Raleigh is abuzz this weekend with baseball fever, which is at its most feverish local pitch in years thanks to a high-profile three-game series between the visiting University of North Carolina Tar Heels and the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Both teams are ranked in the national top-10 — UNC at No. 1, State at No. 6 — and Friday night’s opening game went about how you’d expect based on their relative rankings. Two more games await, and Saturday’s first pitch is at 6:30 p.m.
But for our purposes here, we’re more interested in the setting than the teams or the games — NC State’s Doak Field, which is by the train tracks just off Raleigh’s Hillsborough Street strip. It’s a setting that helped inspire one of Ryan Adams’ choicer obscurities, “Empty Baseball Park,” a lovely little mood piece of a song that emerged in the wake of Whiskeytown’s 1996 full-length debut Faithless Street. I heard Whiskeytown play “Empty Baseball Park” a few times live that year, and it was among the handful of songs recorded as pre-Strangers Almanac demos from the “Baseball Park Sessions.” But it didn’t make it onto Strangers Almanac, eventually emerging as one of the extra bonus tracks on the 1998 Faithless Street reissue.
I’ve always liked “Empty Baseball Park,” which is steeped in a sense of townie ennui that would have fit right onto Strangers (see Chapter 8 of “Losering” for more on that). Over an easy-gliding arrangement, the lyrics tell of drinking at a favorite bar until dark before stumbling on down to the empty ballpark, pretending to heckle a non-existent game, continuing on past the record store (maybe Schoolkids?) and on to the movies (maybe the small underground indie-movie house that used to be near the old Schoolkids space on Hillsborough Street?), trying to think of something else to do. The conclusion: “Nothing’s comin’ to me.” I bet it was at least the partial inspiration for this twisted little piece of genius.
ADDENDUM (4/29/13): NC state came back to win the second game of the series, but the deciding third game was rained out. And so the series ends as a 1-1 tie. Bummer…
SECOND ADDENDUM (5/26/13): The rubber match happened in the ACC Tournament, and it was one for the ages — UNC edging NC State 2-1 in 18 innings. Wow!