Billy Joel knocks it out of the park for baseball
On Friday, the greatest American songwriter performed a sold out concert at the greatest ballpark in America.
The Piano Man, himself, Billy Joel was at Pittsburgh’s picturesque PNC Park and dazzled the masses who came out to catch a glimpse of the 67-year old and his talented bandmates.
Now, Joel can’t hit the high notes like he used to. However, he can still belt out notes better than some other performers in his age bracket. It felt like the late 1980s on Friday instead of mid-summer 2016 as I sat in Section 316, Row B of PNC Park. These are ideal seats for a baseball game and they proved to be just as good for a concert, featuring a living legend.
It was fitting that such a beautiful ballpark played host to such an iconic musical figure. It wasn’t just Pittsburgh’s stunning skyline and the PNC Park field dimensions that made the concert great. No, it was Joel’s personal connection to our national pastime that made it all come together perfectly.
Joel, who for the past two years has had a personal residency at Madison Square Garden, still takes his show on the road for nationwide tours. This summer, he is making it a point to play at several Major League Baseball stadiums.
So far, Joel has hit Petco Park in San Diego and Safeco Field in Seattle. In the next few months, he will go to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Nationals Park In Washington, D.C., Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Outdoor venues make for the ideal summer setting and performing in any ballpark just exudes top-notch patriotism. Maybe it was no coincidence that Joel rocked PNC Park to kick off Fourth of July weekend.
It’s also no coincidence that Joel chooses baseball parks to set up shop.
He is a baseball fan, hailing from New York City. His 2008 concert at Shea Stadium closed the historic ballpark which housed the New York Mets for 44 years. The Live from Shea Stadium CD is one of his top-selling live albums.
Joel has sang the National Anthem at several MLB games, including the 2000 World Series between the Mets and New York Yankees. Last year, in Game 3 of the World Series between the Mets and Kansas City Royals, fans at Citi Field belted out an impromptu “Piano Man” when stadium cameras captured Joel sitting in a suite with actor Kevin James.
Joel, of course, was wearing a blue and orange Mets cap.
True Joel fans, of course, can pick out the many baseball references in his songs.
One of my favorite lines is from “Pressure.”
“….but here you are in the ninth, two men out and three men on. Nowhere to look but inside. Where we all respond to pressure.”
Certainly it’s a situation all baseball players can relate to. Baseball fans, too, who have to endure the tense situations will have to deal with their own pressure.
Then, there’s perhaps Joel’s most famous song, “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” In this 1989 hit, a tune from later in his career, Joel has not one, but five baseball references.
“Joe DiMaggio” comes out right in the song’s first line, before Joe McCarthy and after Walter Winchell. Of course, this is another nod to his New York heritage and a tip of the cap to the “Yankee Clipper.”
“Campanella” is Joel’s second baseball reference, referring to Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella. Campanella came into the major leagues one season after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in modern baseball in 1947. The historic tandem did, however, play together in the minor leagues with the Brooklyn farm team, Montreal Royals.
“Mickey Mantle” comes into play in the song after the second “we didn’t start the fire” refrain. There’s probably 20 other New York baseball players Joel could have named, but “The Mick” is a worthy candidate after his 20 All-Star Game appearances and seven World Series titles.
That’s all for Joel’s individual mentions. He now goes into an array of topics regarding the teams, as a whole.
“California baseball” comes shortly after the Mickey Mantle reference. This is a way to sympathize with the millions of Big Apple baseball fans who dealt with the departures of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles and the New York Giants to San Francisco. Both moves came in 1957, leaving New York with just one MLB team until the Mets joined the Yankees in 1962.
“Brooklyn’s got a winning team” is Joel’s final baseball reference in “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” This matches the Dodgers and Yankees together as Brooklyn knocked off New York in the 1955 World Series. It was the franchise’s first and only World Series champion in Brooklyn.
There is an array of other topics that Joel mentions in the song and there isn’t enough time or column space to dive into all of the issues.
It’s just nice to know that such a talented person can bring his love of the game into his work.
(Peaslee is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @thempeas)