When people think of the connections between sports and music, they probably don’t immediately consider the parallels between baseball and punk rock. One is arguably the most conservative game in the nation’s history, and the other is a brash style of music that prides itself on being exactly the opposite of that. But for Jak Kerley — a filmmaker for both the nation’s punk scene as well as the Greensboro Grasshoppers, the Single-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins — his preferred music genre and his sporty day job were inexplicably connected in a number of ways, all of which he hopes to show in his documentary, Baseball Punx (out February 16).
“I think the big thing that connects the two is failure,” Kerley says of the link between baseball and punk rock. “Both of them rely heavily on a lot of failure to produce a small amount of success. I originally set out to make this cute little five minute fluff piece, but I ended up taking the documentary in a much more serious and political direction due to the awesome stuff that my interviewees were touching upon. The documentary talks a lot about the social progressiveness that is in baseball — arguably more so than other sports — and how it’s similar to the constant fight against bigotry and hatred that punk is all about.”
In recent years, Kerley began noticing how often baseball would be referenced in punk rock. Although the appreciation wasn’t always reciprocated in equal amounts, the documentarian also realized that professional baseball had its fair share of punk rockers as well. With Scott Radinsky the most obvious connection as both the Angels’ bullpen coach as well as the frontman of Pulley after spending the bulk of the ‘90s splitting his time between pitching in the Big Leagues and singing for various punk bands, Kerley began compiling a list of the crossover members of his two favorite pastimes — and it soon became obvious what he would have to do.
“I thought at first that maybe it was just me noticing [baseball references appearing in punk rock] a lot because I had such an interest in both, but I just kept noticing it more and more and finally decided one day to write down the questions and find out who I was going to interview,” Kerley says. “If I had to credit one band with being the nail in the coffin that convinced me to get the ball rolling on this, it’d be a baseball sludge punk band from Columbus called Slugging Percentage. Once I found out I would be seeing them at a festival during the summer of 2016, I knew I had to get my shit together and produce this thing.”
Kerley had a lot of time to dwell on the questions in the documentary while constantly being around baseball every summer for the past five years. “I took the same approach I do to all of my other projects, being very careful to interview people who I knew would be able to give insight into these two things more than I could simply write up myself,” he says. The director was also much more open with the post-production of this his documentary then he dad been with projects in the past. “I was constantly showing people rough cuts, clips, and quotes to get feedback to see what landed the most, what didn’t land, where there were holes, and what else needed to be added.”
Throughout the entire process, Kerley’s biggest surprise was that all of the bands, athletes, and artists he wanted to work with were totally willing and excited to be featured in the documentary. From Radinsky to PUP to the Tampa Bay Rays’ Vincent Caffiero, virtually everyone Kerley asked was happy to contribute any way they could even in the film’s early days. Of course, no punk rock/baseball documentary would be complete without soundtrack additions from local bands like Benny The Jet Rodriguez or resident baseball-loving rocker Riley Breckenridge’s baseball-themed non-Thrice band, Puig Destroyer.
“It’s not a relationship that’s natural or comfortable, but if you love heavy music — punk rock in particular — and baseball, you find a way to make it work,“ says Ian Miller, Puig Destroyer’s bassist and Breckenridge’s baseball-loving podcast co-host for Productive Outs. “I feel like the guys in this documentary make it clear that you don’t have to compromise your principles or your values to be a fan of punk rock and baseball together.”
Although Puig Destroyer might be the only team involved in Baseball Punx named after a current local ballplayer, everyone involved in the film will likely agree with Miller on being able to proudly rep their favorite team while maintaining their punk rock dignity. As with any sports discussion, that’s probably where the agreements will end though, with each artist firmly supporting their favorite players and teams regardless of what statistics or sports history has shown to be true. Even when it comes to topics that the most advanced sabermetrics haven’t touched yet — like who the most punk rock athlete in the MLB today is — you’d be hard-pressed to find two contributors with the same answer.
“Well back when he was playing, the clear answer [for most punk rock Major Leaguer] would have been Scott Radinsky,” Kerley says. “But now that he’s a coach, I think that crown might belong to Daniel Norris. He’s this pitcher for the Tigers who lives in a Volkswagen van during the offseason and just drives around taking photos and surfing. I think that’s pretty cool — and if I had known that was an option for a career path, I might have tried a little bit harder back when I was playing Little League. Also, anybody that throws a knuckleball is pretty punk rock.”
“I’m sure there are a lot of guys out there who like punk rock but keep it under their hat because the nail that sticks out gets hammered down in America, but Yasiel [Puig, the Dodgers’ rambunctious outfielder] is just a wild man,” Miller answers. “He does what he wants to do and has fun. He doesn’t think too much — or enough — about the repercussions. He doesn’t care about the unwritten rules. He’s just punk rock.” Though he probably doesn’t listen to much punk rock, when we first released our EP, Puig actually showed up at the MLB Fan Cave when that still existed and they played one of their songs for him. “He said ‘That’s good,’ so we do have the official Yasiel Puig seal of approval,” Miller says.
But if there’s one thing the vast majority of punks in baseball can agree on, it’s that they’re all thankful Kerley managed to document the intersection of their two passions. After all, the experienced filmmaker was just a meltdown by the Astros away from permanently scrapping the entire thing in October..
“This is a punk making a film about baseball, not a baseball player making a film about punk,” Kerley says. “I threatened to cancel the project if the Yankees made it to the World Series last year. Thankfully, they lost Game 7 of the ALCS, so that means you get to watch it.”
For more info on the film and where you can see it, visit baseballpunx.com