The eighth installment of 110 Percent, a series in which I talk to musicians about sports, features Stefan Marolachakis, the drummer for Brooklyn-based band Caveman, which will release its self-titled sophomore album on April 2 on Fat Possum, a follow-up to its very good and probably very overlooked debut CoCo Beware.
Marolachakis took time in advance of the band’s 31-city tour to discuss his unyielding passion for the NBA – more specifically, the Knicks. I was born in Chicago and grew up rooting for the Bulls, so we have different perspectives on those playoff grudge matches from the 1990s. Still, we could have talked for hours about this. Here’s a somewhat abridged version of our chat. (And be sure to stream the first single off the new album, “In the City.”)
So I don’t know a whole lot other than that you guys are huge basketball fans, right?
Well, most of the guys in the band were born and raised in New York City, so we sort of live and die by the Knicks. Coming on the heels of many seasons in the Isiah Thomas era, this roster now is really exciting.
As a band, you guys are based in Brooklyn, so there’s no love for the Nets?
We are through and through Knicks fans. … There’s no fence-jumping going on. It’s a rivalry now and we land squarely on the Knicks’ side.
On my birthday in 1995, I was at the Michael Jordan 55-point game. Patrick Ewing didn’t get the continuation on the and 1 at the end of the game, which killed me. And there are so many tourists, so when the Bulls would score, the crowd is cheering. Hearing any cheers for the Bulls was so gutting.
Bud I did go to a lot of games that the Knicks won, and that was more exciting. Growing up I had the luxury that the team I cut my teeth on was Starks, Oakley, Ewing, Derek Harper and Anthony Mason, which was incredible. But it still breaks my heart that Patrick Ewing doesn’t have a championship ring. There were definitely some tears shed in 1994.
What other memories stand out? The dunk – the dunk Starks had over Jordan. And that team, it just seemed like the perfect team for this city. There was the fancy Showtime vibe in L.A., and you come here and tap into this grimy, elbow grease – they were really down in the trenches in this physical game. It was so cool. In a city where pickup basketball is so big, it just seemed so fitting for New York. And I feel like the squad we have now is getting closer to that. It seems like a lot of guys on our team won’t take any shit.
I just remember constantly watching games and getting so emotional. I remember a game against the Heat, and they were down 17 at halftime, and I was at my friend’s place and we literally shut the lights and laid down on the floor in this dark depression. Then they came back and won and we’re tearing the ceiling apart. And it remains that way.
Your fandom has not waned?
It really hasn’t. It’s just as gut-wrenching.
On of my favorites experiences of our last tour is when we were in a very wide open part of Texas. We were asking everybody where a bar was open, at like 1 or 2 p.m. We found one that was a standalone – there a bunch of old guys smoking cigarettes and pounding beers and we managed to get them to put on the Knicks game and it was very special. It’s also easy to get wrapped up in it when your best friends are also rabid basketball fans.
It seems like, aside from the music, that’s a good bonding thing for you guys as a band.
It’s always good to have other neurons firing. When we’re not on tour, we hang out all the time anyway, which is just another good excuse to do that.
Are you a college basketball fan?
I need to work on my college basketball. I, like every body else, get swept up in March Madness, but I’m not very savvy when it comes to regular-season college basketball.
Do you play?
Yeah. I was always a little better in my mind than I was on the court. I’m really trying to bring a lot of intangibles to the court — and then I talk trash and play as dirty as humanly possible (laughs). I don’t play as often as I should be because I love it so much.
One of my oldest friends, he actually has the sweetest jump shot. He’s like a pickup dream – the guy who can make me better. Only on a rare occasion will I become the focal point of the offense. But our whole band is pretty good. We’d be a good starting five.
Shirts or skins?
Oh, gonna have to be skins. We really let it all hang out (laughs).
Pickup basketball is such a thing in New York. It’s got to be intimidating.
Here’s the thing: You’ve got a lot of courts to pick from.
Do you get to play much when you’re on tour?
We tend to bring a basketball and football. A lot of times you’ll find a random hoop, so that’s more of a H-O-R-S-E thing. But sometimes we’ll find a court . If we’re driving between shows, we’ll sometimes get a particular scenic rest stop and throw the football around.
Do you follow any other sports closely?
For me, NBA is the biggest thing. But any sport come playoff time, I’ll be engaged. I definitely like football and I love postseason baseball. I hope as I grow older I become a more patient man and get into the beautiful science of regular-season baseball. It’s just a whole world I don’t know. It’s a serious commitment.
Where did this Knicks fandom come from? Was it passed down?
It came from my dad and just my friends. My dad is rabid Knicks fan. And most of my close friends were enamored by NBA ball. To be a two-guard for the Knicks – that was dream material. … The two-guard position on Knicks was an incredibly cool one. There were some volatile characters (Starks, Sprewell, etc.). The two-guard was a dangerous and cool spot.
You have quite a memory for this stuff.
It takes up a lot of mental real estate.
The seventh installment of 110 Percent, a series in which I talk to musicians about sports, features Matty McLoughlin (photo credit), guitarist for the Soft Pack who was a reliever in college for the University of Richmond baseball team.
While on the road last week in support of the Soft Pack’s great new album, Strapped, McLoughlin looked back at his college career - which included a no-hitter, a regional victory, playing with/against future big leaguers and a bum arm by the end of it all - and his eventual transition from pitcher to musician.
I know you played at University of Richmond. Did you play all four years there?
No, my freshman year I went to Saddleback Junior College in Orange County and then I went to Oregon State, but I didn’t end up pitching there. I got in trouble … I don’t really wanna get into it (laughs). I didn’t end up pitching there and I transferred to the University of Richmond. So basically my sophomore, junior and senior years.
Are you from the West coast?
Yeah, I went to high school in San Diego at Torrey Pines.
So that was a big move for you then.
Yeah, but I kinda lived all over the country. I moved to San Diego when I was 15. … But Richmond was good. I didn’t expect them to be as good as they were. We had Tim Stauffer, who was the No. 4 overall pick, and we had like five other guys drafted. The highest we were ranked, like in 2004, I think Baseball America ranked us No. 9 for about a week. We were good for a couple years. It was fun. It was a good school to go to.
I was just doing a little bit of reading, and you pitched part of a no-hitter?
Yeah, I threw the back three innings, the seventh, eighth and ninth, against Coastal Carolina, which is actually a pretty good school. They always make the tournament.
That’s kind of a big deal.
Yeah, but the biggest thing I did was I beat Wake Forest in the regional in 2002. That was kind of the biggest deal. The Coastal game was just some tournament - I mean, It was nice. But I didn’t even start the game. You know, the last three innings are hard, but it was kind of a weird thing. But the Wake thing was definitely my shining moment.
Did you start that game or come in relief?
I came in relief. I pitched, like, the last 4 2/3 or something. They were really stacked that year. So we made it to the super regional and we were playing Nebraska. We lost the first game, won the second one and it was tied in the ninth on Sunday and our closer gave up a bomb. I pitched the seventh and eighth and got taken out. I never played in front of that many people.
So you were a home run away from going to Omaha.
Yeah, we were so close, which is fucked up because from like sixth grade on I went to the College World Series every year.
Also, I saw you’re 10th all-time at Richmond in saves with six.
Oh, wow, really? I didn’t know that. That’s not a lot of saves, but I’ll take that. Nice, in the record books (PDF link).
So what was in your repertoire?
My changeup was my best pitch. I was kind of like the classic crafty college right-hander. I threw like 86 mph to 88 – 88 on a good day. But my fastball sunk a little bit, I hit my spots and would throw everything in any count. I was good for college, but I wasn’t gonna pitch in the big leagues or anything.
Was there interest?
I filled out a couple draft cards my senior year, but that’s as far as it got. I kind of knew that wasn’t happening. And then I got an internship at a record label and moved to New York and didn’t pick up a baseball. My arm was a mess at the end.
Were you juggling music while playing in college?
Not really. I would play alone in my room and stuff. But in high school and college, I was playing baseball all year round, so I couldn’t really get in a band. But I’ve been playing guitar since I’ve been in the seventh grade.
By the end of your college career, did you feel like you were burned out on baseball or would you have taken the chance to play in the minors somewhere?
I wish I had signed a free-agent contract just to play for two weeks and then quit. But I was totally burned out on baseball. At that time, my senior year, I would just go see bands and get wasted all the time. I knew I wasn’t gonna go any further. That was when I’d say, “Oh, I can go out before a game.” I kind of knew … when you realize you’re not going play any further, you just want to do something else.
So you played with Tim Stauffer … people who know baseball think of him, like, “Oh, he’s good … a No. 2 or 3 guy.” But when you saw him in college he was probably amazing, right?
There was a lot of pitching in Virginia at the time. He didn’t throw as hard as Justin Verlander (at Old Dominion), but he had that 12 to 6 with 94 mph. If you’re throwing that hard and you’re 12 to 6, you’re nasty. … So he had all the out pitches and a changeup, but then your arm gets hurt and you’re throwing 89 and just nibbling and falling behind and you have to throw something that they’re gonna hit. But in college, yeah, he was dirty.
So you saw Verlander up close. He’s obviously amazing now. When you saw him back in the day, did you have any idea he’d be as great as he is now?
I remember shagging balls at Old Dominion, and he was, I think, a freshman. He’s throwing a bullpen and you can just hear it. He threw a ton of innings in college. It’s the same thing as now. …
I moved to Southern California from Texas and I played against all the guys, and rarely do you see a pitcher who can hold up. He’s been like that – just that Nolan Ryan thing.
I know you’re on the road, but do you keep up with MLB games?
That’s the hardest thing. I catch highlights. We’re at bars every night, and I try to make them put on a game. But by the time we go on, it’s like the seventh, eighth, ninth inning. But at home I watch the MLB Network all day long. My writing process is just have that on, smoke a joint and play guitar. But yeah. MLB Network – all day long.
Are you loyal to a specific team?
Yeah, I grew up a Red Sox fan. My parents got engaged at Fenway, so I grew up a huge fan. And I’m still a huge fan. But Valentine, I can’t even look at his face. … But some teams are just fun to watch. Like the A’s. This year the Dodgers were really exciting and young and fun. … I kind of adopted the Dodgers as my NL team. And I go to a lot of games because I live right by Dodger Stadium.
Wait, I wanna go back: You said your parents got engaged at Fenway?
They didn’t do a JumboTron thing. But it was at a game. And our first cat was named Yaz. My dad didn’t want to get a cat, but the only way we could get the cat is if we named it Yaz.
Were you a baseball card collector?
Yeah … I’d go to card shows every Sunday up until probably seventh, eighth grade. … But we moved around all the time, and they’re not around. So I don’t have any cards. I don’t know how it happened to me, but my baseball cards got thrown out.
So have you thrown or played baseball since college?
Toward the end of my career, I was getting cortisone shots. I didn’t really care if I ever threw again. I just wanted to finish the year, so I was getting cortisone shots. My rotator cuff was kind of a mess. The last time I played catch was probably about a year ago. I was like, “OK, I wanna start throwing and build it up and maybe my arm won’t hurt.” But it just started throbbing again. So I started playing pickup basketball (laughs). When you’re hurting and you’re old, it just sucks.
When you look back, do you have any regrets?
No, I don’t have any regrets. I got as far as I could with it. I didn’t have the ability to go any further. But I had a lot of fun. And it’s cool to watch TV and be like, “That guy hit a home run off me.”
The sixth installment of 110 Percent, a series in which I talk to musicians about sports, features Van Pierszalowski, the former frontman of Port O’Brien who launched his new project, WATERS, with a great debut, Out in the Light, last September on TBD Records.
Pierszalowski loves the Dodgers more than anything (even Lil Wayne) and admits to knowing nothing about any other professional sport.
So how did you become such a Dodgers fan? Are you from L.A.? Here’s the deal. I’m from a town called Cambria, which is on the coast, basically to the mile between San Francisco and L.A. But my dad grew up in L.A. and was a Dodgers fan and my grandpa was a Dodgers fan. In Cambria, we got KCAL 9, and we didn’t get any of the San Francisco TV channels. So I got sucked into the L.A. baseball world. My whole entire childhood, I was not a casual fan at all – I was absolutely obsessed. My happiness would hinge on whether or not they won.
How far is Cambria from L.A.?
It’s like 3 1/2 hours.
So you probably didn’t go to a lot of games as a kid?
I went to quite a few. Not all the time. In a season, I would go to like five or six. Then once in awhile I would go to Candlestick when they were playing Giants.
Do you have a memory that stands out from following them as a kid? One of most vivid memories I have is when I was … I can’t remember how old I was. I was in fifth grade or something, and my dad woke me up really early on a school morning. He woke me up at like 6 or 7 o’clock. He’s like, ‘Come on, Van. You’re not going to school today.’ I’m like, ‘What the hell? Am I dreaming?’ He put me in the Vanagon and we started driving up to Candlestick. It was Hideo Nomo’s debut game. It was the most exciting day of my life. He pitched all right. He pitched five innings, I remember. But the game was tied in the ninth and actually ended up going 15 innings. We stayed the entire time. In the top of 15th, the Dodgers scored a run or two – so I was like the happiest boy on the planet — and in the bottom of 15th, the Giants had a walk-off home run, or a walk-off hit anyway. I was sobbing so hard, I was crying so hard. My dad had to carry me back to the Vanagon. As he finally got me in there, there was this Giants fan who saw me wearing my Dodgers jacket and had this huge sign on cardboard the size of a refrigerator that said, “Dodger fans: Go to hell.” I was sobbing and crying. It was best day ever turned into an absolute nightmare.
How much of an influence was your dad’s fandom on you or did you pick it up yourself? He wasn’t as into it as I was. He introduced me to game, and I was really serious about playing. I was really into it my whole life. But he wasn’t as into it as I was, and then as I got more into he got more into it.
I was going to ask if you played. I played all through Little League as early as I could and through high school. I was actually pretty good. I was MVP of our team my junior year. I was a starting pitcher and shortstop as well. I was a pretty good hitter. I played varsity as a sophomore.
But then senior year, I got too cool. I got really into punk and Fugazi and into my band. I was just too cool to play, which sucked. Maybe my one regret of high school is I wish I could have played that last year.
Did the coach try to sway you? Oh, there was heavy recruitment going on. I remember a one-on-one meeting we had during lunch. He pulled me into his office and was like, ‘What can we do to get you out there?’ I was like, ‘Listen, man, I just wanna focus on my music.’ (Laughs). He hated me so much. Other guys were kind of jocks. So I was like the freak of team. I tried to barter with him. I was like, ‘I just don’t wanna practice every day. How about I just practice twice a week and play the games?’ But yeah, he didn’t go for that.
Getting back to the Dodgers. So with the change of ownership, I’m guessing you’re pretty happy about that? I’m incredibly happy about that. It’s a huge deal. I was really nervous when all the bidding was going on. But I think we ended up with a pretty good team. It’s nice to have a local hero be the face of it, as well as some big money behind it. I’m looking a lot more forward to the trading deadline than I have been in last three years. I think it’s going to be exciting, especially if we keep playing as well as we do.
That being said, I’m really not a fan of Ned Colletti, our GM. I would hope some front-office stuff like that gets changed. He tends to favor veterans. … His obsession with old guys is weird.
A friend who covers the Diamondbacks and I have joked that the Dodgers might be a team of destiny this year, like the D-backs of last year. They seem to be getting clutch hits from unlikely guys. Are you buying into that? Yeah, it’s been weird, especially with Matt Kemp on the DL for the second time already. We started off so great and Matt Kemp was the main reason really and now with him gone, we’re doing even better. … We have like these really old guys and now these really young guys. And then in middle we have Andre Ethier and the frustrating mess of James Loney.
But here’s the important question: Should A.J. Ellis be in the All-Star Game? Oh, my god. It’s just so obvious that he should be. I will get so fired up if we start talking about A.J. Ellis, and Don Mattingly’s refusal to bat him above the No. 6 position is just so insane.
Where would you hit him? He’s a leadoff hitter. I know he doesn’t fit the standard fast, middle infielder, bunting kind of guy. But that whole motif, I feel like, is so outdated. If you have guy who is in the top five in the National League in on-base percentage and you have a hitter like Matt Kemp hitting third, who is the best hitter in the National League, you want people to get on base. That’s the main concern. So why would you keep hitting Dee Gordon, whose on-base percentage isn’t even .300, when you have one of the best people at walking in the entire game batting eighth? It’s so insane.
You’re pretty active on Twitter. Do you get your baseball fix there? Yeah, a good chunk of my Twitter feed is baseball related. I’m a huge fan of this one blogger: Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness. I read his blog every day, every post and I have for the past few years. He’s really the leading voice, I think, for this common-sense thinking that hopefully is going to spread to the more mainstream fandom about how to win games. But he’s just an amazing writer, and every time he posts I look forward to reading. It’s the best baseball blog I’ve been able to find and I’m glad it’s about my team.
You said you’re an MLB.TV subscriber, and you’re going on the road this summer with Nada Surf. Will you definitely try to keep up while you’re on the road? Oh, yeah. The only problem is a lot of times we’re busy around the time they’re playing. … It is harder when you’re on the road. When they play day games, I can watch on my phone.
But I was living in Europe … well, living in Oslo for a couple years, and that was really hard with the time differences. I was never able to watch a game.
So who’s your favorite Dodger of all-time? I have conflicted feelings about him, but Mike Piazza was my hero when I was a kid. When he was traded, it was really the worst day of my life. Up until that point, it was the worst day of my life. I think I’d probably still have to say him.
But on the team now … I don’t want to pick Matt Kemp because it’s so obvious, but he is just amazing. I wanna say A.J. Ellis (laughs).
Do you still make it to a lot of games? See, this is the thing. I’m living in San Francisco, which makes it really intense to be a Dodgers fan. And I do wanna go on the record as saying: I don’t talk about the Dodgers that much because I do live here and I respect that rivalry a lot. Also, I really, really do not hate the Giants. I was rooting for them when they were in the World Series. I don’t really get the rivalry. It’s cool, it’s fun, but I’m absolutely not a Giants hater at all, even after that scarring moment when I was in fifth grade.
When the Dodgers play the Giants, it’s blacked out here on MLB.TV. So I go to this bar behind my house and watch the games, and when I’m there by myself and there’s like a huge crowd of Giants fans, I don’t wear anything blue, I don’t even cheer. I make it kind of secret that I’m rooting for the Dodgers just because it gets a little scary.
I do wanna talk about the “Mickey Mantle” song. It’s about aging or facing aging. Is that fair to say? Yeah, somewhat. It’s about the fear of failure.
So where did you get the inspiration for the “Mickey Mantle” title? I was living in New York when I wrote that song. I started reading a lot about him and I never really knew the rest of his story after he retired and it’s pretty tragic and sad. He just turned into this hopeless alcoholic. There’s this interview on YouTube with him and David Letterman where he’s being asked about it. It’s just so sad — he can’t even admit it. Anyway, the song’s not really about him obviously. It’s the feeling that this guy with so much hope, so much promise and had everything and he ended up being a miserable alcoholic and a total failure. So It’s that fear you have of turning into something like that, the failing in general.
The fifth installment of 110 percent, a series in which I talk to musicians about sports, features Daniel Presant, bassist for PAPA, one of my favorite recent discoveries who put out a fantastic EP, A Good Woman is Hard to Find, in October. Presant is a co-founding member, along with Darren Weiss (Girls), of the Los Angeles-based group, which is scheduled to record new material in June.
Presant replied to an email request for an interview, eager to share his love of the Lakers.
So where did the Lakers fandom come from? Were you born in L.A.? I was born in New York, lived in New Jersey for two years and moved to L.A. when I was four. Darren was born and raised in L.A. and we’re both both die-hard Lakers fans.
What’s your earliest memory of the Lakers? Probably when I went to the Forum as kid with my pops. I remember the vibe. I don’t remember the game, though I’m sure I was in awe. It was when they had A.C. Green. That’s my dream — to play at the Forum.
Your dream is to play music or basketball at the Forum? Music. Considering I’m only 5-9, I don’t think basketball is gonna happen.
Do you play basketball though? Oh yeah. I’m in L.A. and when friends come out from New York, we get some good pickup games going.
So the Lakers’ season ended in the second round against the Thunder. What’s your takeaway from this season? Do they need to blow this team up? Yes. Blow it up. They need change. They need to get rid of (coach) Mike Brown. Maybe they didn’t give him enough time to implement his style, but I don’t like him as a coach. I think he’s too positive. I don’t think that’s what the Lakers need. We need a Gregg Popovich type.
Andrew Bynum is getting a lot of criticism? Should they get rid of him? If we can get, like, Dwight Howard, then we should get rid of Bynum. But I don’t see it happening. I say keep him, but I would keep (Pau) Gasol over Bynum.
What were your expectations of the season? Did they get as far as you thought they would? I’m a romantic. I’m always gonna look and hope for the best. But with that, I also understand that that sometimes the best isn’t necessarily a championship or anything like that. Going into the playoffs I had really high hopes. But after first round (seven-game series vs. the Nuggets), it was done.
Who’s your favorite Laker, past or present?
Magic Johnson because of his versatility and flash. I will say that Kobe’s work ethic is the thing I look up to most of any player.
Do you follow the Dodgers? I’m not much of a baseball guy. I used to love the Dodgers when I was a little kid – Eric Karros and Brett Butler and all of them. I’m actually looking at this autograph I have from Mike Piazza now.
Even if you’re not a huge baseball guy, it’s great that Magic is part of the new Dodgers’ ownership group. He’s such a big figure in L.A. He brings a winning, carefree vibe. Now look at them — they’re killing it. Obviously it’s not Magic who’s doing that. But it feels like a different aura right now.
And let me just say: Go Kings.
L.A. seems like the center of the sports universe recently.
Yeah, sorry about that (ahem, cheap shot at Phoenix).
You told me at your recent show in Phoenix that you were a Buffalo Bills fan. Yeah, when (quarterback) Doug Flutie was on the team. I’ve always loved the bills — I never felt anything for the Giants or Jets.
There’s usually talk about L.A. getting a football team again. Would that interest you? I went to my first football game a few months ago — Chargers-Ravens. I drove to San Diego. In terms of general vibe, nothing beats a Lakers game, but a football game is so much more epic.
One last thing, going back to the Lakers. Are the Clippers a threat to the Lakers’ recent run of success and popularity in Los Angeles?
I don’t know what’s going to happen this summer, but the Clippers have them for next season in terms of youth and talent. We don’t have a shooter on our team. That’s the big issue.
Stream PAPA’s EP A Good Woman is Hard to Find below (I’m especially fond of “Collector”):
The fourth installment of 110 Percent, a series in which I talk to musicians about sports, features Canadian MC Buck 65 (born Richard Terfry), who’s playing a rescheduled date at Chaser’s in Scottsdale on Feb. 24 in support of his 2011 release 20 Odd Years, a title that reflects his lengthy music career.
But Buck 65 nearly spent his life pursuing his first love: baseball. Injuries derailed a possible pro career, and Buck was cool enough to hold a lengthy chat with me (through a dying phone) about that, his song about Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista and life as a hard-core baseball nerd.
So, you’re a Blue Jays fan, right?
Well, no. … I live in Toronto and it’s the team I’m exposed to the most. I kind of follow them by default. When I was growing up (in Nova Scotia), I definitely was an Expos fan. They would have been closer geographically to where I was growing up. They also had some great and exciting teams.
Where I grew up, you were either a Red Sox fan or an Expos fan. I don’t think you could be both. I grew up hating the Red Sox and always loving the Expos and not really being much of a Blue Jays fan, even though by the mid-’80s it became more rewarding to be Blue Jays fan because they actually started to win divisions.
I always, and to this day, follow really closely everything around the league. I take interest in individual story threads that develop during the season and follow my favorite players as they get traded. I’ve become a big fan of the Reds because a bunch of players that I like or became invested in ended up landing there.
Who are some of your favorites? Brandon Phillips. I think he started his career in Expos organization (drafted by Montreal in 1999). A couple years ago Orlando Cabrera was playing shortstop there, and he used to be in the Expos organization. I’ve always been a big Scott Rolen fan. For my money — and I wasn’t around to see Brooks Robinson play third — but Rolen’s the best I’ve ever seen in person.
Of course, you’ve got Canadian superstar Joey Votto playing first. And I’ve always been a big Jonny Gomes fan. He’s such a fun player to watch and seems like such a maniac on the field. Of all the crazy batter’s box routines we’ve seen through the year, like Nomar Garciaparra, I just think Jonny Gomes takes the cake. I really like his whole backstory.
How many games do you get to each season?
I would say that if Toronto is at home I go down twice a week, if I’m around. You stretch that out for a season, figuring about 80 home games, I probably go to 30 or 40. The ushers know who I am.
You’re not the infamous “man in the white shirt” stealing signs, are you?
(Laughs.) No, it’s not me. Whoever that guy is is sitting in some pretty crappy seats. I try to get better seats than that through one scam or another.
That was such a weird story. It’s really hard to be a Blue Jays fan because, first of all, they’re stuck in American League East, where you’re perennially going to be dealing with Boston and New York. It’s a long time ago that I remember either of those teams being totally lousy. Now you have the Rays having shaped up in these last few years as kind of a powerhouse. I think the last four seasons in a row the Blue Jays have finished in fourth place. They’ve never had chance in hell, and still they just get picked on with every little thing. Whether it’s Jose Bautista getting a hard time over everything or stealing signs and God knows what else. … It’s really tough and frustrating when you already feel so bullied in first place by other teams, but then they’re getting it from all angles.
Speaking of Jose Bautista, you put out the song “Joey Bats” last year, right?
Yeah. Jose Bautista mania seemed to be at its peak. Granted it was pretty exciting. When you have so little to be excited about here, when a real superstar like that comes along, sometimes that’s reason enough to see games. There’s been a few moments in circumstances where he came through and hit some monstrous home run, and it’s unbelievably thrilling. Even if team loses 8-2 but he hits a 450-foot homer run off some team’s ace, you can walk away saying, “That was amazing.”
Just plain and simple I was feeling kind of inspired by this one small thing that was giving me some joy in my life. Right around that time I had been complaining to my wife how this thing — this pastime I had devoted my entire life to — had given me more agony than joy. How do I do something about this? I guess it was part of that effort. The more I’ve had a chance to see the guy play and hear stories about him, the more impressed I am. I guess I was in a mood to just write a song that was really simple. It’s just right there on the surface. You don’t have to guess. I wanted to write a song that is very clearly about something, and bam, there it is.
So many sports songs can come off as sort of kitschy or corny. Is it difficult to write one that doesn’t have that vibe?
To be honest, not really. I’ve made the same observation, and I don’t really know what the problem is and why that has been so difficult for so many people. First of all, there was something very specific musically that I wanted to try to establish, a tone that I was going for and a certain amount of aggression. Beyond that, I guess the problem with a lot of them is they’re too earnest or take themselves too seriously. It’s a tenuous smarriage at best, trying to marry sports and art — it’s super tricky to do. So the more serious you take yourself, the more likely you are to blow it and do something terribly embarrassing. I had fun with it and allowed it to be as cartoonish as it needed to be. I wasn’t gonna make some seminal folk ballad.
Do you have any idea if the Blue Jays or Bautista are aware of the song?
I don’t really know. I didn’t think about that. I wasn’t thinking, “Here’s a great way for me to find this audience.” But once it was done, I kinda stepped back and thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if even Jose himself became aware that it existed?” I’m unabashedly a dork when it comes to my baseball fandom, so I’m not above that.
I know it kind of fell into hands of baseball writers around this town. I thought that was a step in the right direction. … One day I walking home after a game and waiting at a light and this guy approached me and said, “Hey, you’re Buck 65.” He explained that he was the guy putting Blue Jays promo videos together. I said, “I just made this song about Jose Bautista … I’ll send it to you.” Here’s a guy who’s on the inside. I sent it to him and didn’t really hear anything. I still haven’t received any definitive word that may have happened, which in a way seems hard to believe because I know it’s circulated. If I had to guess, someone must know, but nobody has indicated it to me.
You were a player yourself, right?
When I was a kid, I was super serious about it. I was determined to make the big leagues. The opportunities just didn’t exist. There was little organized baseball, let alone attention, where I grew up. I grew up not far from where Matt Stairs is from. I played against him once as a kid. But there was just nothing and nobody paying attention. One year there was this camp organized where there’d be a bunch of college coaches and scouts wandering around. There was this guy, Stan Sanders. He worked in a bunch of different capacities throughout his career. He had a World Series ring for the year he was a coach with the Yankees. He scouted for them. His claim to fame was that he scouted Mike Schmidt.
So I went to this camp for a few years working hard to impress this guy. I had some injury that was holding me back. But when I was 16 and healthy, I just went bananas, working hard to get his attention. He gave me this speech, “You’re gonna go real far, but you gotta finish high school first.” I still had a year to go. In that time in between, he had a heart attack. When camp came, he wasn’t around my last year. That was my ticket. After that, I’m thinking, “What the hell am I gonna do?” It’s not like I had other opportunities waiting. So I was determined. The only thing I thought to do was work quadruple hard, but I had real lousy coaches. The combination of that and pushing myself too hard blew out my shoulder and knee. It felt to me like the ship had kind of sailed. I had this one golden opportunity. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about that. He (Sanders) had told me in no uncertain terms … “I wouldn’t be wasting my time in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere if I didn’t think you’re gonna be superstar.”
I was confident enough that I really believed it. I still do, too. … I know this sounds absurd, but I feel like I know I could have had a great career. It’s often felt in my life like the thing I was meant to do. It was the only thing that came at all naturally to me. Music has never been a natural fit. It’s been a real source of heartbreak for, well, half my life.
How would you describe yourself in your playing days?
I played shortstop. I had a very strong arm, which is why it ended up being blown out by my coaches. They tried to make me pitch because I was the one kid that could throw 90 mph. I really prided myself on defense and worked really hard on that but could also hit with power. When I was 16, I guess that toward the end of the ’80s, that idea of the power-hitting shortstop was kind of a novel idea. It wasn’t the position it’s become now where usually a shortstop is a good hitter and often someone that can hit with some power. I fit that new mold that was beginning to develop. I could hit with power. I hit a lot of doubles. I usually hit for a pretty good average as well. I was “toolsy,” as they say. I could run with decent speed. I would never set any stolen-base records, but I could swipe a few. I think that’s what the Stan guy liked, that I played the position well.
I still work super hard and practice all the time. It’s important to keep my arm in shape and swing and to be able to hit well and everything. One of the items on my to-do list to get down to a game and weasel my way into batting practice.
You still play recreationally?
I do. I’ve been playing the last few years in a pretty easygoing league. I’m thinking this summer I might play in league a little more competitive.
Check the baseball-themed video for Buck’s song “463″ below:
Serengeti is true-blue Windy City, epitomized by his alter ego Kenny Dennis – the O’Douls-chugging, softball-playing relative anyone from Chicago has (trust me, I know). Kenny loves brats, Brian Dennehy, Ditka and Da Bears. Not necessarily in that order. Check the video for “Dennehy” and I strongly encourage you to check out the powerful and deeply personal Family & Friends, produced by Yoni Wolf of WHY? and Owen Ashworth (formerly known as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone).
Like life in Chicago, sports references are an integral part of Serengeti’s raps (check the song “Ozzie Guillen” for an example).
You grew up in Chicago. Are you a South Sider? I grew up on the South Side. But I lived on the North Side since I was, like, 17, so I’ve been in both places.
Are your allegiances to the White Sox? I grew up watching the Cubs because we didn’t have cable and the Cubs were on WGN, so I really fell in love with those ‘87 Cubs – Hawk Dawson, Sandberg, that whole era. I’m a really big Cubs fan. But I was never one of those people that liked the Cubs, so you have to hate the Sox. It’s silly. Why not pull for both teams? Is it that much of a pain to do that? It seems like a waste of energy.
Will the Cubs ever win a World Series in our lifetime? Yeah, I mean, we got like 50 years left in our life. Odds are that it is gonna happen. Everybody wins. They have to win. They have to. They got Theo (Epstein, president of baseball operations), the boy genius. He’s gonna turn it around. It has to happen.
But I guess if it doesn’t happen, that would be really cool. Like, one team hasn’t one a world series in 400 years. It would be, like, 600 years and counting … (laughs)
I was gonna try to count the number of sports references in your songs, but that seemed like an impossible task. Do you feel like your fans get most of them? Or do you even care? I don’t really care. To me, it makes it one of those things where you listen to it and one day you’re watching a TV show or something and, “Oh, they talked about (Alonzo) Spellman or about Mike Singletary calming down Spellman.” They might just catch that and be like, “Oh, man, that was real.” I like it to be subtle like that. It’s funny to me.
You’ve lived in Los Angeles for the past year or so. Do you feel like sports define a city like Chicago more so than L.A.? I don’t really know that much about L.A. sports culture. It seems like people really love the Dodgers. But I don’t know much about L.A. sports, aside from watching sports on TV. … I don’t know the whole culture. But Chicago is extreme sports. It’s so cold, and it’s like when spring comes and baseball is here – what a feeling. All this hope and everything is changing.
What’s your greatest moment as a Chicago sports fan? When Jordan hit that shot over Bryon Russell to win the championship in ‘98. That was a great thing.
Did Jordan push off? Yeah, he did. But it wasn’t called, so he didn’t.
Man, I still have my original pair of Air Jordans I had the Jordan 5s back when I was in junior high or something like that. My sister got ‘em for me. It was the greatest gift ever and I was so proud of them. I never had all the shoes like all the kids had. Some kids had every shoe whenever it came out.
But for some reason, I didn’t wear the Jordans to school that day. And my cousin was staying at our house – I don’t know why because it was a school day. And my damn cousin took my damn Jordans. They were size 9. He didn’t even fit the shoes. To this day I still harbor this resentment. You went in my closet and packed ‘em up in your bag?
It was crushing. Shit’s gone … fucking Jordans. My life could have gone differently for a period of a month. I’d be the dude with the new Jordans. It was special. I really missed out. I could have had some confidence and that confidence could have led to something else – a whole chain reaction. But my cousin foiled me. It was a good lesson learned.
Never not wear your Jordans. (Laughs) That’s right. That’s gonna be a Kenny Dennis rap.
I moved from Chicago to Arizona when I was 8, so I witnessed the Jordan dynasty from afar. What was it like in Chicago during the Jordan years? It was so great, them winning … it was almost boring. “The Bulls are gonna win again.” Why even watch? They were so dominant. For me, I didn’t really appreciate them until the second three-peat (1996-98). The 72-win season (in 1995-96) was incredible. I wish they would have went 73-9, but they lost the final game to Seattle or something like that. … It was incredible.
What about the most disappointing moment as a Chicago sports fan? That 2003 Cubs season. They were so close. Then they just sorta choked. That was pretty brutal. I remember watching that, thinking ‘They’re about to really do this.’ To watch that thing collapse, that was pretty rough.
And last season with the Bulls losing to bastardly Heat. That was a tough, tough thing to see. These damn Heat. I really don’t like those guys. They made me pull for the Lakers. I didn’t really like Lakers, but I thought that the only team that could beat them is the Lakers.
What do you think about the Bulls this year? They started out a little shaky and it was like, ‘Was last year lightning in a bottle?’ They turned on the defense. They looked a little slow initially. Carlos Boozer lost all that weight, but didn’t seem like he got any better. He looks very thin now, but didn’t serve him very well.
Who’s your favorite Chicago athlete of all-time? Hawk. Something about Hawk Dawson and his curl. I loved it, man. I love the Hawk, man.
I’m trying to think of a Bears player … sort of. I was really into the Lions because I loved Barry Sanders. I’d always root for those damn Lions teams. They would have one terrible season and then get the soft schedule and be, like, 12-4 and you just know they’re not gonna beat the Redskins or someone like that in the playoffs. It was a smokescreen … you just know they’re not gonna win. But I really loved Barry Sanders, man.
You gotta respect him and how he went out on top. It wasn’t all about football. But all-time it’s the Hawk. Those games on WGN, it was great. It really drew me into baseball. I, too, played baseball all my life. But just those games, man. Being in my room by myself late at night, those 9:30 p.m. games … that was just beautiful, man. I was up so late watching the Cubs games. I never liked to go to games. I’m not into that. I’d much rather watch stuff at home.
You’re a video-game guy, right? Just the Black Ops. The Call of Duty game.
So you’re not into the sports games? I can’t really do all that stuff. I don’t enjoy playing the Madden too much. It doesn’t float my boat. They had this Madden tournament on ESPN, like a documentary sorta deal. Man, these guys are really serious. They know all the defenses.
My favorite sports is boxing. And I can’t even get into those games because it’s hard.
You’re a boxing guy? Oh, man. I love boxing and combat sports – the MMA stuff. It’s my guilty pleasure.
So you’re not buying into the whole “boxing is dying” line of thinking? Those guys are fools. Boxing is not dying. When a boxing match happens, it captivates the nation in a way that MMA never will because MMA lacks the elegance and history that boxing has. There’s just way too many variables.
I love boxing, but I do like MMA. What they do in MMA is when a fight is supposed to happen, it happens. There’s not all these mega-purses involved.
I don’t mean to change subjects abruptly, but I heard you on the Knocksteady podcast and you had some thoughts on how to save the WNBA, like lowering the height on the rims?
That was just a fleeting thought. Men’s basketball was really boring and it wasn’t viewed that much until people started dunking. The average height of a male ballplayer is like 6-7 and women is like 5-11. It would make more watchable if a point guard could dribble down, feed the ball in the low post and power forward does a pump fake and goes for a two-handed dunk. Or some little guard gets a fast break and gets a nice dunk. There could be a women’s slam-dunk contest. I don’t know if that’s sexist. College women fans say it’s like art to watch that style of basketball. But in women’s golf, tees are moved up. The basketball in women’s hoops is already smaller, too. It would make it a more vibrant sport. But I don’t know anything about the WNBA. I’m just pullin’ shit outta my ass.
Born and raised in Chicago (and now based in L.A.), Open Mike Eagle took time to talk about his love of the Bears and Bulls and why he doesn’t follow athletes on Twitter.
I know you’re a Bears and Bulls fan. Do you follow baseball at all?
I’m White Sox more than the Cubs. I’m more bandwagon when it comes to Cubs. I grew up by old Comiskey Park.
When did you move to L.A.?
Have you adopted any of the L.A. teams or would you ever?
No. … [laughs] … I absolutely hate the Lakers but that’s because I don’t like Kobe. I’m not into baseball enough to be rooting for the Dodgers or Angels. And L.A. doesn’t have much else going on. But my thought with them getting a football team: If they got somebody else’s franchise, I wouldn’t care for it too much. If they were able to expand and start a new team, it might be interesting.
Let’s get to the NBA. What are your thoughts on the lockout? Are you pro-anybody in this?
I tend to be pro-player. But that’s only because I really especially in this case felt the owners were set to bully the players from the very beginning. They weren’t going to negotiate and weren’t going to budge because they thought they could break the players. I tend to be pro-player anyway. I guess that’s my general thought. But I don’t necessarily like what the players association is doing in that they’ve waited this long to talk about (union) decertification when they could have done this months ago.
Welcome to 110 Percent, a new, recurring feature that brings together two of my greatest joys: music and sports. The goal is pretty simple (if not a little broad): I plan to talk to musicians about sports, be it their favorite team, the news of the day or anything in between. Everything is, ahem, fair game.
I chatted with Scott last week about his life as a Suns fun and the NBA lockout, a few days before the players union rejected the latest proposal from the owners on Monday, thus jeopardizing the 2011-12 season. We had already launched into conversation before I could get a question out, so I’ll let Scott get the proverbial ball rolling here …
Let me put it this way, the first time they did this lockout nonsense – what was it ’99? – I sort of re-embraced the NBA pretty quickly just because the Suns were still very much a team that wasn’t gonna win a championship, but we still were pretty good. This year, OK, well, they get a season going, and what do we have? We have the same questions about the Suns that we had before the season even ended. I hate to say this, but I’m like, “Blow it up.” What could it possibly hurt?
The guy I feel worst for is my basketball hero, Steve Nash. I still feel like that dude is playing at a very high level above the expectations of what even a guy his age is ever supposed to play. So the notion of him losing a year off his career would make me sad. But everybody else just strikes me as being just completely unsympathetic. I never particularly liked (NBA commissioner) David Stern. I don’t like the position a lot of the players are taking publicly … you don’t really have much sympathy for these dudes.
Especially considering the economy. I know they’re also negotiating for future players, but there’s already a huge disconnect between Average Joe and the rich athlete.
I understand the principle, but it could not happen at a worse time for the Average Joe to have much sympathy. I would have considered myself a die-hard basketball fan – that any given night I-don’t-really-care-what-game-I’m-watching fan. But this year, no. I’m completely sitting here going, “Why are we even caring?” I don’t care. It’s just not a good time to be having this sort of thing.
Give me some background. Were you born and raised and raised in Phoenix? I was born in Florida and moved here in ’74. I was 7.
So the Suns were the only game in town, right? When I first became a Suns fan they were offering 2-for-1s. The 2-for-1s were like $5, $7, something like that. I remember the New Orleans Jazz came to town. [Starts singing]: “The Suns are playing in town tonight / the Suns are playing in town tonight / Pete Maravich, you know what that means/ from way down ‘yonder in New Orleans.” That stuck with me all these years. That’s when I became a Suns fan.
Was that a commercial? That was a commercial. It was so hokey. The Suns were on Channel 12, I think, at the time. I’ve been with ‘em all the way. The very first memory I have of the Suns was watching the Suns-Celtics on black-and-white TV, triple OT (Game 5 of the ‘76 Finals). That was my first memory, which couldn’t be a better memory.