Baseball Project steps up to the plate

As a follow-up to The Baseball Project's buzz-worthy 2008 album of original music about baseball and a U.S. tour last year, the band has come up with a clever way to chronicle the 2010 season.

The talented rock musicians and hard-core baseball fans will be writing and recording one song per month and offering each of their "Broadside Ballads" for free in ESPN.com's The Life (see inset boxes to download and listen).

"We figured out a way to give ourselves even more work and make less money," singer and guitarist Scott McCaughey said with a laugh last week during a phone interview from his home in Portland, Ore.

While they finish up their second album later this year, McCaughey (The Minus 5, R.E.M., Young Fresh Fellows) and his Baseball Project teammates Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate, Gutterball, Miracle 3), Linda Pitmon (Miracle 3, Golden Smog) and Peter Buck (R.E.M.) will be making musical commentaries on the upcoming baseball season. Singer-guitarist Wynn describes the group as part musicians and part sports journalists.

"I think it will be a lot of fun just to kind of see what's going on and get fired up about something. And instead of just writing bemused e-mails to each other, we'll put chords behind it and call it a song," Wynn said last week by phone from New York.

TBP hits a home run with the first song of the series, "All Future And No Past," a catchy pop tune that captures the spirit and joyous optimism of spring baseball when no team is out of the pennant race. For example, here's the opening:

Spring is here and the time is right for
Unrealistic goals
Last summer some hit the bottom rung
But the new year brings high hopes

"It really is true that every team is a contender right now. It might not be that way in four or five weeks. … Everybody's in it, and it's a good kind of mission statement, it's a good start of the series," Wynn said. "Scott did the same on the album -- he wrote the first song, 'Past Time,' which I thought was the same thing. [It] set you up for what the album is all about.

"So Scott's definitely our leadoff hitter, he's very good at getting on base. … And Peter's our bass player, so it's very confusing. Who's on first? What's on bass?"

The first song was inspired by a quote from Hall of Famer and former Cleveland Indians player-manager Lou Boudreau. "On Opening Day, the world is all future and no past," which McCaughey said represents the feeling of spring training each year.

Wynn and McCaughey share the same optimism, excitement and enthusiasm about their season of "Broadside Ballads." A second song is finished and ready for release around Opening Day in April, but after that the band will be seeking inspiration from the ballparks, box scores and headlines.

"The first two we did are really great and we'll have to see if we can keep it up on deadline on the spot, with hopefully commenting on things that actually are happening during the season," McCaughey said. "It's a bit of an assignment for us, but I think we'll be up to the task."

Making the project even more challenging is the fact McCaughey and Wynn, the two main songwriters in the band, are based on opposite sides of the country. Despite that obstacle, Wynn said the first song took about a week to write and record.

"With 'All Future And No Past,' that's Scott's song. He wrote that and sent it over to us and we kind of gave some feedback back to him," said Wynn, who lives in New York with his wife, Pitmon, who is also the band's drummer.

McCaughey said he recorded the basic song consisting of acoustic guitar, vocals and maybe a little percussion and bass and sent it to Wynn, who took it to a studio to record drums, guitars and backing vocals.

"And while they were doing that, I was getting Peter to play 12-string on it here, without hearing what they'd done," McCaughey said. "So it was kind of weird doing it that way, but it was fun.

"And then with the Internet and stuff you can sort of mail tracks back and forth, although I wouldn't say it was without incident because it was actually quite problematic. Most of the time spent on it was me trying to sort out getting the tracks in the right place and all that stuff from the jumble that would happen from them being sent back and forth, and the guy in the studio having a slightly different version of Pro Tools than I had … It's not a perfect system but, you know, it worked and the track came out great."

Compared with baseball players, who take more than a month to get ready for the regular season, The Baseball Project is already in midseason form with "All Future And No Past." And they don't sound the least bit deterred from diving headfirst into their ambitious assignment.

"All the technology like that lends itself to the real immediacy in making music and writing songs, which will be the really fun thing with this project," Wynn said. "Something can happen in a game on Wednesday night, we can be kicking it back and forth later in the evening and write the song by Thursday morning and have recorded it that night, no problem at all."

For something that is still a side band for the four members of The Baseball Project, this is quite a commitment. The process shouldn't be difficult for prolific songwriters such as Wynn and McCaughey. All they can do now is wait for the season to start and supply them with good material.

"I think doing one a month, that'll be a breeze -- I think I could do one a day, but I don't know if my bandmates would agree with my enthusiasm on that," Wynn said.

Jim Wilkie is editor of The Life and can be reached at espnpucks@comcast.net.