The art of the walk-up song: 2022 Cubs edition
Wrigley Field is packed.
The beer is flowing, the smell of hot dogs and grilled onions hangs in the air and the buzz is palpable.
It’s chilly, but that’s to be expected for an early-April game at Wrigley Field.
The National Anthem ends, the clock starts to tick down to 1:20 and a kid enthusiastically shouts “Play Ball!”
In the next moment, “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith starts to play and fans begin to clap and cheer because they know it means Kyle Hendricks is ready to take the mound for the first official pitch of 2022.
But wait, that’s not “Sweet Emotion” blasting through the Wrigley loudspeakers.
It’s another song entirely.
What is happening?
It’s still Hendricks jogging out to the mound. The Cubs didn’t make a last-minute pitching change.
So it’s the other thing?
That’s right — Hendricks may have a different walk-up song in 2022 after “Sweet Emotion” announced his arrival for more than a half-decade.
In the final days of Spring Training, Hendricks admitted he was not sure what his walk-up song would be for the new season. But for the first time in years, he was thinking it was time to switch it up.
“I’m the kind of guy — if they play the organ, I don’t care,” Hendricks said. “I don’t really hear anything. I just had had it and I had never changed it. It just became stuck there but I think it might be time for a change.
“It just seems fresh around here. Everything’s new and different. I just don’t want to be stuck. It’s not a big deal at all but just kinda moving on symbolically maybe.”
Aerosmith’s 1975 classic became synonymous with Hendricks as a joke, in part.
His wife, Emma, and her cousin, Jordan, actually chose the walk-out song for Hendricks. They grew up as big music lovers, especially classic rock. Plus, considering Hendricks’ uber-calm personality, running to the mound to a song titled “Sweet Emotion” has always been a funny bit.
“I told them they could take charge,” Hendricks said. “They got a list together — a few songs — and then they decided and that’s the one they chose. They said, ‘this would be sweet’ — no pun intended.
“I went with it and it stuck from there. They were the ones telling me, ‘no you can’t change it. That’s you.’ But now they’re kind of on the train of, ‘we need to change it.’”
The walk-up song says a lot about a player.
“I think, above all else, it’s all about someone’s personality,” Willson Contreras said. “I think music is something that motivates people differently.
“In my case, I try to pick one song that I like or that identifies with my personality.”
There’s a fine line when picking a song, though.
“I like Venezuelan music more and that isn’t listened to too much here,” Rafael Ortega said. “I try to pick one that I like, that the team likes and that the fans like.”
Players pay attention to what everyone is walking out to, too.
Jason Heyward has admiration for opponents like Max Muncy and Justin Turner (“(Oh No) What You Got” by Justin Timberlake and Timbaland) and what they play when they come out.
But he’s also had plenty of teammates who have had some strong walk-up songs.
“Dex [Dexter Fowler], I would say, someone that I played with and obviously it was only for one year, but the next best walk-ups that I’ve seen,” Heyward said.
Javy Báez was another former teammate who had some top-notch walk-up songs. It’s tough to beat when you’re mentioned in a song, too.
In 2020, Báez walked up to “Somos o No Somos” by reggaeton artist Anuel AA, which featured a line, “Yo corro to’ los bases como Javy Báez” — ”I run the bases like Javy Báez.”
“When you were talking about Latin music — hands down, his stuff is always a vibe,” Heyward said. “I remember ‘17 and ‘18 the whole dugout would be singing his songs. Everybody didn’t know the words, but they were singing the song.”
Some Cubs players choose songs not because of the lyrics or the artist — but the feeling the song inspires.
“I like to pick something that I personally like and I know the fans will like,” said Patrick Wisdom, who walks out to “Body” by Loud Luxury feat. Brando. “It’s more upbeat; it can get the crowd going. Gets me going — kind of a little pep in my step when I step to the plate.”
Nick Madrigal agrees with that sentiment.
“I usually like something that kinda gets me more hyped up, getting the right feel of things,” said Madrigal, who had not yet selected a song as of Monday. “If you’re feeling confident and hyped up in the box, you have a pretty good chance of hitting something hard.”
Frank Schwindel has used the same song for the last 6 years — “Self Esteem” by The Offspring. But don’t bother looking up the words because that’s not why he chose it.
“I just like the intro,” Schwindel said. “The lyrics don’t mean anything to me. It gets me in the mindset to hit.”
Schwindel used that as his walk-up song last season when he hit .342 with a 1.002 OPS with the Cubs over the final two months of the campaign.
“Usually I rotate. But last year, I stuck with ‘Self Esteem’ ‘cause it was hot and so I had to keep rolling with it,” Schwindel said.
Nico Hoerner has experienced a wide array of action at Wrigley Field — from a packed house in the middle of a pennant race in September 2019 to an empty stadium in 2020. As MLB ballparks opened up to 100% capacity last year, Hoerner could tell the impact a walk-up song could have on the crowd.
“Wrigley is a unique place and there are songs that might work somewhere else that don’t quite fit the energy there,” Hoerner said. “It’s always interesting and you always notice when a guy changes theirs.
“Wrigley has such an incredible energy to it that if you have a song that can add a little bit to that, then it’s a nice thing.”
Walk-up songs are all fun and games…unless a player strikes the wrong chord with his choice.
“Anytime you hear a good one, you start bobbing your head to it,” Steele said. “Sometimes you’ll hear a rough one and you’re like, ‘eh, I don’t know about that one.’”
Schwindel is always paying attention to his teammates’ tunes.
“There’s been some good ones,” he said. “Some very bad ones, too. A good one gets the whole dugout going. A bad one’s like, ‘oh, he’s got no chance today.’ Usually those get changed pretty quick if there’s no results in the game. It’s pretty funny.”
Some players choose songs because of a particular connection with that tune.
Alec Mills always chooses country because he grew up in Clarksville, Tenn., which is an hour from Nashville.
Mychal Givens has spent his career as a late-inning reliever and wants to set a clear tone with his music.
“Ready or not, here I come,” is the opening line of his walk-out song “Ready or Not” by the Fugees.
“I’ve had that since I debuted in 2015,” Givens said. “Always gave me motivation going into the game. I like the old-school feel. It’s the nature of getting ready and motivated and a mindset of coming after you.”
A great walk-up song can become iconic. That’s especially true of relievers. Think of Trevor Hoffman (“Hells Bells”) or Mariano Rivera (“Enter Sandman”).
Or former Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel.
Wisdom got to witness the full Guns N’ Roses experience as Kimbrel’s teammate for two months last season. As he was explaining how much he enjoyed watching the Wrigley faithful go insane when “Sweet Child O’ Mine” started blasting at the corner of Clark and Addison, Wisdom paused.
“It gives me goosebumps right now,” he said. “It makes my hair stand up [thinking about it]. It’s awesome.”
Ethan Roberts may one day step in as the Cubs’ closer. If he does, he will actually have a teammate as part of his walk-out song.
“I’ve had the same one for the past 4 years,” Roberts said. “It’s a song Marcus [Stroman] is in with Mike Stud. It’s called ‘Shine’ and I’m gonna keep using it for the whole rest of my career.”
Stroman has been Roberts’ favorite player for a long time and now, the two are sharing a clubhouse.
When Roberts had a chance to meet Stroman this spring, he told the veteran starter about his walk-up song selection.
“He goes, ‘My dude,’” Roberts said, laughing. “He’s into making music and stuff. He was like, ‘bruh, we’re gonna have to change that. I can do so much better than that now.’”
Roberts plans to keep “Shine” for the time being but acknowledged that if Stroman makes another song, he would be willing to make a switch.
Hoerner admits he usually doesn’t even hear his own walk-up song because he’s so locked into the at-bat. But he definitely connects songs to his teammates and believes a good walk-up tune can add to a player’s presence.
“We all become subconsciously aware of what each other has,” Hoerner said. “A song will come on at a restaurant or something and I immediately think of Willson Contreras. It’s something fans pick up on, too, especially for everyday guys that are here for a while.”
Often, players will consult with friends or family to choose their walk-up songs
Schwindel plans to keep “Self Esteem” but will also rotate in a song that his wife selects.
Justin Steele consults with his girlfriend, Libby, for his walk-up song.
“We’ll play a song on the radio or on our phone or something and be like, ‘this would be a good walk-up song’ and we’ll add it to a list,” Steele said.
His list includes some country options and some hip hop. Last year, he used “Come Together” by Gary Clark, Jr. — the same version the Cubs would play before every home game last season.
Alfonso Rivas admitted he doesn’t spend much time thinking about his walk-up song. But he typically prefers to choose something Latin because he grew up in Mexico and Spanish is his first language.
“It’s just kind of what I default to,” Rivas said. “Usually it’s a song that I like at the moment or a song that I grew up listening to.”
This year, Contreras is focusing on family, too.
His brother, William, is a catcher with the Braves and the two have discussed in the past sharing the same walk-up song – “Candy Shop” by 50 Cent.
“I think I will use that one this year,” Contreras said. “My brother has told me for many years to use that one.”