BOSTON They're not just saying "cowboy up'' at Fenway Park. They're singing it.
"Cowboy Up,'' memorably uttered first in these parts by Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar, has turned into the 2003 team's rallying cry. The expression has become so popular that Red Sox management has begun playing the inspirational country song "Cowboy Up'' during games to accompany a video of Red Sox highlights.
"Well, dust yourself off, get back in the saddle/Give it one more try./Sweatin' blood, it takes all you got,/'Cause the road to heaven is a hell of a ride./The tough get goin' when the goin' gets tough/'Cause they know they gotta cowboy up.''
No one is more surprised by the song's sudden popularity in New England than Ryan Reynolds, the 32-year-old from Tyler, Texas, who wrote and recorded it.
"I just found out about all this 24 hours ago,'' Reynolds said Wednesday afternoon from his home in the Nashville suburb of Madison, Tenn. "I'm blown away. I wish the English language had a word for what I feel. I'm just so grateful. I'm honored that the song gave Kevin [Millar] and his team the oomph they were looking for.''
Reynoldsnot to be confused with the hunky movie/TV actor of the same namewas a real rodeo cowboy before deciding to pursue a career in music.
"I used to rodeo in high school and college,'' he said. ``I was a steer wrestler. 'Cowboy up' is slang. It means shake it off, walk it off. You see guys sitting on the back of a bull that wasn't meant to get ridden and is 2,600 pounds of upset. On occasion guys will get banged up really hard. You steady your gaze, put one foot in front of the other and walk out like a man. You cowboy up.''
Sort of like when Damian Jackson remained in the Monday night game in Oakland after cracking heads with Johnny Damon?
"That's right,'' Reynolds said. "You buck up. You cowboy up.''
Reynolds says he wrote the song "sitting around a kitchen table'' with Matt Rossi, a native of Southington, Conn., back when he was an aspiring singer and songwriter. His recording of the song appeared on Cowboy Up: The Official PRCA Rodeo Album, a 1997 compilation featuring the much more famous likes of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Toby Keith. (PRCA, for all you city slickers, stands for Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association).
Reynolds' song isn't the only "Cowboy Up'' around. There are at least four others, including one by country star Chris LeDoux, a former rodeo champion. LeDoux's song also delivers a Sox-appropriate message: "You heard that the tough get goin' when the goin' gets tough/Around here what we say is, boy, you better cowboy up.''
But Reynolds' tune is the one the Sox are playing at Fenway. And here's the really strange part of the story, Red Sox fans, the part that makes you believe in fate: Reynolds is the son of a former major league ballplayer.
"He was a starting pitcher for the Chicago Cubs and California Angels,'' said Reynolds. His father, Archie, compiled a career 0-8 won-lost record in five years before suffering a career-ending rotator cuff injury with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1972. "My father was pitching for the Angels the day I was born. They stopped the game and the announcer said, 'We'd like to take the time to congratulate Archie Reynolds, who has a new son.' So you could say I started out in a ballpark.
"The thing is, is that one of my father's running buddies on the Angels was another pitcher from Texas by the name of Nolan Ryan. Hence my name.''
Ryan Reynolds says his proudest moment came in 1997 when he got to perform the national anthem on Father's Day at Rangers Stadium in Texas, standing on the pitcher's mound with his dad.
He's particularly savoring his current musical Red Sox moment, because six years ago his career as an upstart honky tonk singer went into a prolonged slump. It started when Reynolds' record company canceled the release of the debut album he'd recorded with Albert Lee, members of Mark Knopfler's band and other studio stars.
"The label ended up going out of business,'' he said. "I went to three more labels after that. I had four record deals in a year and a half, and one single out for six days. The red tape went on for miles. My album never did come out.''
Three years ago, Reynolds gave up on singing to focus on songwriting. He's since enjoyed particular success in Canada, where two songs co-written with singer Lisa Brokop became award-winning country hits.
"And I have another Top 40 hit in Canada right now,'' he said, "a song called 'Run' done by Gil Grand. I haven't told anybody this, but I've got a special 'stadium version' of the song I've done and I'm sending it to Kevin [Millar] and the Red Sox this weekend. "Run, baby, run.' It's my way of saying, 'Guys, I appreciate what you've done for me.' ''
So he's rooting for the Sox from now on?
"Yes, sir. It's go, baby, go. Go Red Sox.''
Larry Katz is a music columnist for the Boston Herald. He can be reached at www.bostonherald.com