It's that time of year again where everybody is running a story about the Colorado Rockies' walk-up songs. Those fifteen seconds or so that a hitter gets as he walks up to the plate—or the minute or so for a pitcher coming out of the bullpen—are surprisingly important to players, maybe even more than they let on.
And that's the thing; I tracked down nearly twenty of these guys during spring training to discuss walk-up music, and every single one of them—save one notable exception—admitted they listened to the music on the field, focused on it, drew emotional fire from it, and more. So instead of just a good ol' playlist of tracks, here are the players' actual thoughts about walk-up music.
★ ★ ★
On choosing their walk-up songs
Relief pitcher Justin Miller: "I like to have something that’s got rock in it, or something that has guitars. Obviously, Mariano Rivera’s Metallica, nobody can use that one, Trevor Hoffman’s Hells Bells, nobody can use that one, Eric Gagne had Welcome To The Jungle, and nobody can use that one. For me when I was with the Detroit Tigers, I had Hail To The King, and Rex Brothers had that here, so this year I'm going with a different Avenged Sevenfold song."
Catcher Tony Wolters: "I’ve had Selena Gomez, I’ve had random stuff. You need something with a beat, and to slow it down a little bit. And this year I’ll have a slower song, so I can walk up to the plate with a little swagger up there, you know. You've gotta get a good beat, get some bass in there."
Catcher Dustin Garneau: "Last year in Triple-A I had Kickstart My Heart by Motley Crue, and then up in the big leagues, I had California Love, which I’ve kind of used throughout the minor leagues. If I played my music though, I don’t think anybody would like it, so I’ve got to calm it down. Especially my wife, she makes me calm it down a little bit. I’m a metal head, and if I play my metal when I walk up to the plate, I’m going to be jacked out of my mind. That’s not the frame of mind I want to be in when I’m hitting."
Starting pitcher Eddie Butler: "The last few years I’ve used Dirt Road Anthem, which I’ve used since I was in college. I've found that I'm really always super intense on the field, so I have to get something that’s going to calm me down a little bit."
Minor league outfielder Mike Tauchman: "Last year for most of the season I used Take Me Home Tonight, by Eddie Money, because that got the crowd going and it was kind of unique. It got me going, too. I don’t know why, but I’ve used it since college. I’ve also used Led Zeppelin, Pearl Jam, Kanye West, kind of whatever I’m feeling at the time, but I like to do something fun that people know."
Minor league starting pitcher Sam Howard: "It’s a Christian song. I want to stick to my faith, going to Modesto on the other side of the country, and it’s called Where I Belong by a group called Building 429. I really want to stick to that out there."
Minor league starting pitcher Zach Jemiola: "I had one, but I changed it last year. Now, I’m doing All I Need Is You, by Lecrae. He’s a Christian rapper, and I’m a man of God, so I figured that was another way to show my thanks to the Lord, in praising him before every start. It was just a new song last year that I heard, and I liked it a lot and I thought it would be cool."
Minor league starting pitcher Mike Nikorak: "I'm going to go out to Me, Myself, and I. For me it just has to be something that I listen to and the moment I hear it, I just want to get up on the mound and start throwing. It’s there to kind of help get my brain going and get my nerves flowing."
Minor league reliever Christian Talley: "I used to have a Johnny Cash song in college and I’ve thought about going back with that. The way I look at a good walk-up is if everybody looks at it and you see their heads start moving. If you’ve got fans starting to join in, you start feeling good, and it's all about going out there and getting ready to pitch."
Minor league reliever Devin Burke: "I like one, it’s a song by Ozzy Ozbourne, it’s called I Don’t Want To Stop. I’m not really big into deep lyrical meanings or stuff like that. It’s just a good song."
Minor league reliever Hunter Brothers (since released): "For me, it depends on where I’m at in the season. In the beginning I always need to slow myself down, so I usually have a country walk-up song. But towards the end, I like to kind of turn it up a little bit. So at the end of last summer, I had Pearl Jam."
★ ★ ★
On the significance of walk-up music
Miller: "A lot of songs guys pick are pretty good, and we might not know that song, but if we hear it a bunch of times, we might go download it the next day because there are some good songs. Hearing some of the Latin songs, the Spanish songs, that’s pretty cool for me, too. I got some of their songs in my iPad now, because they are just fun to listen to. I don’t know what they are saying, but…"
Butler: "We hear it all the time. It’s something we hear and we associate with you. We still talk about some of the guys from last year, and their walk up songs, even now. Somebody will say a word and it’ll remind you of someone’s walk out song, so it’s always kind of funny. "
Howard: "My walk-up song describes my faith. I'm going to have good days, and I'm going to have bad days on the mound. Some days I'll make good pitches but I'm going to get hit around, and it’s just always at the end of the day, it’s a blessing to be here, and it’s going to be OK. You just move on to the next start, and keep pushing, and that helps my frame of mind."
Jemiola: "It’s whatever gets you going. And in that case, that Christian music, that gets me going. I like praying before every start, and my music lines right up with that, so that’s kind of what gets me going."
Burke: "One of my favorite things about going on the road is that I enjoy listening to the other team’s walk-up songs. That’s pretty fun, and I really like doing that throughout the game."
Brothers: "I think it’s that kind of thing that it’s there, you know you’re at home, you know you've got the crowd behind you, you know you’ve got the players behind you, and you know you’re in your comfortable surroundings. That music comes on, and it ties it all together."
★ ★ ★
On picking the right walk-up music
Miller: "Any kind of music you pick has to be something you like, obviously, and it has to be something that’s going to get you motivated. I’m a guy that just likes to go out and attack hitters, so I’m going to use something that gets me pumped up and amped up for that when I'm running in from the bullpen."
Garneau: "You have to choose it off your personality. Some guys do funny ones, some guys do serious ones, some guys do it to pump up the crowd a little bit more, but basically if you pick one that fits your personality, it’s a lot easier to get your mindset right. You can't fake that."
Butler: "Some guys want that extra intensity or they don’t get that by just going up there, so they pick a song that will get them going. It kind of has to fit you, and fit your personality and what you’re trying to do with it, but if you choose right it'll really help you."
Tauchman: "I’m from Chicago, so sometimes I try to have a little Chicago flavor to it, if I can. I really try to use something that I know is either going to get the crowd pumped up, an anthem, or something that is absolutely going to get me pumped up. But yeah, I try to throw a little something Chicago in there."
Howard: "I hear it when it starts playing, as I’m walking out to throw the pitches I need to throw to warm up, and then I tune it out as I zone in on the catcher and the target. But after that last warm-up pitch, as they throw it down to second, and as they are throwing it around, I hear it until we are ready for the inning. Whatever my walk-up song is kind of describes me, it reminds me where I come from, and tells me to give it all I got when I get out there."
Burke: "For some people, walk-up songs describe their upbringing. Others just like to get jacked up, which I don’t mind, I like that a little bit, especially being a reliever. I’m a very emotional person, so that’s the effect for me. It helps me get going so I’m not just going through the motions. Whether it’s real or psychological, I have no idea."
★ ★ ★
On what makes a bad walk-up song
Wolters: "Some of the guys have had some girly songs, where I’m like OK, seriously, man… [Wolters is confronted about his own choice of Selena Gomez as a walk-up song.] Yeah, no, I know, but that was a cool song. There were, like, some rappers in there, too. I don’t even know, but it was a good song. But one guy had a Britney Spears song, and I’m like, come on, that’s a little too much. That’s pushing the envelope a little bit."
Tauchman: "It’s gotta flow. I’m sure some guys use Justin Bieber or whatever, but even when Anthony Rizzo used Bad Blood last year, it fit. Look, you really can’t force it. You can’t force a walk-up song that’s not in your personality. We’re together every day during the year, so when we hear guys using certain walk-up songs, it’s like, hey, man, that’s not really you. You have to be true to yourself when you’re picking a walk-up song."
Howard: "Any song that throws the crowd for a loop is a bad one. Guys will call each other out, too. They’ll always be in the clubhouse, especially the position players, they’ll be sitting around together like, ‘hey this is going be my walk-up song this year,’ and another guy will say, ‘dude that sucks. That’s bad, dude. You’ve gotta fix it.'"
★ ★ ★
On teammates with bad walk-up music
Garneau: "We had a couple guys in Triple-A that had really, really bad songs. There was one guy, Angelys Nina, who's with the Phillies now, and he just has terrible Latin songs every year. Even the other Latinos give him crap for it, which is just the way it goes when you have bad music. [Laughs.] He's not even here to defend himself now, and that’s what makes it great, too."
Miller: "I don’t know if anyone had a bad walk-up song, necessarily, but guys will play pranks on each other now and then, and that can be great. Last summer in Triple-A, Ryan Casteel, his nickname is Hammer, so one of our other catchers made his walk-up song for one of his at-bats MC Hammer. That was pretty funny."
Butler: "I forgot who it was but one guy in Albuquerque last summer had one that just sounded like elevator music. [Laughs.] Every time we heard it, it was like man, really? We tried to get him to change it. Never could. It’s what he wanted, I guess, and it worked for him."
Tauchman: "Sometimes, you have to judge your teammates a little bit, there is some stuff like that sometimes. Last summer in New Britain, Pat Valaika used a Jason Derulo song all year, and it was rough by the end. We were like, man, you’ve gotta pick something else. Come on."
Nikorak: "[Minor league first baseman] Collin Ferguson did Fergalicious, because of his last name. That was pretty funny, but for the most part, people take it pretty serious. In high school with somebody that hasn’t played varsity before, we got to pick their walk-up song until they got their first hit. That was fun. But up here, you don’t really want to mess with somebody’s walk-up song."
Talley: "Yeah, Ferguson's song was bad. That a bad one. It fit him, but it was a tough one to go out to, and even tougher to hear."
Brothers: "I don’t think too much into it, whatever works for me I guess is whatever works for everybody. Whatever they like, I guess is cool. Although one guy last year had Barbie Girl, or whatever that song is. Yeah, that was tough, but we buried it for him. We sat through it for him."
★ ★ ★
After formal and informal conversations with nearly 20 players across the organization throughout spring training, the answers started to get repetitive; sure, I get it, walk-up songs are important. It's a fun little story, but if everybody feels the same way...
On a whim, in the final interview I did all spring down in Scottsdale, I decided to ask left-handed relief pitcher Jerry Vasto about his walk-up song choices. I figured with him being a relief pitcher and a New Jersey native, I'd get an interesting answer (beat up the beat, anyone?).
I did—but not what I was expecting.
"Last year I actually didn’t have one, and that was by choice," Vasto admits. "It was kind of a lot of work, you know? I needed to put it on a CD and stuff. So I just forgot about it, and I went out there and tried to stay focused."
That song-free focus worked for Vasto in terms of on-field results, but it didn't come without unintended consequences.
"In the seventh inning, they would do the donut inning," Vasto explains about one of Low-A Asheville's promotions last summer. "If a runner didn’t get on and there were no hits, the crowd got donuts, and man, the crowd would scream so much for donuts. We all hated throwing in the donut inning."
It's funny how quickly the lefty learned his lesson.
"Yeah," he says, "I’m definitely going to choose a walk-up song this year."
May I humbly suggest a banger, Jerry?