Soothing the Savage Beast...

Katie Casey was baseball mad,
Had the fever and had it bad.
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev'ry sou, Katie blew.
On a Saturday her young beau
Called to see if she'd like to go
To see a show
But Miss Kate said "No,
I'll tell you what you can do..."

Mrs. SnakePit's Thursday-night surprise for me was tickets to see Dave Winfield's presentation at Phoenix Symphony Hall, celebrating baseball's contribution as an inspiration to composers and song-writers over the past 150 years. It was certainly something of a surprise, though I did begin to suspect where we might be going when, during dinner, she suddenly asked me, "Who's Dave Winfield?" I think the lights finally went on after Mr. Winfield walked past the window of the restaurant, and she said, "F___ me! That's Dave Winfield!". :-)

Symphony Hall is a nice venue, though we were among the few wearing baseball shirts! Definitely an older crowd, but with a sprinkling of families. We perused the silent auction items, featuring autographed memorabilia, mostly from Cubs and D-backs players, but there was nothing really worth bidding on. Had a beer - amusingly, they were selling peanuts and Crackerjack at the concession stand! - and took our seats. Jeff Moorad was introduced before proceedings began, as one of the sponsors, but didn't say much beyond, "Play ball!" after the National Anthem.

As conductor Robert Thompson noted, baseball has a special place in music history as far as sports go: there have been very few good golf songs, in comparison. The earliest recorded entry is J.R.Blodgett's The Baseball Polka, written in 1858, and noted composer John Phillip Souza composed The National Game, dedicating it to the first commissioner of baseball, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. The first half of the program concentrated on these works, and was a lot of fun. Dave Winfield narrated Casey at the Bat, with the orchestra backing him, and that was excellent: he has a good voice for that. Last up before the interval was a sing-along of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, which was very much enjoyed.

Actually, it may be the first time I've heard the rest of the song - today's quote is the first verse, which is followed by the chorus that everyone knows. Somewhat oddly, it appears to be about a baseball groupie - and that's somewhat creepy, if you know the story of Eddie Waitkus, which inspired The Natural. Amusing to note than neither the lyricist, Jack Norworth, nor the composer of the tune, Albert Von Tilzer, had ever seen a baseball game when they wrote the classic song.

The second half, however, was somewhat less enjoyable: it started off with a somewhat lengthy piece, Forever Spring by Fred Sturm, over which Winfield talked. There didn't really seem much of a focus to this: it didn't tell a story, it seemed more of a tone poem, using words, the music and images [they had a screen behind the orchestra, onto which was projected a mix of video footage and stills] to try and evoke emotions in the viewer. Can't say it really worked for me. Ditto for Dave Frishburg's novelty piece, Van Lingle Mungo, a song made up entirely of unusual names from the Baseball Encyclopedia. Not nearly as amusing as it sounds.

The finale did rescue things somewhat. "A musical video tribute to all 259 Hall of Fame members, with music from Field of Dreams and The Natural." That wasn't bad, not least because those two soundtracks, from James Horner and Randy Newman, are among the finest ever written, IMHO. But, annoyingly, while they had pictures of all the HoF-ers up there, none were labelled as to who they were. Sure, we can all recognise Babe Ruth: but would you be able to pick out Jimmy Collins from his photo? Rabbit Maranville? It'd have been nice to learn something here.

Overall, the evening probably falls into the category of things labelled, "Glad I saw it, but if we never go again, I won't be too upset." Baseball is what it is, and trying to capture the spirit of the game in any other medium, be it music, writing or film, is a near-impossible task, rarely successful: you can describe, say, the ninth inning of Game Seven in the 2001 World Series any number of ways, but nothing will ever be as good as watching it. And that's perhaps part of the magic of baseball. For its delights were easily reproduced, what would be the point?

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