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The Baseball Project (Sept.09 issue) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Schultz   

ImageLine Drives, Pop Flies, Donuts and Chili Fries
The Baseball Project Brings Steve Wynn Back to Home Plate

If you've ever wondered what could tie a rock star and a sports writer together 32 years after they graduated high school and went in separate career directions, I think I've finally figured it out. Arlene's Donuts.

See, back at University High School in West Los Angeles – home of the collectively worst sports teams in the city, except in non-contact activities like cross-country and volleyball – neither Steve Wynn nor I aspired to be anything but sports writers.

We were fortunate to attend a school that had an open campus during lunch period, which was by necessity because the school was old and the cafeteria was condemned and whenever they tried to knock it down to build a new one, the gardener would find some Native American remnant because the school was built on an Indian burial ground (long story which I'll end there). Steve and I also had a journalism teacher (later novelist), Montserrat Fontes, who shared the same passion for junk food as we did. And, fortunately, Arlene's Donuts was right down the street.

"I remember always going for her to pick up donuts and chili fries for journalism class," Wynn said. "Monse was very cool."

Monse would be proud.

Neither of us ever got a real job.

Wynn transitioned to music writing, formed the smash alternative rock band, The Dream Syndicate in 1981 and continues making great music today at the age of almost 50, a number I became familiar with in June. I continued down the sports writing path, went on to work for newspapers in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and have been at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 20 years.

We have somehow both survived in dramatically changing industries, even though at times we both feel like products of the Jurassic and as simple as, well, a donut. I long for the day of the real newspaper. He longs for albums. I'm a slave to page views. He's hoping a teenager will download more than a single song off iTunes. But in the end, we both still write.

"It's funny, but I'm still going to clubs and doing the things I did when I was 20," he said. "I would go see a band, maybe they had been around for 10 years and I'd think, 'Wow, they're 30.' Now 20-year-olds come to see me and I'm like, 'What must he be thinking?' Half the people who come see my shows are kids. I ask them how they know me and they say, 'My dad got me into your music.' Hey, that's great. As long as it's not, 'My grandfather got me into your music.'"

I am not saying this just because Steve is a friend. But if you've never heard any of his music – be it The Dream Syndicate, his solo career, The Miracle 3, any of his other bands or his latest, The Baseball Project – you're missing out on one of the most talented and influential yet underappreciated songwriters of our time.

He is back on tour again. It's a throwback tour, really – one that has him doing 30 shows in 30 cities in the U.S. It started on the West Coast and winds through Atlanta and Athens with shows at The EARL Sept. 27 and 40 Watt Sept. 28. The group – Wynn, Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5, R.E.M), Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Wynn's wife, Linda Pitmon (Miracle 3, Zuzu's Petals) - are driving from one coast to the other in a Splitter van.

 "Actually, it's pretty comfortable," Wynn said, laughing. "It's not the Madden Cruiser, but it's not quite the Honda Civic with guitars sticking out the window, like on my first tour. I've made some progress in 28 years."

For the record, Wynn was a hell of a sports writer (far better than I ever was a singer). All I ever wanted to do was finish ahead of him in a writing competition. When I finally did it once, I felt like I could retire happy at 17. Instead, I went on to join Steve stringing high school football games for $5 apiece. It was donut money.

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