Jack White Swings for the Fences at Austin Sandlot

Singer/guitarist/first baseman hits home run in post-arena show baseball game


Jack White at bat (Photos by Kevin Curtin)

Out there at the Long Time, the bats are wood, the home team wears wool, and the scoreboard has no wires – the runs for each inning being tallied by hand-numbered cards hung on a nail. It's a field of dreams, not forgotten by time, but created in reverence to one – or several – bygone American eras.

The sandlot's fence is a rustic masterpiece. The right field wall is constructed of conjoined pallets, center field's wood planks, and left field is a row of hay bales. This is where home runs fly all afternoon. Unfortunately for resident squad the Texas Playboys, those dingers were being belted off the bats of the visiting Warstic team.

On his third at bat, Jack White was deep in the count. He'd discerningly let the first two pitches crash into the catcher's mitt un-swung-upon. Then, seeing a fastball he liked, the singer, guitarist, and ever-willing bandmate gave himself the green light and wielded the lumber.

Whiff.

Surprised at the lack of a crack, White smiled self-consciously, then wiggled his head cockily like a boxer after the next pitch came in low, skipping off the clay in front of the catcher.

Three balls. One strike.

When the Playboys relief pitcher, Long Time founder Jack Sanders, sent the next fateful ball stomach-high over the plate, the left-handed Detroiter's bat came around to the unmistakable sound of ash wood smacking stretched leather. High, deep, gone. As the ball flew over the left-center fence, even the Playboys held their arms aloft in celebration. Warstic members, meanwhile, assembled along the third base line to high-five White as he jogged by and gave home plate a triumphant stomp.

If Warstic, a Dallas-headquartered bat company that White is co-owner of, could have, at times, been confused for the home team, it was only because one of the most respected rock-oriented musicians of this century played for them. Austin's sandlot saints are, of course, the Texas Playboys: loveable, scrappy, full of characters, and – on Thursday afternoon – totally outmatched.

Superior pitching, hot bats, and a knack for pulling doubles out of singles and triples out of doubles gave the visiting squad a big early lead. It was 11-1 in the top of the third when yet another homer sailed over the wall just as the Tender Things were striking the last note of their song "Sister Elizabeth."

"Ohhhh so far … so good," singer and strummer Jesse Ebaugh cleverly double-entendre'd before the ball had even landed. The upbeat hippie-twang country band – comprised of Ebaugh, bassist Z Lynch, Telecasterist Gary Newcomb, and drummer Matt Strmiska – has served as something of a house act at the Long Time, where the stage stands 25 feet from the diamond and bands play during the game.

The Playboys, full of heart (and playing against increasingly reserve opponents), rallied respectfully in the eighth inning to bring the score up to 18-9 – which ended up being the final.

The night before the game, White had been at a different sporting domain, Austin's new Moody Center, playing a crowd-pleasing show that included a rare version of "Gasoline" (a Dead Weather song that Alison Mosshart, not White, sang) and a section of Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Scuttle Buttin'," which earned him 5,000 Austin points. All three members of his stripped-down backing band – Dominic Davis, Daru Jones, and Quincy McCrary – also played baseball the next day.


The crowd at the Long Time with Croy & the Boys playing in the background

But none of them batted third on a team that clearly had players with at least college baseball experience. "Jock" White did, impressively too: His first at bat resulted in a line drive single to center that gave an RBI, and he stayed in the action defensively, manning first base error free, with his cyan-colored hair screaming out from under a Seventies-style Warstic ballcap.

Amongst the couple hundred people populating the Long Time's crowd, which included many children and dogs chasing foul balls that could be returned for 25 cents, was Austin's Brett Orrison. The studio owner and engineer also founded indie label Spaceflight Records, which represents a great deal of the local musical middle class and counts Thursday's game-time performers the Tender Things and Croy & the Boys on its roster. Orrison, long serving as White's front-of-house sound engineer, told the Chronicle he believes the current tour has been Jack's finest and also that the Moody Center is one of the better-sounding arenas on the circuit, comparing it to the Barclays Center. For him, Wednesday's show contained an all-time life moment: having his young daughter on his lap in the booth, fist pumping to the enormous riff of "Seven Nation Army."

Thursday's top musical moment, meanwhile, occurred when Corey Baum preceded his Croy & the Boys set with a solo version of his 2020 song "I Gave Greg Abbott the Coronavirus," which had a hundred people – young and old – singing the hook about the imagined COVID death of Texas' NRA-sponsored governor. Later, alongside pianist/accordionist Joe Cornetti, bassist Amy Hawthorne, and drummer Casey Seymour, the honky-tonk band seemed to have caught the attention of White, now out of the dugout, with a cover of essential Detroit hardcore punk act Negative Appoach's "Ready to Fight."

Baum also took time to shout-out his son, revealing that young Johnny had just completed his first season of T-ball with his father as the coach.

"So I'd like to offer my coaching services to the Texas Playboys," he joked. "I think they could use it."


Update: An earlier version of this story described the Texas Playboys' uniforms as being made of cotton, when they are, in fact, wool.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Jack White, Corey Baum, Brett Orrison, The Tender Things, Croy & the Boys, Jack Sanders, The Long Time

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