Bronson Arroyo Sings the Hits

"Covering the Bases", and the losses you can't stop thinking about
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Bronson Arroyo is still a professional baseball player. He signed a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals and, if his shoulder heals properly, fans might still see him in the show or, at the very least, in Triple-A Harrisburg. This is intriguing news for baseball rock critics, because it allows further time to study Arroyo’s debut album “Covering the Bases,” the second-greatest baseball rock album of the early 21st century (MVP 2005 video game soundtrack).

What can we learn about Arroyo, the baseball player, from the songs that Arroyo, the alt-rocker, covered? Amateur baseball rock critics praise “Covering the Bases” for its rawness, its ability to remember the ‘90s, and its clever word play, since Arroyo “based” his album on “cover” songs. But I have always believed that Arroyo was actually “covering all the bases” of the long fictional story he tells himself every time he takes the mound.

“Slide,” as made famous by The Goo Goo Dolls

Arroyo was drafted in 1995 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but often on the mound his mind drifts to what life would have been like had he gone to college. He’s playing guitar in the back of a crowded off-campus party. The girl over there doesn’t even know he’s on the baseball team. And she’s a little shy. She doesn’t even like baseball, but she sort of remembers it as background noise when she pictures her daddy before the war. She likes the way Arroyo sings, and he likes the way she listens, and she “didn’t even realize this school had a baseball team.” How about that? And it’s one night under the bleachers, and it’s one night before the big game, and it’s funny… He still thinks about that night. He barely remembers getting shelled in front of the scouts the next afternoon. But remembers the way the grass smelled, and how she laughed at the way he said “Satchell Paige,” and how they slept so close under the stars, sharing that old hand-me-down baseball glove as a pillow. The scouts offered him the signing bonus anyway. Said they liked his makeup. And now it’s a few months later and she’s crying because her mom disowned her and he wants to cry, but he’s trying to be strong because they made the decision, but the truth is he wanted the baby. Or he would have wanted the baby. If that’s what she wanted. They could have married. They could have run away. But it’s her decision and she talks about his dreams and he tells her she’s his dream and she’s crying again. She doesn’t understand baseball. He thinks about it every time he takes the mound.

Did Bronson Arroyo Make the Song Better?: Yes.

“Down in a Hole” as made famous by Alice in Chains

This song is actually Arroyo just telling his shortstop to move deeper into the hole because a dead pull hitter is coming up.

DBAMTSB?: Yes.

“The Freshman” as made famous by The Verve Pipe

She didn’t actually go through with the abortion from the Goo Goo Dolls song, but here Arroyo pauses to imagine a version of himself that lived in that particular timeline and all it ends so tragically. He toes the rubber and thinks about how he never really wept until one day he’s sobbing on the floor before going out and tossing one of his six career shutouts.

DBAMTSB?: Yes.

“Everlong” as made famous by the Foo Fighters (featuring noted Red Sox fan and master of the macabre Stephen King)

In the months after her death, Arroyo sits by her grave waiting for her ghost to appear. “Breathe out,” he whispers to the cold cemetery night. “So I can breathe you in.”

DBAMTSB?: Yes.

“Black” as made famous by “Pearl Jam”

It starts, “sheets of empty canvas,” and it’s just about a baseball.

DBAMTSB? Yes.

“Pardon Me” as made famous by Incubus

Arroyo was so mad after the Red Sox lost to the Yankees in 2003 that he spontaneously combusted. He later recorded this song about the experience.

DBAMTSB?: Yes. 

 “Something’s Always Wrong” as made famous by Toad the Wet Sprocket

Arroyo’s fictional self goes back from imagining what would have happened had his fictional estranged wife gone through with the abortion and instead goes back to contemplating the fictional reality he actually lived in. He goes through every step and wherever he actually stands at that moment -- Boston, Cincinnati, Washington -- he finds that the alternate version of himself always ends up in the same place, in every timeline. Fate is funny like that. He grabs the resin bag and contemplates the crowd. There’s a little girl sitting with a giant glove in one hand and a giant cotton candy in the other. Her dad wears a worn-in Reds cap and an even more worn-in smile. He thinks back on his choices. They tried. They raised the girl the best they could. When they weren’t happy they pretended. Dreams change. He throws batting practice at his old high school four days a week. His hair gets a little thinner, but he still wears it long. Can’t tell when he pulls the old hat down low. She laughs at how he struggles buttoning the old jersey over his gut. Eventually the heater loses its bite, but the old arm angles get more deceptive. He messes around with a cutters. A scroogie. Floaters. That high leg kick gets goofier. The kids call him a junkballer and he laughs because don’t they look just as silly swinging out of their shoes when he drops that eephus on them? And, “Dang, if That Garcia Kid ain’t the best ballplayer we’ve had since you done left for college,” says the coach. And the scouts are back and it’s hard not to think… And That Garcia Kid? Good enough for the show. And That Garcia Kid? He tells the scout, “You gotta check out this guy Bronson Arroyo”. And the scout says “Brandon Arroyo? Crazy motion? I think I saw him in high school.” And That Garcia Kid says, “You gotta see the stuff he throws. Like trying to hit a butterfly.” But Arroyo left those dreams behind. He has a little girl now. And she has Spanish Flu. But the scout says, “Come on down Brandon. Let me see you throw a little.” Ain’t no pressure, the scout tells him... And this isn’t even about dreams, he tells his wife. Just a brace of hope. He stopped dreaming years ago. But he’s not sleeping soundly and she can’t feel much hope for anything and this is about a better life and a better doctor and maybe we’ll all be OK. Maybe we can get her that operation. And “How can we turn down money with the bills piling up?” and “If you walk out that door,” she says to the back of the door.

DBAMTSB?: Yes.

“Plush” by Stone Temple Pilots

A bus pulling through some Appalachian League town. Arroyo plays everywhere from Augusta to Pawtucket, and he rocks them all.

DBAMTSB?: Yes.

“Shimmer” as made famous by Fuel

He’s in Lynchburg and he’s starting to have doubts and it’s lonely and dark and the hotel phone rings.

DBAMTSB?: Yes.

“Hunger Strike” as made famous by Temple of the Dog

This song plays in the background during Arroyo’s montage of regret.

DBAMTSB?: No, because that song is already the best.

“Best I Ever Had” by Vertical Horizon

He toes the rubber in Harrisburg and thinks about the fictional girl he left behind. He thinks about her often. Baseball’s funny like that. He looks out beyond the Triple-A crowd into a gray sky morning and thinks, maybe, life is just about winning more than you lose. And the score sheet says he has 145 of the former against 131 of the latter. And it’s not so bad.

DBAMTSB?: Yes.

“Dirty Water” as made famous by The Standells (featuring Kevin Youkilis, Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar)

But are there some losses you can’t stop thinking about?

DBAMTSB?: Yes.

The batter steps in. In the current timeline Arroyo’s leg kicks up and he fires one that looks oh-so-straight until it breaks sharply to the batter’s left… In another life his little girl catches it. He likes the way it pops the old hand-me-down glove he handed down to her. She’s gonna be the first girl in the major leagues, she tells him. He smiles.


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