They’re both unavoidable, even if the first isn’t always as widely visible. What I mean is that we didn’t see Wade Boggs scarf down chicken before each and every game. (Though I suppose we could have seen him take precisely 150 grounders—no more, no less—and start batting practice at exactly 5:17 each day.) We’re not with Matt Garza as he makes a Popeye’s run, we don’t actually watch Justin Verlander shovel fistfuls of Taco Bell into his maw, and thank the good lord above, we wouldn’t know that Jason Giambi is rocking a gold, slump-busting thong if he didn’t tell us.
The latter truth—owing to the fact that it’s often in the “audience participation” realm—is much more apparent.
Starting in the early 1990’s, the Milwaukee Brewers instituted a “sausage race” during every home game, a buffoonish lark featuring people running around the perimeter of the field dressed as a bratwurst, a Polish sausage and an Italian sausage. (They’ve since added a hot dog and a chorizo.) This makes sense because, well, Milwaukee.
Each home game, the Chicago Cubs have a celebrity (the level of notoriety being dependent upon availability, I suppose) sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” often in the slurred, excitably drunken manner of their late legendary broadcaster Harry Caray. This makes sense because everyone adored Harry.
In 2002, Fenway Park music director Amy Tobey secured her spot as a randomly obscure answer to a trivia question by playing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” during Boston Red Sox games. At first glance, this doesn’t seem to make sense because there’s no obvious connection between Boston and the song itself—until you realize that Boston is teeming with white people and white people love Neil Diamond.
And then you’ve got the Kansas City Royals. Despite being a professional institution since 1969, they don’t have much in the way of “tradition.” (Being perennial losers notwithstanding.)
Well, you know, unless you count the “Friends in Low Places” sing-along that assaults the stadium 81 times a year. If memory serves—and there’s surprisingly little in the way of researchable info on the topic—it started out as a “pick which song you want to hear in the bottom of the next inning!” kind of thing around 2006 or 2007. By 2008, they’d done away with letting the fans choose, and the twangy ode to shady drinking buddies had turned into a permanent fixture. Garth Brooks even recorded intros that would be played before the song came on. It was quirky and a little fun.
But then the fatigue set in.
For those who attended more than a handful of games per season, it became downright annoying, and for opposing team’s fans who made the trek to our beautiful stadium, it became a confirmation that Kansas City is exactly what they thought it was: a glorified cowtown full of meth-riddled hillbillies worshipping at the alter of an increasingly irrelevant country singer.
(And before I’m crucified for bashing Brooks, allow me to state that I think he seems like a nice guy, and as far his music is concerned—while it’s not exactly my cup of tea—I DO find him more tolerable than most “modern” country music performers.)
My beef isn’t with Garth, or the idea of a fan-involved sing-along. What I think it boils down to is that this song has nothing to do with the team, or even Kansas City for that matter. Just because Brooks has had a couple of spring training “try-outs” with the team—and other than the fact that he played 75 straight shows to christen the Sprint Center—he has no real connection to this town.
I like to think of Kansas City (and I may be delusional for this, I’ll admit) as a place of art, culture, history and music—WE’RE THE BIRTHPLACE OF JAZZ, FOR FUCK’S SAKE. We’ve got the country’s only official World War I museum, a fantastic Negro Leagues Baseball museum, a renowned art gallery and the world’s best BBQ. But oh, hey, here’s a 24-year-old song about you and your loser drinking pals performed by a dude from Oklahoma.
If the swirling internet rumors are true, however, the “tradition” is done. Multiple sources are indicating that the Royals are doing away with the tune beginning this year. (I reached out to Royals’ PR guy Toby Cook for confirmation, but haven’t heard back.) Provided that this is accurate—and not simply the wishful thinking of a bunch of Twitter nuts—I think this is a solid move. I won’t miss it, and I don’t think a lot of other fans will, either. Kudos, Royals.
Because tradition should mean something; in fact, I think one could argue that, without meaning, tradition is useless. So I’m all about raucous, uniformed revelry—but can’t we find something a little more local? What about those kids from St. Joseph—Radkey? Can’t we ask them to write something bad-ass and catchy to become a new Royals tradition? It’s worth a shot, and certainly better than More Forced Garth.
[Author’s note– upon completion of this piece, it has, in fact, been confirmed that “Friends in Low Places” is out. Toby Cook– WHO WOULDN’T TALK TO ME BECAUSE I’M SCUM, APPARENTLY– told KSHB 41 that fans will have the opportunity to vote on a new song. Suggestions in the comments section, if you’d like.]
Come see more bitter old man shit on Twitter, @StanfordWhistle