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Local musician combines passions

April 5, 2010

Ben Hassenger, a Lansing-area musician and songwriter, was working at a hi-fi store in East Lansing in the 1980s when he decided he wasn’t going to spend another summer cooped up doing the same thing.

Without a job holding him back, Hassenger, also a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan, went to as many Tigers games as he could and started writing songs about his favorite team to put on a cassette he called “Tiger Tunes.”

More than 20 years later, following a spur-of-the-moment trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., one of Hassenger’s songs from his “Tigers Tunes” tape and another he wrote more recently are a part of the Baseball Hall of Fame Library.

The two songs ­— “Voice of Summer,” written about legendary Tigers play-by-play announcer Ernie Harwell, and “The Corner,” a tribute to the old Tiger Stadium — were accepted to the library in January of this year, adding to the approximately 1,000 songs and 12,000 hours of video and audio already in the archives.

Hassenger, an MSU graduate and international studies and programs instructor, said he never thought he or his music would be in the Hall of Fame.

“How many people can say they are in the Baseball Hall of Fame for writing a song?” said Hassenger, who now lives in Haslett. “I didn’t even know they had songs in the Hall of Fame.”

Dick Rosemont, a friend and bandmate of Hassenger, said he’s not surprised Hassenger has been able to successfully combine his love for baseball and music.

“Ben’s good at taking topics and turning them into songs,” Rosemont said “He’s a really enthusiastic guy that follows his passion, and in this case, he’s able to put two together.”

Hassenger said finding the inspiration for his “Tiger Tunes” was not difficult.

Growing up a Tigers fan and listening to Harwell call Tigers games his whole life, Hassenger said he always saw Harwell as a special person.
“He’s one of those guys that seems like your favorite uncle or grandfather,” Hassenger said. “And he’s like that when you meet him. He’s genuine and he won’t let you down.”

After originally writing “Voice of Summer” during his summer off in the ’80s, Hassenger and his band Mystic Shake redid the song in 2002 — the year Harwell retired.

Toward the end of the 2002 baseball season, Hassenger tried to gain exposure for the song by sending it to radio stations and other media outlets in Detroit. He also dropped a CD off at the broadcast booth in Comerica Park for Harwell, not thinking anything would come of it, until one day he received a call from the Tigers legend.

“He said, ‘I just wanted to tell you that I really appreciate you writing that song about me. I’m honored,’” Hassenger said. “I’m going ‘Geez, I listened to you my whole life, I’m honored that you called.’ Obviously it made my day.”

Encouraged by the experiences he had with “Voice of Summer,” Hassenger said he started writing “The Corner” a year before the old Tiger Stadium was set to be torn down in 2008.

He said the song was used not only to express his and other people’s fondness for the stadium, but also as a conservation effort.
“I had tons of memories of Tiger Stadium,” Hassenger said. “I had gone there as a kid and went with my son when you could get bleacher seats for $1.”

Although Hassenger’s songs had special meaning to him, he said he never intended for them to be in the Hall of Fame. In fact, submitting his songs to the Hall of Fame Accessions Committee, which decides on what is put in the library, happened by chance.

While on his way to a show in Brooklyn, N.Y., Hassenger realized the Baseball Hall of Fame was not far off his route. Having not been there in a long time, he decided he would stop in and check it out.

“When I got there, I had this CD that had ‘Voice of Summer’ and “The Corner” on it and figured I might as well drop it off, you never know,” Hassenger said.

Hassenger went to the archives section and met with Tim Wiles, director of research at the Hall of Fame.

“It was obvious how passionate Ben was, and Tigers fans in general are pretty passionate about their team and Ernie Harwell,” Wiles said.
“We really wanted to put those songs in the collection because we loved that ballpark and everyone loves Ernie, so we’re just happy Ben came along and gave them to us.”

Hassenger, who is doing a show with Mystic Shake at 6 p.m. Saturday at Coffee and Friends, 5100 Marsh Road, in Okemos, said being a part of the Hall of Fame is a dream come true.

“It’s awesome,” Hassenger said.

“To have the connection between baseball and music like that — two of my favorite things — I don’t know what could be better than that.”

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