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Walk-up music a crucial fixture for Pirates players

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Andrew McCutchen (22) batted 20 runs for the Pittsburgh Pirates in September. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

Andrew McCutchen (22) batted 20 runs for the Pittsburgh Pirates in September. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

Andrew McCutchen (22) batted 20 runs for the Pittsburgh Pirates in September. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

By Shawn Cooke / A&E Editor

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Whenever Pittsburgh Pirates closer Jason Grilli emerges from the outfield to wrap up a game at PNC Park, no matter what the situation might be, there’s always an element of consistency.

Much like Mariano Rivera’s adoption of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” Grilli finds motivation from a steady song choice of his own: Pearl Jam’s “Whipping.” But for the 2014 season, his song selection carries an even more meaningful context than when he entered to it in previous seasons.

During the band’s stop at the Consol Energy Center last October, Grilli joined Pearl Jam onstage for their performance of his entry song.

“There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think of that moment when I was on stage with the band,” Grilli said through the team’s Director of Baseball Communications, Jim Trdinich. “Sometimes I think about it when I’m running in, but it comes and goes.”

He chose “Whipping” not only because it’s “such a great song – by a great band,” but also for its lyrical connection to his baseball career.

“I chose ‘Whipping’ because the very first couple lines parallel my career,” Grilli said.

Until recently, Grilli’s career was heavily marred by physical ailments, including a severe knee injury and Tommy John surgery. Consequently, Grilli spent much of his 11-year career in the minor leagues with seven different organizations before finding success in Pittsburgh after joining the team in 2011.

Those lines from “Whipping?”

“Don’t need a helmet, got a hard, hard head.”     

While Grilli takes pride in sticking with one of his favorite songs, some players favor a more varied approach to selecting entrance music.

Since everyday players will often walk up to the plate three, four or seven (on special, 13-inning occasions) times, listening to the same song multiple times over the intercom could grow old. Walk-up music has been a fixture in Major League Baseball for decades now, but some current players prefer to mix up their personal soundtracks more than others do.

Reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen opts for the less rigid approach, employing multiple walk-up tracks and retiring them throughout the season.

“I’ll change my songs a few times during the season. I won’t have the same three all year,” McCutchen said through Trdinich. “I always like to mix it up.”

Just one month into the season, McCutchen has already mixed it up considerably, scrapping his entire lineup of April tracks, which included cuts by TNGHT, KB and Lil Jon, for “DJ Turn It Up” by Yellow Claw and “You Can’t Stop Me” by Andy Mineo. 

Aside from their common classification under the broad term of hip-hop, McCutchen chooses an eclectic mix within the genre, including Christian rap, electronic hip-hop producers and one of the more crass party rappers around.

Though little may unite these artists on paper, McCutchen favors strong production above all else.

“I like to pick songs that aren’t too popular, but have a great beat,” McCutchen said.

So does this mean McCutchen should add a “Hipster of the Pirates” award next to his MVP trophy, and inspire a “Free Flannel Friday” promotion?  Probably not. But he’s certainly less concerned with picking recognizable songs than some of his other teammates.

Catcher Tony Sanchez strives for the more crowd-pleasing route, with his current lineup of at-bat songs including “E.I.” by Nelly, Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” and “Let it Go,” the current smash hit from the 2013 Disney film “Frozen.”

Sanchez isn’t the only one — other Pirates’ walk-up songs include relatively famous hits like “Start Me Up,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Don’t Stop Believing” (selections of Ike Davis, Travis Snider and Clint Barmes, respectively).

Once players have selected their walk-up songs during the final week of spring training, they pass them off to Trdinich. He then sends the selections to Mark Zidik, director of in-game entertainment. Then, the players and Zidik will settle on the best segment of a song to play before an at-bat.

Though picking a brief snippet of a song to represent a player’s on-field persona might seem like a daunting task, Sanchez isn’t fazed by the decision-making process.

“No, there’s no pressure with picking any songs,” Sanchez said, through Trdinich. “I just like to make it something the people will enjoy.”

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Walk-up music a crucial fixture for Pirates players