110 Percent: Van Pierszalowski (WATERS) on the Dodgers, A.J. Ellis and how music ended his baseball career

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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.

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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.

One thought on “110 Percent: Van Pierszalowski (WATERS) on the Dodgers, A.J. Ellis and how music ended his baseball career”

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