The Isotopes: Punk Rock Baseball Club

The Isotopes don’t have a huge catalog, only a handful of EPs.  They sing short punk songs about baseball. Typically, themed novelty acts offer mild entertainment for those with an interest in their niche, but the Isotopes at times offer a bit more. They are the musical equivalent of a collegiate command and control type pitcher drafted outside the second round who occasionally flashes plus velocity and hints at being something more than originally projected.

Take The Ballad of Rey Ordonez as an example. Ordonez was an interesting, imperfect player who defected from Cuba when their national team was playing an exhibition in Buffalo, New York. Ordonez stole away from his minders, hopped and fence and got into a waiting red Cadillac. A brilliant defensive shortstop and human highlight reel afield, Ordonez was a woeful hitter even when judged by the lesser expectations placed on up-the-middle defenders. Spectators were simultaneously wowed by his fantastic glove work and frustrated by his struggles at the plate. The Isotopes song focuses on how that push and pull affected Ordonez as he wore out his welcome in New York and tried to find regular work with another Major League club. It surely is a song about a baseball player, but listeners need not be interested in baseball to take an interest in a flawed and somewhat tragic figure like Ordonez.

I left my kid behind
And I left my wife alone
Hopped a cyclone fence
Into Buffalo
And I don’t wanna talk about it

Now I’m making highlights
Like nobody’s ever seen
But if the team ain’t winning
They take it out on me
And I don’t wanna talk about it

‘Cause I’m the Cuban Missile baby
But I just can’t get no respect
Because I can’t find a way to connect
They walk the pitcher when I’m on deck
And I’m the Cuban Missile child
But I can’t find no one to relate
Because I’m still batting .188
Oh man I just ain’t no good at the… (plate)

Now my career is tanking
And my contract is up for sale
But I can’t go back home
Or they’ll put me in jail
And I don’t wanna talk about it

‘Cause I’m the Cuban Missile baby
But I just can’t get no respect
Because I can’t find a way to connect
They walk the pitcher when I’m on deck
And I’m the Cuban Missile child
But I can’t find no one to relate
Because I’m still batting .188
Oh man I just ain’t no good at the… (plate)

I’m hated in New York now
And Tampa didn’t work out
No love in old Chicago
No luck in San Diego
More bad news in Seattle
And Havana is so far away now
(Havana’s so far away…)

Other tracks of note are the Curse of Jim Eisenreich, about the former Major League outfielder who walked away from professional baseball for two years in the middle of his career after being misdiagnosed, then properly diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, Goodnight Havana, a song specifically about Cuban defection that draws on the experience of Cuban players like Orlando Hernandez who have crossed the 90 miles of open ocean between Cuba and Florida on makeshift rafts, the informative Infield Fly and the instructional Around the Horn.

With Opening Day a couple weeks away, it’s an opportune time to give the Isotopes a listen.

-Mohammed Chang

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