Just as players begin filing into camps across Arizona and Florida comes news of the group’s third album – appropriately titled 3rd – which will be released on Yep Roc on March 25, perfectly timed between the Dodgers-Diamondbacks opening series in Australia and the rest of Major League Baseball teams lifting the lid on another season.
The Baseball Project boasts an impressive cast of accomplished music veterans, bound by their love of the national pastime: Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3), Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows, R.E.M.), Linda Pitmon (Zuzu’s Petals and Steve Wynn) and Peter Buck and Mike Mills of R.E.M.
The cover for 3rd (above), a very cool artistic piece centered on Babe Ruth, is incredible and the tracklisting (below) gives clues to the album’s subject material (Dock Ellis, Hank Aaron and … Pascual Perez?).
A summer tour is on the docket and we’re still waiting for the first song to be released, but in the meantime, keep up with The Baseball Project on Facebook and Twitter.
1. From Nails To Thumbtacks
2. Â¡Hola America!
3. The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads
4. To The Veteran Committee
5. Monument Park
6. Box Scores
7. They Donâ€™t Know Henry
8. The Babe
9. They Are The Oakland Aâ€™s
10. Pascual On The Perimeter
11. The Baseball Card Song
12. Extra Inning of Love
13. Larry Yount
14. A Boy Named Cy
15. The Played Baseball
16. Take Me Out To The Ballgame
If you’ve listened to Serengeti, you know he’s a fan of baseball. It’s just not a Serengeti album without a “Hawk Dawson” reference â€“ and tell me another rapper that has name-dropped Jeff Pico.
It’s been a busy year for the Chicago-bred emcee, who talked sports with me back in January. In March, he teamed with Sufjan Stevens and Son Lux on the Beak & Claw EP. In April, he dropped the Kenny Dennis EP, on which he raps as his Windy City superfan alter ego. More recently, Serengeti released C.A.R., another highly personal/vulnerable glimpse into his life (buy this album).
If it wasn’t totally obvious already, I love when music and sports collide. These are subjects that consume me, personally and professionally. What could be better than a marriage of the two?
So even though I have no loyalties to the Mariners or Ichiro Suzuki (I’m just another miserable Cubs fan), I found it rather endearing that Death Cab for Cutie frontman and devoted Mariners follower Ben Gibbard unveiled an homage to Ichiro via Twitter after the star outfielder was traded to the Yankees on Monday.
Says Gibbard: “I wrote this song a few years ago. Today seems like the best day to share it with you. Thank you so much, Ichiro.”
“Ichiro’s Theme” is undeniably catchy â€“ “Go, go, go, go, Ichiro” â€“ if not a little schmaltzy, but the sentimental power of baseball can inspire grown men in unique ways. Thousands of words were spilled Monday about a 10-time All-Star’s legacy, and thousands more will follow, but a three-minute song seems just as fitting as any tribute.
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.? Hereâ€™s the deal. Iâ€™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 didnâ€™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 â€“ I was absolutely obsessed. My happiness would hinge on whether or not they won.
How far is Cambria from L.A.?
Itâ€™s like 3 1/2 hours.
So you probably didnâ€™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 â€¦ I canâ€™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 oâ€™clock. Heâ€™s like, â€˜Come on, Van. Youâ€™re not going to school today.â€™ Iâ€™m like, â€˜What the hell? Am I dreaming?â€™ He put me in the Vanagon and we started driving up to Candlestick. It was Hideo Nomoâ€™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 â€“ 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, â€œDodger fans: Go to hell.â€ I was sobbing and crying. It was best day ever turned into an absolute nightmare.
How much of an influence was your dadâ€™s fandom on you or did you pick it up yourself? He wasnâ€™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 wasnâ€™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, â€˜What can we do to get you out there?â€™ I was like, â€˜Listen, man, I just wanna focus on my music.â€™ (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, â€˜I just donâ€™t wanna practice every day. How about I just practice twice a week and play the games?â€™ But yeah, he didnâ€™t go for that.
Getting back to the Dodgers. So with the change of ownership, Iâ€™m guessing youâ€™re pretty happy about that? Iâ€™m incredibly happy about that. Itâ€™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. Itâ€™s nice to have a local hero be the face of it, as well as some big money behind it. Iâ€™m looking a lot more forward to the trading deadline than I have been in last three years. I think itâ€™s going to be exciting, especially if we keep playing as well as we do.
That being said, Iâ€™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. â€¦ 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, itâ€™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, weâ€™re doing even better. â€¦ 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 hereâ€™s the important question: Should A.J. Ellis be in the All-Star Game? Oh, my god. Itâ€™s just so obvious that he should be. I will get so fired up if we start talking about A.J. Ellis, and Don Mattinglyâ€™s refusal to bat him above the No. 6 position is just so insane.
Where would you hit him? Heâ€™s a leadoff hitter. I know he doesnâ€™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. Thatâ€™s the main concern. So why would you keep hitting Dee Gordon, whose on-base percentage isnâ€™t even .300, when you have one of the best people at walking in the entire game batting eighth? Itâ€™s so insane.
Youâ€™re pretty active on Twitter. Do you get your baseball fix there? Yeah, a good chunk of my Twitter feed is baseball related. Iâ€™m a huge fan of this one blogger: Mike Sciosciaâ€™s Tragic Illness. I read his blog every day, every post and I have for the past few years. Heâ€™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 heâ€™s just an amazing writer, and every time he posts I look forward to reading. Itâ€™s the best baseball blog Iâ€™ve been able to find and Iâ€™m glad itâ€™s about my team.
You said youâ€™re an MLB.TV subscriber, and youâ€™re going on the road this summer with Nada Surf. Will you definitely try to keep up while youâ€™re on the road? Oh, yeah. The only problem is a lot of times weâ€™re busy around the time theyâ€™re playing. â€¦ It is harder when youâ€™re on the road. When they play day games, I can watch on my phone.
But I was living in Europe â€¦ 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 whoâ€™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 Iâ€™d probably still have to say him.
But on the team now â€¦ I donâ€™t want to pick Matt Kemp because itâ€™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. Iâ€™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 donâ€™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 donâ€™t really get the rivalry. Itâ€™s cool, itâ€™s fun, but Iâ€™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, itâ€™s blacked out here on MLB.TV. So I go to this bar behind my house and watch the games, and when Iâ€™m there by myself and thereâ€™s like a huge crowd of Giants fans, I donâ€™t wear anything blue, I donâ€™t even cheer. I make it kind of secret that Iâ€™m rooting for the Dodgers just because it gets a little scary.
I do wanna talk about the â€œMickey Mantleâ€ song. Itâ€™s about aging or facing aging. Is that fair to say? Yeah, somewhat. Itâ€™s about the fear of failure.
So where did you get the inspiration for the â€œMickey Mantleâ€ 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 itâ€™s pretty tragic and sad. He just turned into this hopeless alcoholic. Thereâ€™s this interview on YouTube with him and David Letterman where heâ€™s being asked about it. Itâ€™s just so sad — he canâ€™t even admit it. Anyway, the songâ€™s not really about him obviously. Itâ€™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 Itâ€™s that fear you have of turning into something like that, the failing in general.
I’m a long-suffering Cubs fan â€“ there is no other kind â€“ and I can still remember watching Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series, the surreal feeling that my Cubbies were (repeat after me) five outs away from going to the World Series and then the utter despair when it all unraveled after some guy named Steve Bartman inserted his name into their miserable history.
Or maybe it wasn’t Bartman. Did the hand of fate that reached into the sky and interfere with that foul ball with one out in the top of the eighth inning come from Kenny Dennis? Almost nine years later, Serengeti’s alter ego has come clean in “Don’t Blame Steve,” a track off the new Kenny Dennis EP.
We’ve already seen Chicago superfan Kenny Dennis dis Shaq, but here he’s taking on 100-plus years of futility. Leave Bartman alone. Dennis instead points the finger at a long list of former players that will make Cubs fans both nostalgic and nauseated (and it shows Serengeti’s encyclopedic knowledge of Cubs lore): “Blame Assenmacher, blame Jeff Pico, blame Damon Berryhill, blame Lloyd McClendon … ”
I’ve never been one to blame Bartman (the Cubs still could have won Game 7), but the controversy will live on forever, and the irrational vitriol was documented nicely in Catching Hell, part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. Time (and perhaps a World Series title for the Cubs) will heal Bartman’s wounds, in the same way the relationship between Bill Buckner and Red Sox fans was eventually repaired. And like the Baseball Project revisiting history in their sympathetic song “Buckner’s Bolero,” Serengeti is equally forgiving of Bartman.
Maybe Kenny Dennis’ mustache is to blame. We’ll never know.
There is no better gauge to determine if the hype of an Asian athlete in the U.S. has reached critical mass than my mother-in-law, who is all Thai and maybe a little bit crazy (love you, Annie!). She keeps up with sports just enough to grasp the big headlines, and Jeremy Lin has been stealing them all lately.
“Linsanity” is all the rage. It doesn’t matter that my in-laws are from Thailand and the Knicks point guard is of Taiwanese descent. My mother-in-law proudly wears his success â€“ 136 points in his first five starts â€“ as a badge of honor, much in the same way she’s done for Tiger Woods and Ichiro Suzuki.
Chances are, she might have even heard Phoenix rapper Mega Ran’s “Jeremy Lin Rap,” an ode not just to the player himself but to the fruits of hard work and dedication, the very tenets that Ran no doubt emphasized in his days as a teacher.
Ran dropped the SEO-friendly track before Linsanity really took off, and it was picked up for a segment on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and mentioned in an New York Times article. Slate also just ranked it as the best Lin-related tribute: “The repetitive synth beat and skittering drums arenâ€™t going to win Ran five mics from The Source, but they set an appropriately triumphal score for whatâ€™s generally an uplifting rap about Linâ€™s biography and work ethic.”
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 â€“ what was it â€™99? â€“ I sort of re-embraced the NBA pretty quickly just because the Suns were still very much a team that wasnâ€™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 Iâ€™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 donâ€™t like the position a lot of the players are taking publicly … you donâ€™t really have much sympathy for these dudes.
Especially considering the economy. I know they’re also negotiating for future players, but thereâ€™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 â€“ that any given night I-donâ€™t-really-care-what-game-Iâ€™m-watching fan. But this year, no. Iâ€™m completely sitting here going, “Why are we even caring?” I donâ€™t care. Itâ€™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 â€™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 â€˜yonder in New Orleans.” That stuck with me all these years. Thatâ€™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. Iâ€™ve been with â€˜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 couldnâ€™t be a better memory.
You didn’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate what The Baseball Project was doing on Friday night at Martini Ranch, part of the band’s weeklong tour playing spring training parks around the Valley.
Oh, I could tell my wife about Curt Flood, Ichiro Suzuki and Ted Fucking Williams until her eyes glaze over. I could try to explain why the delicate storytelling and intricate details of Buckner’s Bolero – the nearly six-minute anchor on the new album Volume 2: High And Inside â€“ gives me the chills. But I quickly realized during the band’s inspired set that the stories â€“ for the non-baseball nerds among us â€“ could be secondary to what was going on musically.
After all, we are talking about some indie-rock heavyweights: Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5), Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Linda Pitmon (part of Wynn’s Miracle 3). Buck’s affiliation is, of course, exploited at every promotional turn, and it’s almost amusing â€“ if not totally bizarre â€“ to think that a member of R.E.M., on the heels of a new album, was tooling around the greater Phoenix area in a van to play ballpark concourses. (That said, he looked to be nothing but cordial and generous in signing autographs and spending time with fans.)
The band reached full boil when it launched into songs by Dream Syndicate (Tell Me When It’s Over), the Miracle 3 (Amphetamine) and the Minus 5 (Aw Shit Man and Twilight Distillery). As Jason Woodbury noted in his review at the New Times, “It was all exuberance and sweat last night. Save the blues for the end of the season.”
It was a great way to warm up for Opening Day, and gain a better appreciation for the talent that was collected on one stage.
After releasing their second album, Volume 2: High and Inside (Yep Roc), on March 1, The Baseball Project will embark on one of the more brilliant (if not obvious) tour runs. The band â€“ Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck and Linda Pitmon â€“ will wind its way to Arizona, where it will play seven shows over the course of six days, including stops at five Spring Training games. Now that’s some clever tour routing.
Like on its first album, Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, The Baseball Project continues to mine the many stories of our nation’s pastime for Vol. 2, which includes guest spots from Twins fan Craig Finn of the Hold Steady (Don’t Call Them Twinkies) and Mariners fan Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie (Ichiro Goes to the Moon).
Tour dates are below, as are a few tracks to stream from the new album:
3/11: Star Community Bar, Atlanta, GA
3/12: 40 Watt, Athens, GA
3/14: Manship Theater, Baton Rouge, LA
3/17-3/20: various SXSW appearances
3/22: White Sox vs. Mariners, Peoria, AZ
3/23: Dodgers vs. White Sox, Glendale, AZ
3/24: Indians vs. Giants, Scottsdale, AZ
3/25: Giants vs. Royals, Surprise, AZ
3/25: Martini Ranch, Scottsdale, AZ
3/26: Festival en el Barrio Viejo, Tucson, AZ
3/27: D-backs vs. Reds, Goodyear, AZ
3/30: The Casbah, San Diego, CA
3/31: The Echo, Los Angeles, CA
As promised, The Baseball Project has delivered the second song of its “Broadside Ballads” series, in which the band writes and releases a song each month during the baseball season.
This one deals with something near and dear to my ever-broken heart: the Cubs. I can’t say I’m as optimistic as Scott McCaughey, who makes one bold prediction after another on Cubs 2010: “This is the Cubs year, 2010 / 102 years, this drought has to end / everybody from 1908 is dead.”
As McCaughey suggests in the song and in an interview, there are plenty of ifs involved for the Cubs to end their â€“ and my â€“ misery. And McCaughey isn’t a Cubs fan, so he can afford to make these reckless proclamations â€“ “this will be the year of no last-minute choke” â€“ without that feeling of perpetual dread that something will derail their season.
I know, it’s an awful way to think, and McCaughey seems to be challenging that pessimism, dismissing all those mishaps and countless curses (he doesn’t even mention Bartman) and asking us to envision that glorious moment.
I’ll never stop believing, I just hope he has Cubs 2011 ready for next season.