You know the song, even if you don’t know you know it. Let me paint the scene for you:
It’s a beautiful summer afternoon at Busch Stadium, and you’re settling in for a day of Cardinals baseball. The St. Louis starting pitcher quickly disposes of the opposing 1-2-3 hitters, and now the home team is up to bat.
More often than not the past several years, that can only mean one thing—you’re about to hear some fiddlin’.
When Matt Carpenter comes to bat as the Cardinals leadoff hitter, as he’ll do Friday afternoon in the bottom of the first inning of the home opener, it will be with one of his favorite bands blaring over the speakers at Busch.
Whether you love country music or not, if you've been to a Cardinals home game since 2012, you probably know exactly what I'm talking about. Carpenter's long-time walk-up song, "Long Hot Summer Day" by Turnpike Troubadours, has become ingrained in the soundtrack of summer in St. Louis. And Carpenter has no intention of changing that any time soon.
“From the beginning of my career in St. Louis,” Carpenter said when asked how far back his usage of the song dates. “I just really fell in love with the band, I still love the band. I fell in love with the song, I thought it had some local ties to it, so I kinda stuck with it ever since.”
For a lot of country fans in St. Louis, Carpenter's usage of the song as his walk-up music was their introduction to the country/folk group formed in Oklahoma in 2007. And Carpenter's right about the local ties in the song, especially for Cardinals fans on the Illinois side of the river.
In the portion of "Long Hot Summer Day" commonly played at Cardinals games, the song mentions Pekin, a small Illinois town just south of Peoria; the Peoria Chiefs have been a Class-A minor league affiliate of the Cardinals since 2013.
The song also makes mention to Alton and Beardstown, Illinois, as well as repeated references to the Illinois River. Not to mention, it was originally written and recorded in 1976 by John Hartford, a bluegrass musician who grew up in St. Louis.
It's safe to say that the local flavor and the summery imagery created by the song combine to make it a perfect fit to accompany baseball in the Gateway City.
After using the tune, Carpenter has developed a relationship with the Turnpike Troubadours over the years. He’s had the group as his guests for a game at Busch Stadium, and the Troubadours have returned the favor to Carpenter, welcoming him on their tour bus and at their concerts in the past.
Kyle Nix, the man who mans the fiddle for the band, couldn’t be happier to have his music be tied so closely with Carpenter and the Cardinals at Busch Stadium every summer.
“We’re all pretty proud that Matt steps up to the plate with our music playing... and on those big Busch Stadium speakers!” Nix said in a statement for this story. “But it’s one thing to have your tunes played in a professional sports stadium and another to have somebody the caliber of Matt Carpenter walking up to it. We had the pleasure of meeting Matt several years back. He’s just as good a person as he is a ball player and that’s saying something.”
In more recent years, astute ears waiting for an encore by Turnpike before Carpenter’s second plate appearance each game have noticed instead a different country tune, one with some serious rock n’ roll vibes.
Carpenter’s two-hole hitter in his music lineup is a song called "Hurricane," by Band of Heathens. Like "Long Hot Summer Day," "Hurricane" is a cover. The original was co-written by Thom Schuyler, Keith Stegall and Stewart Harrisby, and recorded by multiple artists in the early 1980s. Band of Heathens came out with their version of the tune in 2016, prompting the man atop the Cardinals lineup to add another song to his own.
“Obviously, "Long Hot Summer Day" is a staple, it’s always going to be my first song,” Carpenter said. “But I thought it’d be nice to—when you bat leadoff, you get up there five times a game, you keep hearing the same song—so I thought it would be nice to mix it up a little bit… Just to keep the fans entertained.”
Looking for a thumper in the three-hole, Carpenter now uses "Loud and Heavy" by country rocker Cody Jinks. When he gets a fourth at-bat in a game—which he almost always does, as the leadoff batter—Carpenter begins the cycle anew. He throws it back to Turnpike Troubadours, with lead-singer Evan Felker's voice and Nix's fiddle setting the tone once again.
That's what it always comes back to for Carpenter. Even with the more recent quality additions to his playlist, "Long Hot Summer Day" has been there since the beginning, and it's the one the that sticks most prominently in fans' minds.
“I think it’s great. I think it has good meaning, especially on a hot summer day in St. Louis and I think the fans love it,” Carpenter said. “It’s been thankfully and luckily, a long run, eight years that I’ve had it. And hopefully many more.”