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D.C. is the epicenter of Stephen Strasburg fever—but whether the rest of the country likes it or not, the virus is spreading. Spreading even into the mind of singer/guitarist/Yankee fan Steve Wynn.
Wynn, a former member of the Dream Syndicate and Gutterball, has a side project these days called The Baseball Project, with R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Scott McCaughey and drummer Linda Pitmon (Wynn’s wife). The band recently released the Strasburg-inspired “Phenom,” the fifth song of its Broadside Ballads collection for ESPN.com. A series of baseball-related songs, the ballads began in March, with one debuting every month until November. The songs report on what’s going on in the baseball season. All the members of the band are big fans, making inspiration and writing of the songs easy.
“It’s easy to get inspired because you look at the sports section everyday,” Wynn told Arts Desk.
And if you’ve flipped open the sports section of any newspaper in the last few months, Strasburg’s name has been sure to be in there somewhere. So the song “Phenom” is Wynn and a single acoustic guitar, pondering what Strasburg sees as he embarks on his career in the big leagues.
Though Wynn has never spoken to Strasburg, when writing the song he drew on some of his own experience from his long musical career.
“We’ve all been in bands that get a lot of attention from the start, it’s exciting but you also wonder, ‘What if I blow it?’” said Wynn. “I know the feeling; the subject was easy to write about.”
The song paints Strasburg as a modest kid just trying to do his job and starting off on what he hopes to be a long career in baseball:
And they say that I’m the most in the Washington Post/ Sing my praises all the while on the radio dial/ But in my life I’ve found/ You’re dead if you look down/ I just wanna stick around for a while.
“For all I know he’s cocky and thinks he’s going to the Hall of Fame. I’d like to think he has his head down and knows he has work to do,” says Wynn.
Wynn says the songs in Broadside Ballads latch onto a player or event that has a universal story to tell. In the case of “Phenom,” he figures the rise of a young man facing high expectations and being expected to deliver is a theme that resonates past ballparks.
Wynn works in the two contrasting examples of David Clyde and Jamie Moyer, pitchers who started with high expectations, and the careers that followed. Clyde was the 1973 number one overall pick of the MLB draft, straight out of high school, and after an excellent debut, fizzled out and never pitched up to his potential.
Scaled the heights when he was just a teen/ He was gone a few years down the line/ Now he’s little known and very little seen.
Moyer on the other hand is 47, and still pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies.
“You could be Kurt Cobain or Neil Young,” said Wynn—burn out quickly, or carry your career on for decades.
Wynn never played baseball but before he started his career in music, the singer was a sportswriter for a Los Angeles-area newspaper.
“The Baseball Project is a way to keep a hand in my sports writing,” Wynn says.
Listen to “Phenom” here.