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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: November 28, 2020 12:27 pm PDT
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This happened in the early ’80s at Holmdel High School in New Jersey during a weekend softball game. The Pony Express, representing the Stone Pony, yes, that Stone Pony from Asbury Park, versus The E Street Angels, yes that E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen’s squad.

“It was the guys in his band and friends,’’ Lee Mrowicki, a longtime associate scout with the Chicago Cubs who was the house DJ at the iconic Stone Pony, told BallNine this week. “We would bring the refreshments and his people would bring the barbecue. They would provide the food and we would provide the beer and we’d play a doubleheader.’’

How cool is that.

From his point of view as a baseball scout, I asked Mrowicki to evaluate Springsteen, not as the legendary rocker from the Jersey Shore, but as just another weekend warrior Jersey Shore softball player.

“Bruce played second base,’’ Mrowicki began. “Sometimes you hide people in right field, sometimes you hide them at second base but Bruce was a decent fielder and he was a line-drive hitter.’’

These days they would say Bruce could improve upon his launch angle. Not album launch. Swing launch.

“In fact one of the things that I think I gained some respect is his first time up and I’m playing centerfield,’’ Mrowicki said, “and I make a running catch to deprive him of a double. He’s going, ‘I know who you are!!!’’’

That’s Jersey Shore Bruce for sure. You gotta love this too.

“The second time we play him, he brings in a ringer. This guy who was his booking agent Barry Bell – and Barry used to pitch fast-pitch semi-pro. Our guys were used to arc pitch and they were just striking out, but I had baseball experience and that stuff to me was normal and I take him into a gap for a double.’’

Good times. That’s Lee Mrowicki’s life.

Mrowicki loves music and loves baseball. He has managed to mix the two for many decades scouting high schools, colleges, and college summer leagues, searching out talent from the area, scouting such players as Mike Trout, Rick Porcello and so many others. In 1998 he gave a pep talk to a Little League team from Toms River East American, Todd Frazier’s team that won the Little League World Series.

Mrowicki has a daily internet radio show called Radio Jersey on Asburymusic.com. He also does extensive interviews with music industry people called Round the Horn with those sessions turning into baseball talk and can be found on his Facebook page and Twitter @nyproscouts.

Mrowicki is all about energy and good vibes. He’s a web developer and marketer as well. It’s a beautiful thing.

Anyone who has ever visited the Jersey Shore knows that when you are down the shore where everything’s alright, age is just a number, I’m not going to tell you how old Lee Mrowicki is, but he’s got the energy of a teenager.

Here’s a little Springsteen baseball story from me.

I’m in Tampa for spring training. To get from the field and clubhouses to the press box you have cut through the main lobby at Steinbrenner Field. This was when George Steinbrenner was still The Boss of the Yankees.

As I slash through to the elevators, I recognize the figure at the front desk, it’s Springsteen. He is there to pick up tickets. I’m not the only one who recognizes Bruce. Suddenly ballpark officials come into the lobby and one says quietly into his walkie-talkie to another: “Get over to the lobby, The Boss is here.’’

More Yankee people show up and some are so well conditioned that when they hear the words: “The Boss is here’’ they think George, not Bruce.

They are happily surprised.

I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed

A polite Springsteen is helped at the front desk and is told he can pull his car around and park in the VIP area out front of the ballpark but Springsteen has already parked in the main grass lot at the football stadium and walked across the pedestrian bridge over Dale Mabry Highway and says, he’s fine just where he is, no problem.

I hold the elevator for him, he gets on, just the two of us and I mention I was at his classic 1978 Capitol Theatre concert in Passaic, NJ. and after that show I could not bring myself to see him in massive venues.

Yes, AMBS has been around the block.

Springsteen smiles that smile and has some questions about the Yankees and for once the legendary slow elevators at Steinbrenner Field seem to run too quickly.

In 2008 I interviewed Nils Lofgren, who joined the E Street Band in 1984, for a story about a song he wrote about his wife Amy going to Yankee Stadium from Jersey when she was a young girl with her mom in the 1970s. At the time, Amy told me, “Yankee fans are diehard, going to the grave loving their Yankees. Bruce fans are the same way. You get the same vibe.’’

Yes, you do.

A few years later I interviewed John Fogarty for his iconic baseball song ‘Centerfield’, which he would be singing in Cooperstown at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Turns out he was crazy about playing centerfield from the time he was seven years old. Put me in coach.

The point is, so many music people love to talk baseball. Mrowicki knows that first-hand and has tapped into that during his sessions where he talks to musicians about baseball.

“I’m using my baseball friends as topics for the program and I’m even surprised at how many musicians are baseball fans,’’ Mrowicki, who was the DJ at the Wonder Bar too, told me. That is a lot of good times and good music.

“A lot of them grew up with baseball and before they were musicians they were ballplayers, whether they go back to Little League or high school ball or something like that, a lot of them had the experience of being on the field. In that respect it’s kind of fodder for my program and I am finding more and more of these people along the way,’’ Mrowicki said.

“One of my good friends, and we met is because he was working for Springsteen at the time, is a guy named Terry Lawless,’’ Mrowicki said. “Terry grew up in Iowa and was a Cubs fan. He’s now in Los Angeles so he lives and dies Dodger Blue. He’s ultra-talented and we first met when I was working in the music business in retail and luckily got to sell the E-Street band a piano they were going to use on stage.

lee

Lee as a scout in Cubbie gear

The piano was delivered to Convention Hall in Asbury Park.

“Terry was the piano technician on this tour and I had to show him how to use the piano because it had some electronics,’’ Mrowicki said. “A few years later Springsteen was going to do some Christmas shows at the Convention Hall so I got in touch with Terry to see if he was coming east to do the shows because I knew he was based out in California.’’

Lawless, a talented keyboardist who also plays the saxophone, told Mrowicki he was not coming.

“I have a new gig,’’ he said. “I’m now the keyboard player for U2.’’

Not bad.

Another such baseball/music fan goes by the name Charlie Midnight. “Charlie is the songwriter/record producer who wrote ‘Living in America’ for James Brown,’’ Mrowicki said. “Growing up on the East Coast he was as Yankee fan and then became a Dodger fan.

“These are people I’ve met in my double life, being in music and professional baseball.’’

Mrowicki’s DJ days at the Stone Pony go back to the 70s. One night in 1984, Springsteen came in with a record in his hand and came over to the DJ booth. Just like everyone else, The Boss would request a song on occasion, something like Dion’s ‘The Wanderer’ but on this night this was his own music he handed off to Mrowicki.

“He said how about we try this record on the crowd to see how they react,’’ Mrowicki said of this meeting on the Jersey side. “We put it on and the crowd is looking at us as to what the hell are we doing here and it’s the premier of ‘Dancing in the Dark.’ ’’

That song was a big change for Springsteen.

“It was a different kind of sound for Springsteen,’’ Mrowicki said. “It was an out and out dance record … He would come up to the Stone Pony nearly every Sunday night and he would go on stage and play. One time before the band is going on tour he takes over the place and the whole band is playing an hour set. He would do that on occasion.’’

After 9-11, Springsteen wrote the ‘The Rising’.

“I got to play it before anyone else,’’ Mrowicki said.

“I get a CD from I won’t say who in his crew and he tells me ‘Don’t play this (at the Stone Pony). Take a listen to it and tell me what you think?’

“I have no idea what it is and I’m going home after work and I drop it into the CD player and it’s pretty cool, then I start to hear the lyrics for ‘The Rising’ and I’ve got to pull over. I’m sitting on the side of the road, playing this CD and I busted into tears. This song is all about a fireman being taken up to heaven by Angels. It’s almost as an author has described a picture of what is happening and to me it’s angels brining the fireman up to he­­aven, when you hear the ‘li li’ it’s the angels singing and bringing to heaven … and now he is looking down from heaven onto his wife in the garden thinking about his kids and everything.

“I told the person who gave it to me, this is not only a great song but a great piece of literature because of the way it handles the scene.’’

bruuuuuce

Someone tell Bruce his launch angle needs work

“The Rising”

 

Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile line

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

Spirits above and behind me
Faces gone black, eyes burnin’ bright
May their precious blood forever bind me

Lord as I stand before your fiery light

Li, li, li, li, li, li, li, li, li

I see you Mary in the garden
In the garden of a thousand sighs
There’s holy pictures of our children
Dancin’ in a sky filled with light
May I feel your arms around me
May I feel your blood mix with mine
A dream of life comes to me
Like a catfish dancin’ on the end of the line

Sky of blackness and sorrow (a dream of life)
Sky of love, sky of tears (a dream of life)
Sky of glory and sadness (a dream of life)
Sky of mercy, sky of fear (a dream of life)
Sky of memory and shadow (a dream of life)
Your burnin’ wind fills my arms tonight
Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life (a dream of life)

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

Li, li, li, li, li, li, li, li, li

When ‘The Rising’ was released in the summer of 2002 The Today Show came down to Asbury Park to visit the Stone Pony, the Convention Center and other spots and the club stayed open all night beforehand.

“I was given permission to play the album at midnight,’’ Mrowicki said. “In that respect, I was honored to do that.’’

In an interview with The Today Show, Springsteen said of The Rising: “You are a witness to your time.’’

As a DJ, Mrowicki is a witness to his time.

“My history goes back to radio,’’ said Mrowicki, who lives in Bayville, N.J. “I treated being a DJ as if I were on the radio.’’

Part of the gig was introducing the many bands that came on stage.

“We would have concerts on Friday and Saturday nights, national acts. I got to announce major performers. It was kind of a unique thing.’’

Rolling Stone referred to Mrowicki as the Voice of the Stone Pony.

One of those nights Warren Zevon played.

“I would meet the performer before the show and ask is there anything special you’d like as introduction and he would write things down for me: The first one was ‘Warren Zevon: The Piano Fighter.’ The next time it was ‘Warren Zevon: The Man, the Myth, the Legend.’

“There was one time, Warren gives me a cassette of music he wants played before he goes on. And it was all Frank Sinatra. Afterwards I said to him,’ Warren, people are looking at me, they want to kill me for playing this stuff, it got them all riled up.

“Warren said, ‘That was the point.’ ’’

Mrowicki lets out a laugh and said, ‘He was a strange dude.’’

Indeed, send lawyers, guns and money.

For scouts, this has been the strangest of years. The scouting industry essentially has ground to a halt.

“That was one of the reasons I came up with the interview show to stay in touch with baseball and music,’’ Mrowicki said. “The online radio show is two hours a day which keeps my chops up as part of being a DJ.’’

Mrowicki also gives music lessons: piano, guitar and voice through a local music school.

“It’s sharing your love of the music and giving kids their opportunity to pursue their love of music,’’ Mrowicki said. “Everybody gets into playing an instrument because they have seen someone on stage and they say that’s something I want to do. Back in the day it was the Beatles that gave all of us inspiration now it’s for girls Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, for guys they see Slash and people like that and they say, that’s something I want to do.

“This keeps you young. In order to teach young musicians I have to be up on the stuff that’s out. There are lots of talented people who are making music today. And that includes country music,’’ he said. “Country music, three chords of the truth. There are no slouches making country music these days. You don’t get far in country music if you don’t have the talent.

“Everybody loves music, and baseball is something we all grew up with. We get it from our fathers and our grandfathers, it’s handed down from generation to generation. It’s our game. America’s game.’’

Mrowicki will continue to promote music and baseball in his unique fashion, the DJ/Scout.

“You just can’t stop doing stuff,’’ Mrowicki told me. “Or else you shrivel and die – and I’m not ready to die yet.’’

Lee once again doing his scouting and looking towards the future

Editors note: EIC Chris Vitali has played at the Stone Pony countless times in countless bands and this story resonates with him beyond compare.

 

44+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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