mine first, and if it helps the team, well, that’s just a bonus.’ ”
Just because you play on a team with walk-up songs does not mean that you get to choose your own. At Briar Woods, when there is a freshman on varsity, the senior captains get to pick the ninth-grader’s tune, which is why outfielder Caleb Barnes has been serenaded by Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
At Centreville, you might be better off missing the cut-off man than missing the cut-off date for song submission. Ask assistant J.P. Nicholas. When he played at the school, he got saddled with Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” because he did not submit his own choice in time.
No doubt players are listening, both teammates and opponents. In a game at Marshall last season, All-Met shortstop Kent Blackstone got heckled by the opposing team for his song choice, “Wild Boy” by MGK. Blackstone homered and then peered into the visiting dugout as he rounded the bases.
“This isn’t anything other than some of these kids won’t get to play college baseball,” Patriot Coach Sammy Serrano said. “But we want the atmosphere for them to be college- or pro-like.
“I want them to remember this. I want the fans to understand that there’s an atmosphere. This is entertainment.”