The art of the walk-up song: A reflection of the Cubs' personality


The art of the walk-up song: A reflection of the Cubs' personality

Even if you forget about his play on the diamond, Starlin Castro will be sorely missed by the Wrigley Field faithful in 2016.

With Castro shipped off to the New York Yankees over the winter, Cubs fans can no longer enjoy his catchy walk-up song - "Ando En La Versace" by Omega.

There's something magical about seeing 42,000 people - Cubs players and coaches included - all clapping and stomping along to a beat. It was chill-inducing, really.

Music has an enormous psychological impact. But, apart from the fantastic workings of organist Gary Pressy and a few mainstream songs sprinkled around the game action, music had not been an integral part of the in-game product at Wrigley Field until last season, when walk-up songs debuted along with the two new video boards in the outfield.

"Last year, everybody was excited for Starlin's walk-up and the clap," Cubs catcher David Ross said. "I'm definitely gonna miss that this year. That was exciting. It just made us have fun in the dugout. No matter what was going on, no matter if it was a negative time or we're down - it was one of those things where Starlin came up and we started clapping.

"Clapping's one of those things like smiling and laughing - it makes you feel good on the inside and the negative energy kinda can leave the area or you or whatever it is."

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Before he came to the Cubs, Ross spent two seasons playing with the Red Sox in Boston, where they have made a tradition out of singing "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway Park.

Ross also remembers former Red Sox outfielder and current Cubs teammate Shane Victorino using Bob Marley's "Everything's Gonna be Alright" as his walk-up song and the entirety of Fenway would keep on singing the song in unison even after the music stopped.

"It was the coolest thing," Ross said. "I'm getting chills [just thinking about it]. You feel that energy when you're hitting and everybody's locked into you and what you're doing, so you try to get locked into the box."

Ross also spoke to the power of music as intimidation tools for pitchers as well as hitters, citing dominant closers Trevor Hoffman ("Hells Bells"), Mariano Rivera ("Enter Sandman") and Craig Kimbrel ("Welcome to the Jungle") using rock songs as they enter the game. When Metallica's hit starting ringing out through the Bronx, everybody knew Rivera was coming in to shut the door for the New York Yankees.

The Cubs also see music as a reflection of their personality. Every time Ross hears "Flicka Da Wrist," he would think of Dexter Fowler, who used that song as his walk-up music last season.

Everybody has a different strategy for why they chose their respective songs.

Kris Bryant used "We Own It" from the Fast and Furious 6 soundtrack all season. He wanted to use a country song, but felt he needed something more upbeat.

Anthony Rizzo had a different song for each at-bat in the game and switched his music up several times throughout the year, even working in Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch's "Good Vibrations" along with Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen." Rizzo is a big fan of using fresh, mainstream music that will appeal to the masses.

Fowler also used two Fetty Wap songs ("679" and "My Way") last season and said he takes choosing a walk-up ditty seriously.

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Ben Zobrist uses music from his wife, Julianna, as his walk-up songs as some free marketing and to show the two are a team even when he's on the field playing for a different type of team.

Late in the season, Jake Arrieta used Major Lazer's "Lean On" as his warm-up song, which was symbollic considering how much the Cubs did lean on the National League Cy Young winner down the stretch.

Cubs reliever Justin Grimm warmed up to Skrillex's "Bangarang", a high-tempo electronic rock song. He briefly switched to "Turn Down for What" before switching back to "Bangarang" midseason.

"It was different," Grimm said. "I don't know if [my song] mattered that much. I think it was more for the fans instead of just sitting there, watching a player warm up. Now, they get a little music and maybe they can just dance a little bit."

With roughly a month before the Cubs play their first home game at Wrigley Field, players either don't have their songs picked out right now or don't want to ruin the surprise just yet.

Several Cubs players admit they bounce walk-up song ideas off each other in the clubhouse.

"Sometimes we'll be flying on the plane and you'll hear a song that really resonates with you and you're like 'Oh, you should walk up to that,'" Ross said. "You'll hear a lot of that early on here in spring training - new songs and stuff like that. Guys talking about what you should walk up to, kinda messing around a little bit.

"Songs that get them bobbing their head a little bit and makes 'em feel sexy, as we say in here. That's how you come up with it. Some guys are into it more than others."

Every Cubs player acknowledged they take the fans into account when making a choice.

Ross was the oldest player on the Cubs' roster last year, but used "Forever Young" as his walk-up song in a twist of irony. He said he may have gone a different route if "Forever Young" wasn't such a big hit with his teammates and fans.

"It's been easy how much positive perception a song gets and you're like, 'OK, everybody else is diggin' it, so I still like it,'" Ross said. "It helps make up my mind, just speaking personally. I like to feel the fans' energy when I'm coming to bat.

"We'll tell somebody if they have a bad walk-up song. If your teammates are not feelin' it, how are you supposed to? We're all in this together. That's a big part of it. If I'm not diggin' your walk-up song, we need to have a conversastion about it."

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When Kyle Schwarber was called up to the big leagues, he surprised some by utilizing "Thuggish Ruggish Bone" from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Blackstreet's "No Diggity," despite the fact he was just a toddler when both songs came out.

Yet the young slugger didn't just choose songs at random. He had good reason for going with two '90s hits.

"You gotta have something that sounds good and matches your personality," Schwarber said, before letting on he may have a twist coming with this year's music. "It's a jam you want to listen to when you're riding around the car. Just that slow beat when you walk up to the plate that gets the emotions down. Everything these days is more upbeat.

"I like to control my emotions. If I get a slower beat, I take my time to the plate, get my thoughts together before I do go up there. The calm before the storm, pretty much."

But songs don't have to be well thought out or have a purpose beyond just getting a laugh.

Zobrist heard one guy using the "Let it Go" song from the Disney hit "Frozen." Fowler said former Colorado Rockies teammate Troy Tulowitzki used to use Miley Cyrus as walk-up music. In Cincinnati, Ross played with Ken Griffey Jr., who used the "Soul Glo" song from "Coming to America."

Regardless of reasoning or thought process, walk-up songs are an important part of a player's identity.

"Music is so underrated as far as how it brings people together and how it gives a calming energy over maybe some chaos," Ross said. "Music can really do that.

"If you walk into the weight room, it's blaring. You walk [into the clubhouse] and it's on or in season, you walk into [Cubs manager Joe Maddon's] office and it's on.

"For me, the music thing is really cool and important."

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

Since the Cubs' early exit from the postseason, many have turned their attention to the 2019 roster and wonder if Brandon Morrow will be the team's closer next year.

However, the question isn't WILL Morrow be the closer, but rather — SHOULD he be counted on as the main ninth-inning option?

Morrow didn't throw a single pitch for the Cubs after the All-Star Game, nursing a bone bruise in his forearm that did not heal in time to allow him to make a return down the stretch.

Of course, an injury isn't surprising given Morrow's lengthy history of arm issues. 

Consider: Even with a half-season spent on the DL, Morrow's 35 appearances in 2018 was his second-highest total since 2008 (though he also spent a ton of time as a starting pitcher from 2009-15).

Morrow is 34 now and has managed to throw just 211 innings in 126 games since the start of the 2013 season. 

Because of that, Theo Epstein isn't ready to anoint Morrow the Cubs' 2019 closer despite success in the role in his first year in Chicago (22-for-24 in save chances).

"[We're] very comfortable with Morrow as part of a deep and talented 'pen," Epstein said. "We have to recommit to him in a very structured role and stick with it to do our best to keep him healthy. Set some rules and adhere to them and build a 'pen around that. I'm comfortable."

Epstein is referencing the overuse the Cubs have pointed to for the origin of Morrow's bone bruise when he worked three straight games from May 31-June 2 during a stretch of four appearances in five days.

Joe Maddon and the Cubs were very cautious with Morrow early in the year, unleashing him for only three outings — and 2 innings — in the first two-plus weeks of the season, rarely using him even on back-to-back days.

During that late-May/early-June stretch, Morrow also three just 2 pitches in one outing (May 31) and was only called upon for the 14th inning June 2 when Maddon had already emptied the rest of the Cubs bullpen in a 7-1 extra-inning victory in New York.

The blame or origin of Morrow's bone bruise hardly matters now. All the Cubs can do at this moment is try to learn from it and carry those lessons into 2019. It sounds like they have, heading into Year 2 of a two-year, $21 million deal that also includes a team option for 2020.

"It's the type of injury you can fully recover from with rest," Epstein said. "that said, he has an injury history and we knew that going in. That was part of the calculation when we signed him and that's why it was the length it was and the amount of money it was, given his talent and everything else.

"We were riding pretty high with him for a few months and then we didn't have him for the second half of the season. And again, that's on me. We took an educated gamble on him there and on the 'pen overall, thinking that even if he did get hurt, we had enough talent to cover for it. And look, it was a really good year in the 'pen and he contributed to that greatly in the first half.

"They key is to keep him healthy as much as possible and especially target it for down the stretch and into what we hope will be a full month of October next year."

It's clear the Cubs will be even more cautious with Morrow in 2019, though he also should head into the new campaign with significantly more rest than he received last fall when he appeared in all seven games of the World Series out of the Dodgers bullpen.

Morrow has more than proven his value in this Cubs bullpen as a low-maintenance option when he's on the field who goes right after hitters and permits very few walks or home runs. 

But if the Cubs are going to keep him healthy for the most important time of the season in September and October, they'll need to once again pack the bullpen with at least 7 other arms besides Morrow, affording Maddon plenty of options.

When he is healthy, Morrow will probably get a ton of the closing opportunities, but the world has also seen what Pedro Strop can do in that role and the Cubs will likely add another arm or two this winter for high-leverage situations.