In our explorations of the athleto-musicological phenomenon known as Sportscore, there has been a largely unasked, seemingly unanswerable question: so does this goofy nonsense genre have a future or not? A few months back, me and coho(r/s)t Marty Brown invited my editor David Roth onto our podcast, Beat Connection (LIKE RATE AND SUBSCRIBE) for a discussion that hinged on this particular question. The (spoiler) conclusion was that the current ultra-micromanaged state of our social-media-aware sports world probably wouldn't permit it, and that in the instances where it did, the results would probably be carefully focus-grouped at best.
As a Twins fan, I made sure to point out one particular example: Joe Mauer, of all living humans, has long been rumored to have a secret hip-hop album he recorded in a home studio, much to the amusement of his then-teammate Denard Span. ("Looking at him right now, I'm guessing it's a cross between Vanilla Ice and Cypress Hill"). In a more freewheeling decade—so, the nineties—Mauer might've actually decided to put it out for the hell of it. But when the rage virus once contained to a subset of ignorable sports-talk morlocks has spread to every Twitter feed and comment-section hellmaw in existence, what's the point in taking that risk? Certain athletes will always want to play pop star, but who wants to be a meme? There's just no percentage in it.
And yet there's a contemporary scene that makes all the sense in the world for the musically inclined sports figure. Say what you will about electronic dance music—and I say it's generally more great than not from "Sharevari" onwards—but its longtime reliance on The Beat over a personality cult and preference for collective-driven anonymity over marquee stardom makes it one of music's greatest places to escape. Detractors say it's "faceless," but when your face is on millions of Topps baseball cards, that probably sounds pretty fucking great.
This is why I was more heartened than shocked to learn that Twins pitcher Trevor May, sixth-starter hopeful and possible solution to the team's generation-spanning middle-relief malaise, is still continuing an EDM career that was pointed out as a weird footnote when the then-Phillies prospect was dealt to the Twins in the 2012 Ben Revere trade.
There is still evidence of May's nascent DJ career floating around on YouTube: all you have to do is search for "DJ Hey Beef" (?) (!), and ... well, you'll have to go a few pages deep, past a bunch of Afrojack videos and steak-grilling tutorials, but it's there. As you can probably tell from the concourse-style decor in the video above, this laptop DJ set from his 2012 stint with the Double-A Reading Fightin' Phils was hosted by the team at FirstEnergy Stadium, much to the apparent delight of several children and at least a few adults who reject baseball's longstanding violent dislike of dance music. (An aside I enjoy pointing out as often as opportunity lets me: the two MLB teams beset upon by Disco Demolition Night, the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers, were from the two cities where contemporary post-disco dance music germinated and began to flourish in the '80s.)
A stone's throw from the burger stand in a minor league ballpark seems like an unlikely but feasible-enough venue for a dance floor, and people seem to be having fun, which is an important first step for budding DJs. So May's potential as a good go-to crowd-pleasing entertainment option for baseball-centric community charity/party events seems at least somewhat secure.
But that brings me to an issue that, apologies in advance, stirs up some brow-knitting music geek questions in my brain. I am pretty down with house music, even if my tastes generally run old-school (Trax Records for life), minimal (I have Pavlovian reactions to meticulously arranged multicolored grids of dots), directly conversant with funk (Listen To Moodymann), and otherwise kind of disengaged with whatever it is that's making big money in Vegas. I do my best not to be a snob, but when more knowlegeable cohorts than me gag at the latest tropical house cover storming the charts, I'm comfortable taking their word for it. This is why I'm a little thrown by May's music—not just what he's DJ'ing in that clip, but the stuff he's been making on his own.
That, for instance, is "Balvenie." It is, to reiterate, a house track named after a fancy brand of Scotch, created by a member of baseball's most reliably goateed contingent, the Brotherhood of the Middle Reliever. It is also, by any metric, a Big Shameless Party Jam—the kind of thing you would probably expect from somebody who is skilled enough at his craft to really care about putting the work, in but also lighthearted enough about it to call himself "DJ Hey Beef." (Or at least did that for a little while; a more recent alias is DJ MAZR, which could be the most SABR-sounding thing a ballplayer has ever called himself.)
There is one other surprising thing about "Balvenie"—it is, like, good. It's well in keeping with the classic style of house that was sustained and tweaked subtly over eras. May cites a lot of new-hotness acts in this Reddit Q&A—rising deep house artists Golf Clap and Diplo/Skrillex superduo Jack U get nods—but he also makes sure to give Carl Cox his due, so there's no faulting his foundation.
And that's the catch with May's interest in house and techno. May was born in 1989, just after acid house crossed the Atlantic and dance music reckoned with its first truly huge mass-culture audience in the UK. By the time May got into it in high school, it was a profoundly well-established genre, and one with both sprawling lines of influence radiating out for anyone to follow and more than a few zero-cost resources to hear it. In this ARTISTdirect interview, May talks about getting into "big room" trance stuff first before finding new routes through deep house, electro, and progressive house, and you can actually hear that lineage in his music. It's funny that there's more evident artistic evolution from this 26-year-old Jose Abreu adversary than some actual EDM bigshots.
This is where it's fun to think of the parallels. May was originally touted as a starter, but relievers, even mop-up guys, face more intense scenarios. Relievers have to work in high-leverage situations, on an elevated stage that puts them at the center of an audience, and rides waves and crests of calm lulls and heavy tension spurred on by thousands of stomping feet. If they want to succeed, they have to mix their shit up proper; unless you're one of those unusually distinctive legends working the crowds out in NYC who can ride on the same rhythm relentlessly, you'll get exposed by just tossing fastball after fastball. It's not easy.
But it can be done. Just keep that momentum up, shift the pace, wrong-foot the complacent as needed and challenge the ones who want to take things to the wall—mostly keep everything moving. If this bullpen thing doesn't work out, or even if it does, May's definitely got a good FabricLive mix in him.