Bruce Springsteen's E Street Softballers: Born To Hit & Run

On the road in New Orleans, Springsteen and the E Street Band gear up for a serious game of softball

Steve Van Zant and Bruce Springsteen
Tom Hill/WireImage
Steve Van Zant and Bruce Springsteen
By |

As their Coast Cities bus weaves through the streets of the French Quarter, Bruce Springsteen tries to revive the flagging spirits of the E Street Rhythm Band, by night his backup band, but by day a hot, barnstorming softball team. Springsteen's voice cuts through the heavily hung-over air with shouts of "Okay, break in your mitts," and the bus fills with the sound of fists slamming into leather pockets, while a can of Glovolium is passed around. Before further rallying his team for the day's game against the media heavies of New Orleans – a pickup team of DJs and writers – Springsteen explains how the band got turned on to softball.

"The road crew challenged us to a game a few weeks ago," he recalls. "We beat them 27-6. Everything sort of fell into place. So, the next day we went out and dropped about $700 on equipment. Softball is our whole life right now. That concert we played last night? That was just a pregame ceremony, like the 'Star-Spangled Banner.'"

Bruce Springsteen: The Vintage Photographs

In the back of the bus, guitarist "Miami" Steve Van Zandt is modeling the uniform of the E Street Band: a white muscle shirt with blue trim, red pinstriped shorts, a maroon velvet Big Apple hat and flip-up sunglasses with maroon lenses. Asked if he's ever heard the expression "You throw like a girl, you catch like a musician," Van Zandt replies, "We're serious – some of us are so damaged we can hardly move onstage. If I jam my finger, I'll just put it in a splint and play slide guitar all night. Pretend like I'm in a Southern boogie band."

As the bus approaches the field, the team gets ready. Saxophone player/first baseman Clarence "Kahuna" Clemons covers his face with bandaids; at appropriate moments in the game he'll rip them off and eat the gauze, unnerving opposing players. The team practices cheers ranging from the dive signal of a German U-boat to the death rattle of a late-night golden oldies DJ.

Before a crowd of 500, the media team takes the field, one DJ hollering at the spectators, "Hey, let's hear it for the media; you know, the wonderful folks who brought you Bruce Springsteen." Nobody responds.

Miami Steve hits the first pitch into the swamp in deep left field for a home run. Then Springsteen steps to the plate and, after bowing in three directions, singles to right field. Organist Danny Federici starts to let a pitch go by, then has second thoughts and drives it into left. A smash by Rick "Mr. Ten Percent" Seguso, the road manager, brings in both runners.

The media recovers in their half of the inning, scoring five runs. On the first hit, Springsteen, at second base, makes a diving catch into a mud puddle. He twists his ankle, but continues to play, musing on "the thrill of victory, the agony of my feet."

By the fifth inning, as hangovers evaporate, the game gets serious. As Springsteen rounds third and tries to score on a long hit by Ten Percent, the catcher grabs him under one arm and holds him off the plate. Kahuna Clemons rounds third, picks up both the catcher and Springsteen and crosses the plate to score. At the top of the seventh, the media is declared victor by one run, while a check of the score card reveals the final tally is 9-9. Charges that the Columbia promotion department bribed the scorekeepers are investigated and proven false. The two teams settle for a tie.

Out in the stands, there are no encore calls, no matches held aloft, but one 11-year-old potential Catfish gets next to Springsteen and asks him to autograph his glove. Suddenly, Bruce lights up and forgets all about the agony of his feet.

This story is from the July 1st, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 216: July 1, 1976
x