Tuned up: What’s behind Northwestern baseball’s air guitar craze?

By Andre Toran
Medill Reports

Baseball, more than any major sport in America, is all about its unwritten rules.

Its traditionalistic nature doesn’t carry the celebratory flair basketball or football does. There aren’t pre-planned touchdown celebrations. No, ‘And one!’ screams or arms extended in celebration, as the pointer finger and the thumb meet to form a three. And no, there’s no Lance Stephenson-esque air guitars.

Instead, the celebrations baseball fans usually see occur at the close of a game (a mosh pit at home plate after a walk-off, or outfielders meeting in center field after the game’s last out for a celebratory handshake), but rarely within the game’s confines.

For baseball traditionalists, that would cross the line. Don’t show up a pitcher with a bat-flip or admire a mammoth shot. Don’t do this, don’t do that. But in today’s modern game, players are ignoring what traditionalists believe ‘have no place in the sport.’

For many players, it’s simple: If a pitcher is going to miss his spot or hang a breaking ball, then he is pitching at the risk of being taken yard or getting a ball crushed deep into a gap, warranting celebration.

And that’s exactly what Northwestern catcher, Michael Trautwein did Saturday.

On an 0-2 count on April 6 at Ohio State, Trautwein sat on a breaking ball and drove a slider in to the right field gap, rounded first and slid into second with an eighth-inning RBI double.

What followed? An air guitar.

“I brought it to life, and he gets one little double and now it’s all on twitter and stuff,” said Jack Dunn, the Big Ten’s leading hitter (.383) and creator of NU’s air guitar celebration, of Trautwein’s celebration.

Trautwein admitted Dunn was his muse, saying Jack created and adopted it as his patented celebration during practices, workouts and team competition periods.

“Dunn was the one who invented it,” Trautwein said but, “I was the one who put it on the field.”

On an off-day in late March, Dunn hoisted up threes in a pickup game in Northwestern’s SPAC gymnasium. After every make, Dunn mimicked the aforementioned Stephenson, extending his left arm, folding his right toward his stomach and began to strum.

Watching Stephenson’s antics with the Lakers throughout the season, he thought to himself: “This should be our double celebration.” Meanwhile, eyes of envy fell over Trautwein; he “loved” the idea Dunn said.

Before the OSU series, the two discussed when they’d break the guitar out.

“He and I actually had a conversation and he was like ‘Man, I want to hit a triple so I can hit the air guitar.’” Trautwein said. “And I was sitting there thinking, ‘If I get a double, I’m doing the air guitar.’”

In humorous spite Dunn added: “He hit a double first, so he got the first chance to do it.”

Trautwein stuck true to his word, and there the trend began. Hit after hit, swing after swing, the Wildcats tuned up their guitars, drawing inspiration from a sport and player known for self-praise.

NU second baseman Alex Erro air guitars after a double of his own, April 7 in a 10-4 over Ohio State University. (Carolyn Katz Photography)

Northwestern scored 30 runs that series and let the Buckeyes know it, feel it and, of course, hear it.

“I think [celebration] makes the game more fun,” Trautwein said. “It encourages energy, it gets people going and you play better.”

This comes during a high point for the Wildcats (16-16). They’re 7-3 in their last 10 and have exploded offensively, scoring 88 runs during that stretch, and hit .357 in a series sweep at Ohio State; the birth of the air guitar.

Hot bats and high spirits have become contagious, resulting in success. So why not celebrate?

“Our team is really confident right now, and when you’re confident you play loose,” Dunn said. “It’s contagious. You score one, next thing you know everyone wants to score, everyone wants to hit.”

And everyone wants to celebrate.

Photo at top: Northwestern catcher Michael Trautwein air guitars after doubling in the eight inning at Ohio State April 6. (Carolyn Katz Photigraohy)