In March of 2016, Grammy-winning producer, performer, and songwriter Pharrell Williams held a Masterclass for students at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
During the session, Williams sat down with a young musician by the name of Maggie Rogers. A student at NYU, Rogers presented a song titled “Alaska”, which instantly blew Pharrell away, as you can see in his reactions throughout the video below.
“Wow,” said Williams to Rogers at the end of the song. “I have zero zero zero notes for that.”
He quickly explained why.
“It’s because you’re doing your own thing,” Williams told Rogers. “It’s singular. It’s like when the Wu-Tang Clan came out, no one could really judge it. You either liked it, or you didn’t.”
As Pharrell points out, the ability to do your own thing is a special quality that all of us possess. He notes that in music, you need to be willing to seek, and be deliberate in your choices and what you’re making.
“Most of the time people will say ‘I’m going to make this kind of song’ so it ends up sounding like something we’ve heard before, felt before,” said Williams.
In the years since, Rogers has released two albums. Her debut — Heard It in a Past Life — reached number two in the US and number one on the alternative charts. Her follow-up in 2022, Surrender, reached second on the alternative charts, and was one of the best of the year in the ears of this writer. She’s also had three number one singles in her young career. All of the accolades highlight her unique sound.
This is evidence of what Pharrell saw during that Masterclass. It’s not like Maggie Rogers became a true artist after that meeting. She became a true artist when, as mentioned in the song Alaska, she “learned to talk and say whatever [she] wanted to.”
And I walked off you
And I walked off an old me
The Pirates look like a team that has learned how to say whatever they want to on the field.
It doesn’t matter if the opposing team likes it or not.
Just like a well-crafted song, this team has what it takes to keep you smashing the replay button night after night.
They have the veterans providing a stability from start to finish, providing the underlying beat loop needed to allow all of the accompanying sounds of the song to shine through.
Tonight, as Jack Suwinski rounded the bases to put the Pirates up 4-0, the camera showed Andrew McCutchen standing tall and proud in the dugout, arms crossed over his chest. McCutchen didn’t pick up a hit tonight, but he was there moments earlier sword fighting with Connor Joe, playfully getting sliced in the face after Joe’s three run homer.
Hitting a Major League home run is one thing. It’s another when you get to return to the dugout and goof off with a Pittsburgh Pirates icon.
McCutchen and Carlos Santana have had their moments producing for this team in the young season. McCutchen has a .943 OPS in 62 at-bats this year, with four home runs. Santana has a .769 OPS and two homers, while providing a stabilizing defensive presence at first base. That was shown with his scoop at the end of the double play started by Ke’Bryan Hayes tonight.
The Pirates came into this season with a different approach than their previous three years under Ben Cherington. They entered this season looking like they were actually trying to craft a real team.
It didn’t look like a they were following any established model, beyond the timeless “Sign players who can play.” If the Pirates are going to eventually win it all in Major League Baseball, they will need to do things their own way, by solving their own unique problems, and playing to their own unique strength.
The first problem that seems to be solved is the vibe in the clubhouse. There was a lot of talk over the years about changing that atmosphere, and the Pirates may have finally figured it out. It started with the stable presence of the veteran additions.
And then there are those accompaniments.
Tonight, it was Suwinski and Joe being the heroes. Early this season, we’ve seen Ji-Hwan Bae come up with some big plays on both sides of the ball. Rodolfo Castro has stepped up in a big way in the absence of Oneil Cruz. On any given night, if McCutchen or Santana go hitless, you still have a good shot of one or more of these guys breaking through.
It’s early in the season. A lot can happen in the next 142 games. We’ve certainly seen the injuries in both the majors and Triple-A this year. Players can slump. Baseball is not a song or an article where you can control the total outcome.
And yet, what the Pirates have right now is the recipe for a winning season. On any given night, it feels like you’re going to see this team step up. You never anticipate the specific individual who steps up, but you’re never really surprised by who emerges. It all sort of fits in to this overall feel, which can’t really be described yet as more than a vibe.
Like a song, once you can match words to the feelings, that’s when you have a hit.
I’d imagine by the end of this season, there will be better words to explain what is happening in the singularity that is the Pirates’ 2023 season.
Thus far, it’s looking like a hit.
And now, breathe deep
I featured MLB players in tonight’s Pirates recap, so I’ll focus on the minors today.
*Tsung-Che Cheng is probably going to end up with some of the best numbers in the minors by the end of this month. One of the best pure hitters in the lower levels of the system, Cheng had an OPS of .890 heading into tonight’s game. That was mostly on the road, as Greensboro is just starting their home schedule. They’ll be home for the remainder of the month. Cheng picked up two more hits tonight, which might be a recurring thing over the next week-plus.
**Cody Bolton is looking great in his move to the bullpen. The 2017 6th round pick has a 2.61 ERA in seven appearances, with a 13:2 K/BB ratio in 10.1 innings. Tonight, he struck out the side in a scoreless eighth inning. The Pirates have been getting reliable outings from their bullpen in the majors. The emergence of Bolton in the minors adds some reassuring and promising depth this year. Check out Ryan Palencer’s article earlier in the month, talking with Bolton about the new role.
***There were some great pitching performances from Jared Jones (5 IP, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K), Bubba Chandler (5 IP, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K), and Alessandro Ercolani (4 IP, 0 R, 4 BB, 4 K) last night. The control got worse the lower you went, but each pitcher had shutdown results. Jones was the most encouraging, as he’s been the lower level guy with the control red flag raising suspicion about his results in the last few years. For the younger pitchers, it’s good to see them doing well, even with control problems. For Jones, it’s good to see him start to have success without the control issues. Anthony Murphy talked about these guys more in Pirates Prospects Daily, linked below.
TODAY ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
The Pirates now have ten quality starts on the season. Anthony Murphy highlighted this run, along with a further breakdown of the action throughout the minor league system.
Pirates Prospects Daily: Pitching Continues To Be Strength Of the System
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.
two big “thumbs-up”, Tim
I think it is time to consider Cheng as the “heir apparent” in the followup to the current majors crop of Castro, Bae, and Marcano…. NOT Nick G.
Nick is now in that “no mans land” of the development ladder for the Bucs, not needed in the majors due to good options there, and being soon pushed from beneath by Cheng and other options so that he will never have his time in Pittsburgh for any length.
I would seriously consider Nick and Peguero as trade bait, because I still think they will be good to serviceable MLB’ers, just not in the right timing for the Pirates.
Disagree, Gonzales is the answer at 2nd. He’s got a .832 OPS after a .851 in the AFL. 2nd base is typically a below average hitting position (i wish i knew how to find the average OPS for MLB 2nd baseman last year, but would guess it’s around .700).
Cheng looks great yes, but he’s only at A+ & has a 135 RC+, whereas Gonzales put up a 150 RC+ over the course of a full year at A+
Also, Endy has a .789 OPS but no one is giving up on him.
agreed. It is not a sure thing that either Castro or Mathias works out long term as a right hand hitting infielder. Right now if Nick G was hitting better he would have come up already, ahead of Mathias and Marcano, so there is still a spot open for him. Same is true of Peguero.
This is the definition of scouting the stat line.
Watch Gonzales for just one series and it’s blatantly obvious that he’d get absolutely demolished by big league pitching. He’s not even close.
not scouting the stat line, I said “if Nick G was hitting better”. I think everyone paying attention has concerns about Nick G and hitting breaking balls.
This is good work Tim, hope to see more!
He’s got by far the most unique voice of any baseball writer I can think of.
Can you even call Tim a baseball writer without the label being beneath him?
My entire column series this year is going to be relating the arts to baseball. I’ve got a few more topics like this lined up. Thanks for reading!
The way the two were incorporated is awesome. Looking forward to them.
hot damn you’re good writing things i enjoy reading
Thank you so much for reading!
Clubhouse culture. In addition to my utter anger at some of the player moves and the quality of play, especially last year there were some cultural things that just bugged the hell out of me! Cutch and Santana’s presence, and maybe Rich Hill’s, have changed the atmosphere. There will be no more, failure to run out pop ups…cell phones falling out of pockets…one of the building blocks of the franchise eating sunflower seeds while an active play is going on……………. Nope, no more, not this team, not these Pirates! Watching Santana at age 37 score from first on a double or leg out a triple on Colorado means none of these rookies dare not hustle act unprofessional! I love it!
You do not, in fact, build a culture of winning by “playing the kids”.
You make them friggin earn it.
Watching Santana bust it down to first base against the Rockies the other day so they couldn’t turn a DP after he hit a grounder was really impressive. It allowed the Pirates to score a run that a DP would have eliminated.
I def agree that Cutch and Santana have been a huge influence on the clubhouse. It’s great to see and even better that both of them are playing well to be able to back it up.
You should read Tim’s article on Ke about that incident. It isn’t what it was made out to be by media. It was just a talking point for a team that had nothing to talk about in a crap season. What Hayes needs to be concerned about is hitting line drives and not ground balls.
Small example last night: Bae started to seriously veer into Santana’s lane on routine pop up at 1B. Santana right after gave him what seemed like a prolonged veteran death stare. Lesson learned for Bae, I would assume. Not sure some of our past 1B’s commanded the same veteran respect as Slamtana.
Everyone, including me, was very excited about Bae. As great as it was to see him employ that great speed to make plays, he always looked a little out of control. The play to which you referred was another illustration. This time he almost collided with the wrong gentleman and the gentleman didn’t like it. It’s up to Bae as to whether the message was received. In the last several games Bae has occasionally looked a bit clueless at the plate. The league is adjusting. Bae needs to learn to play under control and recognize hitting in the major leagues isn’t batting practice. He’s got gifts. Will he adjust?
Both Bae and Castro swing at far too many pitches that are way out of the strike zone, and if they don’t fix that, then it is unlikely they can be above average hitters.
This is not the case for Castro so far this year. 87th percentile in chase rate. May not stick but you’re letting your prejudgment distract you from seeing his improvement.
Let’s hope they figure that out before one of them is moved for a starting pitcher next year.
I’ve got an article which looks at this. I wrote it last week, and need to finish it today. It will probably run this weekend, but it highlights the exact issue you point out: The lack of control.
Let it be heard. I am wearing my Pirates hat around my rural South Carolina town with pride today. Any one who makes eye contact is going to get an impromptu discussion about their start to the season.
it’s been a long time. Enjoy!
I am also changing my ringer to “Black Magic Woman”. I am just going to pretend I am back in Pittsburgh despite the mid 80’s weather.
That safety net that the RIGHT veteran players have been providing for this ballclub has brought out the best in them. I took the look of ‘Cutch in the dugout as one of pride and satisfaction. Good pitching, playing good defense, and making things happen at the plate is almost St Louis of us! Cannot give this Pirate group a better compliment.
Joe and Suwinski with clutch hits, Hayes proves again he is the best, and great scoop by Santana saving an error. That’s been something that has been missing the past few years. And, that play by Reynolds on that line drive late in the game was a very tough play.