Tom Day photo
Originally published in March 2012 on www.nabbabridge.org.
Every year, when the snow melts in the north, pollen coats the cars in the southeast and…well, whatever happens in Texas in the spring starts happening, we all peek up into the sky, turn our clocks forward one hour, and start gearing up for the big event. You know the one I’m talking about, right? Of course you do.
Baseball spring training. Didn’t see that coming, did you? My TV’s tuned to the MLB Network, I’m wearing my Sparky Anderson jersey and my Toledo Mud Hens cap, and I’m buying season tickets to the San Antonio Missions. That’s not to say that I’m not thinking about brass bands–I’m always thinking about brass bands. This month, my two favorite spectator sports collided in my brain, and it occurred to me that each brass instrument has a corresponding position on the baseball team. With a little help from my favorite baseball expert, I put together a list:
1) Solo cornet = starting pitcher, and solo euphonium = closing pitcher. Each of them believes they are the most important person in the game. They’re pretty important, but they’re more dependent on the catcher than they care to admit.
2) Tuba: catcher. Runs the show. When the catcher has a good day, the pitcher looks great; when the catcher has a bad day, the whole team takes the blame. Also, more than one catcher has been nicknamed “Pudge.”
3) Flugelhorn: first base. Right in the middle of everything, delivering some of the most elegant solo work on the field.
4) Tenor horn: second base. Versatile, but confusing; other players often get credit for doing his job.
5) Back row cornets: third base. Always diving for shallow bunts and reeling back for foul balls, but the main action visits every other base before them.
6) Baritone: shortstop. Naively thought to be an extra or bonus position, but they’re covering a lot of ground, and almost always doing the tenor horn’s job.
7-9) The trombones in the outfield–where else? They accomplish spectacular feats, but most of the time they’re, well, out in left field.
10) Repiano cornet: utility infielder. No explanation needed.
11) Soprano cornet? Designated hitter, of course. Trots out every couple of innings to hit a home run–or strike out.
12) Percussion: the Bullpen. Once, it was common for starting pitchers to finish games and brass band music didn’t use percussion. Nowadays, a full complement of percussion is as necessary as a bullpen full of pitchers. Most relievers are used sparingly, their skills matched up for particular tasks, and the game wouldn’t be the same without them.
The two subjects–baseball and brass band–are not so different, in the end. Both have an inspired, rabid fan base; both seem breathtakingly simple when viewed from a distance. Texas Rangers owner Nolan Ryan once said, “One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every once in a while you come into a situation where you want to, and where you have to, reach down and prove something.” The same could be said of a brass band competition, as well.
This year’s NABBA Championships will bring together friends from Little Rock to Boston; Detroit to Raleigh–many of whom don’t see one another at any other time of the year. Be sure to visit the vendor exhibits, look me up and say ‘hey,’ and enjoy the weekend full of fantastic bands playing fantastic music. Play ball.
3/09/13 – Special thanks to Alan Kiser for reminding me that percussionists also read brass band websites! I’ll never leave out our bullpen again. –B