Fans of Massapequa author Frank Nappi’s Mickey Tussler book series now have a new medium to experience the books’ inspiring message of self-acceptance: music. The new song, titled “Buckle Up and Dig In,” comes at no better time as it coincides with the series’ 10-year anniversary. The books and their tie-in song tell the story of the titular 1948 Milwaukee Brewers pitcher who is a little different from his teammates; he happens to have high functioning autism.
It all started out of total coincidence. Nappi was taking a walk with his wife when his neighbor, music producer Thomas Petrone, had a conversation with him about his work.
“We got to talking, after seeing him around the neighborhood for years, and I found out that Frank was an author,” said Petrone. “And I shared what I do with my music and my record company MP Music House, and Frank told me about the Mickey Tussler series and about the books’ 10-year anniversary. I said, ‘how about a song to celebrate the occasion?’ It seems to have been something that was meant to be.”
The song, sung by country singer Ron Wallace, recounts Tussler’s life, from his early days in the game when he is taunted because of his condition, to his eventual triumph. The meaning of the song’s title is two-fold. “Buckle Up” refers both to the fastening of the belts on old baseball uniforms and preparing yourself for an experience that may not be easy. “Dig In” refers both to the act of digging your feet into the baseball mound before throwing a pitch and focusing intently on what you’re about to do. This analogy contributed to the writing of the song.
“A good song has to have a good hook on it and we came up with the buckle up and dig in part. Then we had to come up with why you have to buckle up and dig in, and you create a story. It was already written, we just had to come up with it in a song way,” said Petrone.
Nappi wrote the books to help bring about understanding of those on the autism spectrum.
“The unfortunate words are used: slow, retarded… People are unable to grasp what someone’s life really is like,” Nappi said. “My primary goal was to enlighten people on what it’s like to be on the spectrum with the hopes of creating understanding, which I hope will create tolerance, and the ultimate goal is acceptance so they could live without judgment or ridicule.”
Nappi, who also works as an English teacher at Oceanside High School, draws some inspiration for the books from his experience teaching and mentoring people with special needs both at the school and within the community.
“I spent a lot of time with special needs individuals. I help out with the life skills and Best Buddies programs and do volunteer work with fundraisers,” Nappi said. “I also volunteer with my family with an organization called Challenger Baseball. It’s a league designed for special needs individuals and it always encourages me that so many are very talented.”
The books ponder what life must have been like for individuals on the spectrum during a different era.
“If there was a baseball player out there who was discovered and the person happens to be on the spectrum what would that look like, especially in the world of 1948?” asked Nappi.
This refers to the advancements in the research of autism spectrum disorders in recent years, whereas in the 1940s, very little, if anything, was known about these disorders.
MP Music House, which has studios in both Massapequa and on Music Row in Nashville, was founded by Petrone and Dan Marshall, two singers who wanted to make it in the music business at a time when the business was failing.
“Dan said how can we make it in the music industry? The music industry at that time was falling apart. Tower Records was closing. Napster and Limewire made music free. We had to figure out a way to thrive,” said Petrone. Thus, MP Music House was born. The studio seeks to fund projects they feel passionate about and convey important messages through music, according to Nappi.
Petrone said the greatest accomplishment he could get from producing the song would be if someone said, “thank you, the song saved our lives. I would turn red with joy that I helped someone like that.”
“Buckle Up and Dig In” is now available on iTunes, Google Play and Spotify.