Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
The national anthem has been performed and the smell of peanuts and popcorn wafts through the crowd.
As the pitcher warms up, each fastball giving the catcher’s mitt a pop, the public address announcer takes the mic.
“Now batting for your (favorite team), No. 3, (your favorite player)!”
The crowd erupts as the player’s walk-up music hits the airwaves.
Anyone who has read my column knows I’m a lover of baseball and softball, and hearing that walk-up music is one of the reasons why. I spend a lot of time thinking about what my walk-up music would be.
There is not as much room for self-expression in baseball as there is in football, with touchdown celebrations, or basketball, with signature dunks and crossover dribbles. Walk-up music, and music in general, is one of the few bastions of expression left in baseball and, especially, softball, where high school teams often use music and dance to build chemistry.
For some, the walk-up song is just a chance to play a favorite song. For others, like Lakewood Ranch senior softballer Mackenzie Meyer, who steps to the plate to “Here I Am to Worship” by Jeremy Camp, it is an opportunity to express her beliefs.
“I’m a Christian, obviously, and I want people to know that,” Meyer said. “It’s a reminder that every time I get up to the plate that I play for him (Jesus Christ), and no matter what the outcome is, to not be upset or get angry or have all these emotions. I’m out here playing a game I’ve been so blessed to play these last 10 years.”
Before this season, Meyer used a rap remix, which she enjoyed but it ultimately meant nothing to her. It was noise. Meyer said she can get into her own head sometimes, and she needed something to help her relax. She found it.
Likewise, teammate Logan Newton is inspired by her song, Eminem’s “‘Till I Collapse.” The senior pitcher softly sings the opening lines of the song to herself as she makes her way to home plate. It reminds Newton she has the strength to get up and keep fighting if she ever stumbles. “You’ve got this,” she thinks to herself.
Not every team has the opportunity for walk-up music. Just down the road, Braden River softball is not allowed to use walk-up music, or use an amplified speaker system at all, thanks to a Manatee County ordinance. The houses beyond the school’s field are too close, and some light music at 7 p.m. is apparently too much for anyone to handle. (The Pirates baseball field is next to the softball team’s field but faces a different direction, and is allowed to use music).
No matter. Braden River senior Sarah Crawford and the softball team use music to express themselves in a different way.
On March 2, Crawford posted a video to Twitter of her and teammates Kaitlin Yawn, Myah Moy and Jade Moy doing a dance to “Rolex,” a song by Ayo & Teo that has gone viral the past few months. If you don’t know the “Rolex” dance, don’t worry, I didn’t either. It’s basically a combination of other viral dances, including the dab, with other interpretive moves thrown in, like pretending to hold up your pants.
Crawford said the foursome would often do the dance at practice and the team thought it was a riot, so they decided to record it. This kind of thing happens often, and Crawford said it makes her happy and boosts team morale, bringing everyone together. She also recommended more teams join the craze.
Lakewood Ranch has taken Crawford’s advice. When the two teams met last month, a power failure delayed the game for a long time. Instead of spending that time sitting on the bench, the two teams decided to have a dance battle. It started with Crawford and the Mustangs’ Maddie Koczersut (whom Newton called the best dancer on their team), then spread to the rest of the rosters.
“The game is so serious, especially in high school,” Newton said. “It (dancing) keeps things light. It reminds us that it’s just a game. We can have fun with it. It definitely brings everyone closer.”
The approach seems to be working. Lakewood Ranch is ranked by MaxPreps as the seventh-best team in the country as of April 16, and have a strong shot at a state title. Braden River is no slouch either. They stand at 10-4, with three of those losses coming against the Mustangs.
Their success is a reminder that teams don’t have to be 100% serious all the time.
Newton is right that softball is a game, as is baseball. It’s supposed to be a fun, all-around experience.
Statistics are just numbers and robots aren’t running the basepaths. The human element can get overlooked at times, especially by people in my profession who cover these sports.
I remind myself to take note when the players share their personalities with us. In these cases, they not only get to be themselves, but they have been winning while doing it.