Commentary

ESPN Music's 2011 bass-ball preview

Updated: March 31, 2011, 10:03 AM ET
By Jim Wilkie | ESPN.com

As a journalist and sometimes headline writer it's difficult to let an opportunity for a good pun go to waste.

[+] EnlargeHank Aaron
AP PhotoFor a lifelong Braves fan such as Mike Mills, it's difficult for anyone to top Hank Aaron as a favorite.

In the past few weeks I've spoken by phone with some heavy-hitting bassists who happen to be big baseball fans. So as Opening Day arrives, and with the help of their knowledge and passion for the game, I present ESPN Music's 2011 Bass-ball Preview:

Mike Mills

R.E.M. just released "Collapse Into Now" (iTunes | Amazon), which Mills described to Rolling Stone as "our best record since [1991's] 'Out Of Time.'" R.E.M. will not be touring this year, but the group's bassist said he'll occasionally play some shows with his buddies in The Baseball Project. The Georgia native also joined friends Saturday in New York for a Big Star tribute concert.

Favorite team: "The Braves. I've been watching them since they moved to Atlanta. …

"But once the Braves moved down there my dad used to take me to games all the time. And then I started to get season tickets in '92 after the worst-to-first when we were robbed of the World Series by the umpire at first base."

Favorite player of all time: "Henry Aaron. I'd probably put [Roberto] Clemente second, but I'd put Henry first. But just for fun, you know who I'd put third, I'd put Rico Carty. …

"He was very popular in Atlanta while he was here, and I actually got his autograph once, so he's definitely third of all time for me."

Current player who impresses you the most: "Wow, let's see. Well, you know, how do you not …. Albert Pujols may be the best hitter of all time. He's got to be in the talk for the best baseball player ever. So he certainly impresses me of all the players playing right now; I think he's the best one out there, obviously.

Mills
Mills

"I don't know, I like Joey Votto. I'm really excited to watch him play for the next few years."

Favorite major league ballpark: "Well, I haven't seen a lot of the new ones; I'm going to do that this summer. I'll definitely catch up on a bunch of them this summer. You know, I just don't think you can beat Wrigley. I mean, I love the Ted [Atlanta's Turner Field], it's a great ballpark. I think of the new parks the Ted is my favorite, but of the old ones in general you just can't beat Wrigley Field."

How many games per year do you get out to see? "It varies. I go to as many Braves games as I can. I usually make -- depending on the year -- anywhere from five to 20 in Atlanta. And as I'm traveling around I like to hit other places. I haven't been to the new Busch or the new one in Cincinnati, Detroit, I'm probably going to hit both those. Pittsburgh, I'm hoping to hit that this year."

Favorite baseball memory: "Well, it's both my favorite and my least favorite. In '91 when the Braves were playing the Pirates for the NLCS I was in London. And this was before everybody had computers and such, so Peter [Buck], my guitar player Peter and I were watching CNN and every inning they would give an update and every inning the Braves were behind. Up until the eighth inning the Braves were still behind, so I said, 'Well, Pete, I guess we're not going to the World Series this year.'

"And then it flashed the new score the bottom of the ninth and the Braves had one. So I was just jumping up and down like a madman, although I had no idea what had happened. I found out it was Sid Bream scoring from second. All my buddies were there at the game, breaking seats and everything. So that's sort of the best and the worst. …

"I couldn't be a part of it; they were in my seats."

Who will win the American League? "I just don't see how you can beat the Red Sox. You know they've got the pitching; they've added two monster hitters. I just don't see how anybody can beat them. I think they'll win the American League, and I think they'll probably win the whole thing. They've just got that combination that I don't see anyone beating."

Who will win the National League? "I'm gonna go with the Braves. I think we've got almost as good of a pitching staff as Philly. I think if Freddie Freeman is of any use at all, we've got as good of batters as Philly does, or close to it. It could be a tossup with the Braves and Phillies, but given that being a Braves fan I'm going to go with the Braves."

Who will win the World Series? "I think the Red Sox, they'll have the best record. …. Well, how are we determining home field, is it still the All-Star Game winner? … Well, then, that's sort of a wild card. If the Red Sox get home field, I think they win it all. If the Braves get home field, if the National League gets home field and the Braves get it, I'll throw it to the Braves, why not?

"Because very few people are really expecting the Braves and that gives them a little advantage; the pressure's not on them. The pressure's all on the Phillies, you know, they're getting old, they're all left-handed, and we'll just have to see about that."

Who will win the NL Cy Young Award? "I'm going to go with a fun one, I'm going to go with Tommy Hanson with the Cy Young in the National League. I just think he's got the stuff and if he's learned as much as I think he has I like him for the Cy Young."

Who will win the AL Cy Young Award? "For the American League I'm going to go with Jon Lester. He's just pretty amazing. And he'll certainly win a lot of games and that helps when you're looking at Cy Young."

Who will win the NL MVP? "You know, if I thought [Troy] Tulowitzki could stay healthy all year I'd pick him, but I don't think he can. I think he'll miss 35 to 40 games and you're not gonna get the MVP with that. I'm going to go back to Pujols. I know it seems like a safe pick, but I'm gonna go with Pujols for the National League MVP."

Who will win the AL MVP? "I'm going to go out on a little bit of a limb here, let's pick Pedroia, let's go with Dustin Pedroia for the AL MVP."

What big storylines are you looking forward to this season? "I think the Rockies. I think the Rockies are going to be a really, really strong team. I think they'll win the West and end up playing the Braves for the National League title."

Do you play fantasy baseball? "I do."

How many teams? "Four (laughs). No, that's not true, I have five. I'm in an ESPN league this year for the first time, so it's five for me."

AL, NL or both? "One of them is an AL-only this year, I got invited so I said 'What the hell, I'll try an AL-only league.' The rest are all mixed-league."

Who's a player or two you had your eye on? "I'd love to end up with Adrian Gonzalez at first base, that would make me really happy. …

"And the pitcher I'm looking for to sneak in later is Shaun Marcum. You put a guy like that in the National League and he could dominate."

Mike Inez

Alice in Chains bassist Inez has been spending time at his home in Big Bear Lake, Calif., before the group decides when to gather for work on their follow-up to 2009's "Black Gives Way To Blue" (iTunes | Amazon).

Inez
Inez

"It's nice to come home and reacquaint myself with my animals and my wife," he said.

After what Inez said was about five years of off-and-on touring that included 32 countries in the band's triumphant return, Alice in Chains is on a bit of a hiatus while guitarist Jerry Cantrell recovers from shoulder surgery.

"We're just taking it easy. All of us are writing songs. Yeah, I miss the guys," Inez said. "And we had a funeral … that [drummer] Sean [Kinney] and Jerry went to for the old bass player [Mike Starr]. So we're in kind of in a mourning period and stuff right now. Really a drag, always a sad deal.

"Looking to get together pretty soon. I'll probably see Jerry, he'll probably come up to the house here in the mountains and recuperate. We're just strategizing."

Favorite team: "Mine is the California Angels. I grew up in Southern California, my father was a huge Angels fan. So it was cool in the '70s because the Angels were this tar pit where all the old dinosaurs would go to die (laughs). I grew up watching Nolan Ryan pitch, Frank Tanana, Bobby Grich, Frank Robinson, Bobby Valentine, Reggie Jackson, so it was really cool seeing all those guys at the tail end of their careers. Except for Ryan, of course. He went back to the Republic of Texas and threw a couple no-hitters.

"I'm 44 now, so he was pretty much my age, throwing no-hitters. It's pretty crazy."

Favorite player of all time: "It would probably be Ryan. I just love that mean old b------."

Current player that impresses you the most: "I gotta tell you, I think Pujols is just fantastic. I go to a lot of Cardinals games because me and Jerry are really good friends with [St. Louis manager Tony] La Russa. So he's always turning us on to games and stuff. We hit a lot of those games. So right now I think Pujols is probably my favorite."

How many games per year do you get out to see? "I try to hit as many as I can, especially when we're on the road, that's the first thing I look at, the baseball schedule for the summertime, you know. Gosh, I think I've been to almost every stadium at this point, you know. Old Yankee Stadium, me and Jerry went to a game there and it was really nice. We're trying to hit all these cathedrals before they close down."

Favorite major league ballpark: "I like Angel Stadium. (Laughs) Something feels right with the world when I walk through the gates. I'm like, 'Oh, OK, cool.' It's just something familiar from my childhood."

Was that the first major league park you went to? "Oh, yeah, that was it. I never was a Dodgers fan. I went to a couple Dodgers games. [They] had the greatest infield ever when I was a kid, but I just never really got into the Dodgers as much. I was always an American League guy."

[+] EnlargeAlbert Pujols
Brett Davis/US PresswireAlbert Pujols is a near-unanimous selection to be the National League MVP this year.

Favorite baseball memory: "Oh, God. You know what's really cool? It was at Dodger Stadium, actually. I played first-year saxophone with my high school band and they let us out on the field right before a game. There was probably about a hundred marching bands from all over the Southern California area there. And we all played one big song, so that was probably one of my first stadium gigs, I guess really. (Laughs) Now that you have me thinking about it.

"It was actually a musical experience for me, I just really loved walking out on Dodger Stadium and getting the vibe of the game. There's been so many times up at Safeco [Field in Seattle, where Alice in Chains originated], just really good days, but that one really was the highlight for me as a 13-year-old kid. Playing my saxophone at a stadium was pretty cool."

Who will win the American League? "My AL champs, you could make a case for the Twins. … [Justin] Morneau, [Joe] Mauer, that's solid. But I think it's gonna be Boston with Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford; it's just going to be amazing, I think."

Who will win the National League? "Once again, you can make a case for Milwaukee. And I always like it when teams like that from B markets kinda make it in there, you know. And Milwaukee's such a crazy place … home of Jeffrey Dahmer (laughs).

"Probably the Phillies, they've got the monster pitching. So I think I'm going to go with the Phillies. Pretty standard, I'm picking favorites here, I guess. Yeah, Boston-Philly in the World Series, even though I'd like to see the Cardinals in there for my friend, Tony (laughs)."

Who will win the World Series? "I'm picking the Red Sox to go all the way. I think that's a safe bet. And I think they're gonna win the World Series."

Who will win the AL MVP? "I'm thinking Adrian Gonzalez. He's in a hitters' park, and I think it will be a good change of pace for him. And I think he's just going to have a great year."

Who will win the NL MVP? "I'm taking Prince Fielder. I think he's due for a big season again."

Who will win the AL Cy Young Award? "I'm picking Felix, you know this might be a Seattle homer pick but I'm picking Felix for the repeat."

Maybe he'll get some better run support. "Oh, yeah, God, the Mariners are just crap, bro. (Laughs) It's the greatest ballpark, too, and great fans and everything. … And me being an Angels fan all my life I'm used to going to see losing teams. But God, I'd just like to see Seattle turn it around a little bit."

Who will win the NL Cy Young Award? "My gut tells me to go with Cliff Lee with the Phillies, I think he's going to have a great year.

"But -- and I'll tell you why, he went to the same high school as my drummer Sean Kinney. Liberty High School, Renton [Wash.] -- I'm going Tim Lincecum. Kinda homer picks for the Cy Young. That's funny, I was talking to Sean yesterday, 'Yeah, I went to Liberty High School.' Of course, Lincecum came 20 years later probably, but I just love that stuff."

What big storylines are you looking forward to this season? "I'm just kinda looking forward to the season. It's just nice to know that there's gonna be a season, as opposed to the NFL. (Laughs) I think they're gonna get it together, though. I'm just looking to get to some games. We're gonna be doing the next record, hopefully, in Los Angeles. Me and Jerry both live down here now. So I'm thinking I'm gonna hit a lot of games as much as possible. Maybe even get some Dodgers games in, too."

Do you play fantasy baseball? "I did last year. But God, I didn't quite grasp it until late in the season. And then I started making a comeback towards the end, but I wasn't reading it properly, I think."

I know you're serious about fantasy football, but fantasy baseball is a lot more work, isn't it? "Yeah, it's turning into like a full-time job so I think I'm gonna sit this season out. Just go eat hot dogs and watch games and have a good time."

Jeff Prystowsky

Baseball is interwoven into the life of The Low Anthem's Prystowsky, who grew up in northern New Jersey and now lives in Providence, R.I. When music wasn't making him enough money, for example, Prystowsky said one of his side jobs was teaching an elective course on baseball history at a high school in Providence. And when The Low Anthem was first starting out, Prystowsky and bandmate Ben Knox Miller took their baseball gloves along when they were driving themselves on the road.

Prystowsky
Prystowsky

"We would play a show, we'd arrive in a city early and we would just have a [game of] catch in like the parking lot of the hotel we were staying at," Prystowsky said. "And we would keep tabs of how many cities have we played catch in. We had it up to quite a high number."

The Low Anthem, which released "Smart Flesh" (iTunes | Amazon) in February, is currently touring Europe. They return April 14 in Detroit to begin a North American tour with Iron and Wine.

Favorite team: "Well, see, this is an interesting question for me because I used to be a Yankees fan when I was growing up. But when I realized that they were buying all the best players around the league, I couldn't deal with that as a fan as I grew older and knew that baseball was more than just bats and balls and mitts -- but it also had to do with contracts, and I just didn't think that was fair.

"And so what I started to do is every year, I just loved the game, so every year I would pick a different team. And last year I rooted for the Cardinals, and this year I'm rooting for the Orioles. (Laughs) Orioles is the short answer, but the long answer would be I'm a former Yankees (fan), so there should be like a support group for us, for former Yankees fans who are looking for a new team."

Why did you pick the Orioles? "My fellow bandmate, Ben Miller, is also a huge baseball fan and his team is the Orioles. So for about 10 years of my life he's been hearing the most up-to-date Orioles news in the tour van and in our apartment, because we live together. And finally, with the signing of Vlad Guerrero and Mark Reynolds I was like, 'OK, I could do it, I could do this this year.' (Laughs)

"I've always loved Vladi Guerrero and I think he's like a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, and I think he's a wonderful player. What the hell, every baseball coach in America tells you not to swing at everything and he's proven them all wrong. (Laughs)"

Favorite player of all time: "Today I'm in the mood for Sandy Koufax, so I'm going to say that."

Favorite major league ballpark: "Camden Yards. I was very impressed by their renovations in the early '90s and how they were able to make a modern ballpark in the style of an old ballpark. Whereas I hate the new Yankee Stadium, for example, to contrast it."

How many games per year do you get out to see? "Mostly I get to see the PawSox [Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox]. But Ben and I just scheduled a road trip for his birthday. I got him Orioles tickets, so I think we're going to see as many Orioles games as I can. And I usually see Yankees games with my dad. … All in all, maybe 25 actually going to."

Favorite baseball memory: "It's gotta be catching my first ball at a [Yankees] game. Just a searing line drive hit, I'm like 8 years old or something, and I jumped up and it smashes my hand in like you wouldn't believe (laughs). I was like, basically, 'I'm going to catch this line drive,' and it just completely bruised my hand and it fell about three rows away and the guy came over and gave it to me. He said, 'Hey, here you go.' And I was like, 'Ahh, my hand!' and I was so happy to have it and I had that moment where I raised it up and everyone in the section cheered."

Who will win the American League? "I'm rooting for the Orioles, but probably the Red Sox. Yeah, Adrian Gonzalez is probably going to belt out a good 40 to 50 home runs in that ballpark. Again, all this barring injury, but I would definitely say that he could be the Babe Ruth of Fenway. (Laughs)"

[+] EnlargeAdrian Gonzalez
Elsa/Getty ImagesAdrian Gonzalez's arrival in Boston has created big expectations for the slugger and the Red Sox.

Who will win the National League? "The Phillies."

Who will win the World Series? "I've gotta say one of the great stories of this year has to be the Phillies pitching staff. I mean, how could you not go with that -- (Roy) Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt. … Unless some of those guys get hurt, I would go with them."

Who will win the NL Cy Young Award? "My favorite pitcher in the league is Roy Halladay. For a while I carried around [a magazine] article. … I would carry that around on tour with me just because, just his work ethic and the respect. The article said first he was a phenom as a kid but then he sucked. He hit this wall and then he had to come back. And it's just such a beautiful story about that comeback. It talks about how he had this pitching coach who came to help him out and they actually had to start again. Like throw the mitts on the ground, throw the ball on the ground, let's just start with mechanics, no baseball, just to start from that baseline again and get back to the kind of pitcher he is today. And the kind of respect also that the coaching staff gives him. The pitching coach usually gives the roundup before each game about how he wants to approach each hitter and blah, blah, blah. And when Halladay starts he's allowed to give that talk. He's like the Peyton Manning of pitching.

"It's just unbelievable. It's like a coach who's also playing, and he's also like the best.

"And I watched his no-hitters last year. Watched them and rewatched them and was just amazed. First-pitch strike, like every time. That is just … I used to pitch, so it's kind of like a soft spot in my heart for someone who can toss the way he does. It's very impressive. …

"He does this warm-up where he has like three spots -- I guess it was a Nolan Ryan thing -- he puts three little marks in the dirt and hits those exact marks like every single time for like 30 pitches in a row. Just insane, and getting to the stadium at 5 a.m., working out twice as long as everyone. Just heroic. I have so much admiration for him. I hope he wins the Cy Young. That would be my Cy Young pick."

Who will win the AL Cy Young Award? "Again, I'd like to go with an Oriole (laughs), but I don't think it's gonna happen. Probably Felix Hernandez."

Who will win the NL MVP? "One of my other favorite players in the game has gotta be Albert Pujols, and he's who I'd go with for MVP. … I feel like I'm going to be telling my children that I saw the great Albert Pujols hit, you know what I mean? It's like Ted Williams or something. And I'm just astounded.

"And I read a personal story about him, too. … Just about how hard he works, but also how great of a leader he is in the clubhouse."

Can he get the $30 million per year in a new contract? "Yeah, if I was the Cardinals I'd go for it. I would do it because, yeah, maybe it sacrifices the team in a way. … It's like Babe Ruth. … This is the man who represents your ballclub in the annals of history. And what he's asking for, I think he deserves. I'm all for doing it, but then again I'm like … you're preaching to the Democrats [as the] Democratic candidate (laughs)."

Who will win the AL MVP? "I gotta give it up for -- I am a PawSox fan, so I've got to give it to Adrian Gonzalez. I've got to get the Red Sox in there for Providence, Rhode Island's sake. I think Providence is a Red Sox town even though it's still Rhode Island … It's like Jersey with New York, … [it] was kind of was just annexed by the Red Sox Nation."

Current player who impresses you the most: "To accurately answer that question, Halladay would be my answer."

Do you play fantasy baseball? "I don't think I'll be able to this year because of our touring schedule. But I usually play fantasy ball and I actually played baseball my whole life and still do when I can. There's a wood bat league, I pitch and play second base and I'm player-manager. And Ben also pitches and plays shortstop, so occasionally The Low Anthem turns a double play (laughs)."

Duff McKagan

We couldn't complete this without letting our own columnist for The Life bat cleanup. McKagan, who has played for bass for Guns N' Roses, Jane's Addiction and Velvet Revolver, is finishing his autobiography and preparing for the release of "The Taking" (Amazon) his band Loaded's third album, on April 19.

McKagan
McKagan

No wonder he's too busy for fantasy baseball.

Favorite team: "Seattle Mariners."

Favorite player of all time: "Edgar Martinez."

Current player who impresses you the most: "Well, Evan Longoria came out of seemingly, to me as just a common fan, came out of sort of nowhere and was a dominant player right away. I wish he was a Mariner. I would say from tip to stern, he's probably the most exciting young player."

Favorite major league ballpark: "I've been to a bunch of parks. Fenway is an amazing park just for the historic value of it. And I've played gigs right across the street. And I've been there when the Mariners have played the Red Sox. Go see four innings and then go play a gig and then afterwards have Mariners and Red Sox guys come and see your gig and hang out afterwards, pretty fun.

"Camden Yards, the new Camden. You know that's kind of the blueprint for the new 'old' park model. And it's really beautiful, but I gotta say, I've been to Dodger Stadium. I've been to Wrigley Field. I like those old historic [parks]. But, you know, Fenway and Wrigley are very uncomfortable places to watch a game. They really are. It's kind of a [hard] thing to even get into your seat at Fenway. But it's cool, and I love baseball and I love going and experiencing other teams' viewpoints.

"Jerry Cantrell and I went to a Dodger game last year when they played the Phillies. And we were guests of Karen and Jamie Moyer, and that was pretty cool for me.

"But I think Safeco is the best field. I'd say it's really the best park to see a game. It's fan-friendly, it's beautiful, they've got a roof just in case. They rarely use that thing, but it's a really great, great park. But I think other people have said that who are not Mariners fans."

How many games per year do you get out to see? "Really depends. I usually, if I'm not on tour, I'm in Seattle all summer long. And I'll go to a good dozen games. The Mariners -- it's hard to go to games … ha, you know the All-Star break comes and your team's already out of it. You want to go to a game, I'll call some buddies, 'Let's go to a game.' [They answer] 'Why?'

"I try to go to a dozen games. And when I'm on tour I'll go to games out there. So yeah, at least a dozen."

Favorite baseball memory: "I made the all-star team when I was 12 for the majors, a major Little League. I made it when I was 11 and I made it again as a pitcher. And I was really coming around because I played the majors for three years by that point because I went up early at 10 because I was a tall kid. They sent me up early, a little too early but I got all that experience and so at 12 I was really in my zone for me.

"And I pitched a shutout in a major Little League game. …"

"One of my older brothers, he was a star pitcher for Roosevelt High School. And they won the state championship the year he pitched, a left-handed pitcher and a great hitter. So he taught me how to throw like curveballs, sinkers, all kinds of s---. Nowadays kids, I don't think they're even allowed to throw that stuff, but back then they didn't know [any harm it would do]. …

"There were faster pitchers than me, but I had a bunch of crap.

"I hit a game-winning home run for my team that year. I'm not bragging, but it was just a great memory: hitting that game-winning home run."

Who will win the American League? "I'm going to go Red Sox."

Who will win the National League? "The Phillies. I like the Phillies because Jamie Moyer went there. It would be great to see Phillies-Red Sox."

[+] EnlargeFelix Hernandez
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireSome on our panel expect "King" Felix Hernandez to win his second consecutive AL Cy Young Award.

Who will win the World Series? "I think the Red Sox kinda have to get another one now. They've built up. I think it's going to be the Red Sox. They're doing things that I think they're just kinda in a groove right now. Whereas a few years ago they were scrappy and wily and they were the team that would never win the World Series again for a million years and they won. And now I think they're in a groove where all the noise and hum is gone and they can just be a [expletive] great team."

Who will win the AL MVP? "Well, I hate to say it … but I hear that what's-his-[expletive] is having a good spring training. You know who I mean. [Alex Rodriguez] I can't say his name. I hear he's having a real great spring training and he's in a good headspace and whatnot. Well, you know what, I'm not going to pick him because I despise him. I can't even bring myself to do it.

"OK, here we go: Ichiro [Suzuki]."

Who will win the AL Cy Young Award? "Cy Young: King Felix. All right."

Who will win the NL MVP? "Albert Pujols. He'll play lights-out."

Who will win the NL Cy Young Award? "Tim Lincecum. The Freak, he's awesome. I like that kid, he's kinda punk rock."

What big storylines are you looking forward to this season? "Looking forward to, fictional or true: 'The Seattle Mariners surprisingly dominate the AL West.' … It could be."

Do you play fantasy baseball? "No, it's too long of a season. I'm new to the fantasy game. This is my second [year of fantasy football], next year will be third … well, we'll see. I played two seasons of fantasy football and this last year was really my year where I started to really get it and be real active in it."


Jim Wilkie is the editor of The Life and can be reached at espnpucks@comcast.net.