Swing Music

Baseball, it's been said, is a simple game, but choosing the background songs for it isn't


There's no crying in baseball. And not much quiet time either.

"I think of it as a big, huge wedding reception," said Bob "Woody" Popik, describing his job as stadium disc jockey at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. "Because the crowd is diverse, like a wedding. If you play a wide variety of music, everybody's happy."

Baseball executives - and their counterparts in every other professional sport with the possible exception of golf - abhor silence. Fans have grown accustomed to having their games with a side order of sound bites. They need their constant-stimulation fix.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Today section yesterday about music for baseball games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards should have listed the complete title of a Kool and the Gang song as "September Love." The Sun regrets the error.

After all, background music drones in elevators, shopping malls, even operating rooms. Why not the ballpark?

Last Thursday, Popik was late getting to the stadium (cell-phone repair problems), arriving about an hour and a half before the scheduled 7:05 p.m. start against the Texas Rangers.

Normally, the air already would have been filled with pop, rock and funk. People noticed. Something was awry. They felt as if they were in a strange, lifeless place.

"You gonna put the music on?" the elevator operator inquired as he and Popik rode to the third floor. The elevator man especially likes the Frank Sinatra medleys that liven Sunday batting practice.

Popik entered the stadium's communications control room, sat down at his sound board and flipped a few switches. A mixed-bag block of songs blared across "the Yard." Jefferson Airplane ... the Pixies ... Depeche Mode.

A few minutes later, Bill Stetka, the Orioles director of media relations and publications, walked in and handed Popik a compact disc. Someone wants to hear track No. 8 as the Orioles take the field.

That someone happened to be starting pitcher Daniel Cabrera.

"Daniel is very superstitious," Popik said.

Cabrera had tossed a string of bad games and was desperate for something to change his luck. If not better command of the strike zone, then maybe zippier theme music.

Popik screened the cut, a pounding Latino rap: "It's OK. It's got a good beat to it, at least."

Popik, 40, is used to taking requests. He grew up in Baltimore and studied mass communications at Towson University, but dropped out after landing a job at now-defunct WBSB-FM. He spent seven years on-air there, followed by a stint at a suburban Pittsburgh station.

Currently he's a hired-gun DJ, working local bars (including Thursday and Saturday nights at the Greene Turtle in Fells Point), private parties and corporate events. This is his eighth season of orchestrating Orioles home games.

"You're kind of providing a personal soundtrack for every game, depending on the crowd, the score of the game, the time of the year," said Jason Siemer, the in-game entertainment manager whose job entails coordinating scoreboard messages, video clips and music.

The Orioles' previous stadium DJ was partial to Jimmy Buffett and the Beach Boys. Popik's tastes are more eclectic and edgier. One of his favorite ballpark anthems is "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin.

"I absolutely love playing it on a Sunday afternoon," he said. "The sound of it just reverberates. It sounds great in a stadium bowl."

You won't ever hear him play "The Electric Slide," "Who Let the Dogs Out?" or the "Macarena." He does, however, admit to having James Taylor's "Carolina in My Mind" programmed on his sound-system computer.

"I've never had the guts to play it, actually," he said. "It's too mellow."

Popik's responsibility is to keep fans in the stands engaged at all times, not motivate players on the field. He, therefore, has a head full of niche music:

Rain songs ("Kentucky Rain" by Elvis Presley, "Hold Back the Rain" by Duran Duran). Sunny-afternoon songs ("Beautiful Blue" by Holly McNarland, "When the Sun Shines Here" by Naked Blue). All-purpose, go-to songs ("Pride" by U2, "Just Like Heaven" by the Cure). Dwindling baseball season songs ("Wake Me Up When September Ends" by Green Day, "September" by Kool and the Gang). Even a polka-mood song ("In Heaven There is No Beer" by Frankie Yankovic).

Then there are the after-the-O's-win songs ("Twist and Shout" by the Beatles, "Gonna Make You Sweat" by C&C Music Factory) and after-the-O's-lose songs ("Count on Me" by Jefferson Starship, "Precious" by Depeche Mode).

The latter are getting a little too much exposure again this season.

"I still cheer at times," said Popik, who stands during the seventh-inning stretch. "As a fan, I always want to see this team win."

During games about a dozen technicians flit around the third-level control room, just to the first-base side of home plate. The windows are always kept open to help them monitor the crowd's response. Siemer stands next to Popik's soundboard, occasionally surveying the field and spectators with binoculars, like a ship's captain scanning the sea.

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