Where Baseball and Music Collide: Chatting with Riley Breckenridge

Perhaps best known as the drummer for the rock band Thrice, Riley Breckenridge is also a baseball fan, podcaster, father… well, let’s just say he’s a busy guy. He recently took the time to chat with me about a wide variety of subjects. Wackiness ensued.

For anybody who doesn’t know about your interest in baseball, or even Thrice, what is Productive Outs and what makes it fun?

Riley Breckenridge: Productive Outs started as a Twitter feed and then turned into a website and then turned into a podcast that I do with my good friend Ian Miller, who is a musician and a baseball fan like myself. We kind of find the same things amusing, whether it’s music-related stuff or baseball-related stuff.

I think it was maybe six years ago now that we realized people were following us on Twitter for our musical exploits and liked that we were tweeting about baseball stuff. So we thought, “Why don’t we start a baseball-centric Twitter feed?” It’s not serious at all; it’s not a news-breaking site. Just watching games with your buddies like you’d do on the couch, commenting on how shitty a team’s uniforms are or how weird guys’ batting stances are.

So we started that Twitter account and it grew into the podcast, which has been really fun. Just getting to shoot the shit with good friends about baseball for an hour or two every week or bi-weekly is super fun.

And we didn’t know if anybody would like it, but it took off a little bit and we have a nice little following and it’s fun. It’s attracted a lot of people who are amused by baseball in the same way we are. It’s just a fun back-and-forth and a great way for us to be…stupid, I guess. (laughs)

There are a lot of things in baseball that are prone to being made fun of. Two of your usual topics are fake prospect names inspired by real-life prospect names, and “spoonerisms,” for example, referring to Josh Hamilton as “Hosh Jamilton.” Explain those.

RB: Yeah, baseball is…it’s such a sport steeped in tradition. You have all the unwritten rules, or “This is the right way to play the game,” it’s almost overly serious, so any opportunity to make fun of how serious that stuff is seemed like a worthwhile thing for us.

The prospect names—I was an English major so I’ve always been fascinated by language and spelling, grammar—so making up fake names is a humorous extension of that. No matter how hard I try to make up the most absurd-sounding prospect name or player name, there’s always some real player with a name that is far stranger than anything I could come up with.

The spoonerism thing—that’s mostly Ian, but he’s a copy editor so he’s around the written word all day, every day and just loves messing with that stuff. Spoonerisms on Baseball Twitter are very, very popular so we try to contribute to that as often as possible.

Baseball Twitter, so to speak, is totally absurd with its in-jokes, puns, silly references, and all that.

RB: How many times has baseball argued about whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich, or whether iced coffee is better than hot coffee? Baseball Twitter is like a subreddit with its food discussions. It’s fascinating.

One of the things you mentioned earlier, and one thing Baseball Twitter always talks about, is “playing the game the right way.” Speaking of, you and Ian formed a supergroup called Puig Destroyer—incorporating Pig Destroyer and Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers. That’s…perfect. Does Yasiel know about it?

RB: He does. That came about as a joke on our podcast, because part of the show rundown for each podcast is…musical guest, we talk about popular baseball news and whatnot. It was right when Puig was called up to the majors and was hitting like .600 or something, just mashing.

We’re both big fans of Pig Destroyer, the super-heavy, frenetic band, and we were joking around. I was like, “Man, somebody should start a fake grindcore band called Puig Destroyer. It’d be so awesome.” Since he plays the game like he was just shot out of a cannon. Freakish and out of control, and that’s kind of the way Pig Destroyer’s music is. So we talked about that on the podcast and maybe five minutes after we wrapped Ian texted me and was like, “Yo, WE should start that band.”

I was like, “Yeah, I don’t know…” and then an hour later Ian was sending me bass tracks of ideas for grindcore songs.

I started programming drums to them; he grabbed John Howell (guitarist in Ian’s band Kowloon Walled City); I hit up my friend Mike Minnick from Curl Up and Die to do vocals since he’s a huge baseball fan and we decided like, “First idea/best idea for these songs. Don’t over think anything, let’s make absurdly fast, super-heavy grindcore songs and we’ll have Mike scream stuff about baseball over it.”

So it went from a joke on a podcast to a six-song demo in a matter of a week. We did everything virtually; we had an EP out and I think we had a friend/follower of Productive Outs that was part of MLB Fan Cave that they used to run. Puig paid a visit to the Fan Cave and somebody played Puig Destroyer for him. There’s a Vine of him listening to our song One Man, Five Tools and saying like, “Oh, that’s very good.”

I don’t think Yasiel Puig listens to a lot of grindcore, but he did on that day and it was pretty crazy. It was on, like, Yahoo! Sports, Deadspin, there were mentions on ESPN, it was just crazy that a joke on a podcast went to a fully realized demo we made available to people to Yasiel Puig’s ears in like two weeks.

Being in Thrice, we’ve had publicists for records and hired people to market records and…I mean, we got more exposure with this Puig Destroyer thing that was a total joke than some Thrice records got. Pretty crazy.

What’s your favorite baseball player name of all time?

RB: Hipolito Pichardo is up there…Dick Pole is a good one.

I’ve always liked Stubby Clapp and Rusty Kuntz.

RB: Ooh, yeah. Stubby is up there. Rusty Kuntz, I feel like…is the easy answer. I found a good name not that long ago for spoonerizing…oh, it’s Pat Cooper. Spoonerized, that’s “Cat Pooper.”

That’s one of my favorites. There are so many good ones. When I did have free time I’d waste hours of my day just digging through Baseball Reference trying to find the weirdest names.

You’re an Angels fan. The Angels missed the playoffs again last season and they’ve only given Mike Trout three playoff games so far in his career…and they weren’t good ones (2014 ALDS). Given what they’ve been through, what do you expect from them this season and why’d you pick them over the Dodgers?

RB: I don’t expect very much from the Angels this year. I think they had some pretty obvious holes to fill, namely left field and second base, and they didn’t do anything about left field. Last season they got Shane Victorino, David Murphy, and David DeJesus as this three-headed extremely average or sub-replacement-level monster in left field. It was like throwing crap at a wall and hoping something sticks.

None of it stuck, so I was like, “Oh, maybe they’ll go nuts because Arte Moreno is not afraid of going nuts with money” or at least he hasn’t been in the past. “Maybe they’ll get Justin Upton, maybe they’ll get Dexter Fowler, maybe they’ll get somebody to fill that hole.”

And they didn’t do anything. They got Craig Gentry and Daniel Nava, which are basically like what they did at the end of last season but maybe worse. And then second base you have Johnny Giavotella who–he’s an enthusiastic guy. It’s hard to root against him, but he’s just not very good at baseball.

Don’t forget Cliff Pennington.

RB: Oh, that’s right! Super utility man, Cliff Pennington.

When you see what the Rangers just did with Ian Desmond, you feel like the Angels could have spent $8 million to trot him out in left field and that’d have been a better idea.

RB: Yeah, I mean, they could have platooned him at second and left, killed two birds with one semi-affordable, non long-term stone. It’s a bummer they didn’t do that. The rotation is super sketchy because I feel like Jered Weaver is at the end of his rope as far as being effective is concerned. C.J. Wilson is coming off surgery and is apparently having issues, and then you’ve got Hector Santiago, who was great for half the season last year and awful for half of it.

Andrew Heaney, you don’t know if he’s going to end up being legit—I like him a lot but he might need a year or two more to settle in before being whatever he’s going to be—you don’t know if you’re going to get Garrett Richards from 2014 when he was lights-out before he got hurt or if you’re going to get 2015 post-injury Garrett Richards, who was just a little bit better than okay.

The bullpen I guess is decent, and then…they’re just a tough team to root for. I feel like for a number of reasons, from how they handled the Josh Hamilton thing to the way they spend their money, but the only reason I really watch the Angels besides feeling guilty since they’re my team…is [that] Mike Trout’s the best player I’ve ever seen. I’d watch him whether he was playing on the Marlins, the White Sox, or whatever. I’d tune in to watch just Mike Trout.

I don’t have high expectations. They have a lot of holes in the lineup and the rotation. I’ll watch Trout do his thing and be bummed he’s not able to do it on a bigger stage, because I don’t think they’re a playoff team by any stretch.

Especially not in that division.

RB: Yeah. I’m an Angels fan because my dad grew up around LA and was raised as a Dodgers fan. I grew up in Orange County so the Angels are local; we’d watch Angels games and go to games because the stadium was ten minutes away and my dad raised me as an Angels fan, but we also watched Dodger games and listened to Vin Scully. I had an appreciation for both, but it was easier to go out and see Angels games. 2002 was amazing, but it was a long time ago.

It was more recent than 1988!

RB: That’s true, yeah. But I have a feeling the Dodgers will be back to doing good things in the postseason well before the Angels will. I just think they’re headed in a better direction, while the Angels seem kind of confused and hopeless right now.

I think they’ll be battling it out with the A’s for fourth and fifth place in the West. It’s too stacked.

RB: Yeah, Houston is incredible, the Rangers have gotten really, really good. The Mariners should be good. Everyone says they should be good every year and they never end up meeting expectations.

But they have Jerry Dipoto now!

RB: Oh man, what a good move for him if he wanted to give the middle finger to the Angels. Move within the division to a rival, build them up, and just crush the Angels.

Are you pro- or anti-rally monkey? 

RB: Oh, anti, 100 percent. I totally understand it from a marketing perspective, it’s super smart. But for the true baseball fans, it’s more of an embarrassment than it is a funny thing that comes on the Jumbotron when they need a rally. I’d rather the dudes in the dugout wear rally caps and have the crowd wear rally caps than have some dumb monkey…but kids love it, casual baseball fans love it, they sell a ton of those things at the games, it’s just…too hokey for me.

But, they’re a franchise that doesn’t have a lot of good baseball traditions, so I guess they need something to hang their hat on. The fact that they’re hanging it on a little poor monkey is a little depressing, but you’ve gotta sell those tickets, gotta sell that merch!


Adrian Garro is the editor of Rock Cellar and has been known to write about baseball. You should follow him and Riley Breckenridge on Twitter.