Play Ball: R.E.M.'s Mike Mills Talks the Atlanta Braves' 2014 Season
R.E.M.'s bassist (and new Baseball Project member) previews the South's most beloved baseball team.
April is upon us and that means the return of Major League Baseball. To preview the new season, Billboard.com spoke to a panel of baseball fans from around the music world for a team-by-team preview of their favorite squads.
The musician: Macon, GA native Mike Mills is the original bassist from R.E.M., making him one of the true forefathers of alternative rock. R.E.M. split in 2011, but rest assured, he's kept busy. Recently, he joined up with his indie rock veteran friends in the Baseball Project and contributed to their new album "3rd." One entry was a plea to get Braves great Dale Murphy into the Hall of Fame titled "To the Veterans Committee."
The team: The Braves, a formidable National League power, are following up a first place, 96-win season in which they lost in the Division Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Season-ending injuries to two of their top starters (Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy) will make another division crown tough, but not impossible. The Braves have plenty of daunting hitters (Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, etc.) and a lights-out bullpen.
Previously in this series:
Dropkick Murphys Talk Boston Red Sox
Hold Steady & Baseball Project Talk Minnesota Twins
Jimmy Eat World Talk Arizona Diamondbacks
Yo La Tengo & So So Glos Talk New York Mets
New Found Glory Talks Miami Marlins
Asher Roth Talks Philadelphia Phillies
Asher Roth and the Baseball Project Talk San Francisco Giants
Joan Jett Talks Baltimore Orioles
Pete Wentz & The Mountain Goats Talk Chicago Cubs
When was your first year following the Braves?
I’ve followed them ever since they came to Atlanta (in 1966) from Milwaukee. I was a kid but my dad used to take me to games. And then Ted Turner bought the team to have some programming for his UFH channel, which was all they were at that point. But they were on the television every night and I got to watch them. Even before then, I listened to the radio under my pillow.
Under your pillow?
Yeah, I had a little transmitter radio and after I went to bed, I would listen to the Braves games. They were in the West Division of the national League at the time, so a lot of their games were in California. So when I was supposed to be asleep, they wouldn’t start until 10:30 p.m. so I would listen to the games. I would fall asleep at 1 or 2 o’clock.
Listen to a song Mills wrote for this year's Baseball Project album "3" about trying to get former Braves great Dale Murphy into the Hall of Fame:
It must be a bummer for your starting pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to be out for the season with Tommy John surgery.
Yeah. Unfortunately, you expect some injuries but to have your number one and number two pitcher go down before the season even starts, that's tough. But that kind of adversity can be good for a team. Hopefully they can pull something positive out of it. I have to give credit to the organization for going out and grabbing Ervin Santana. Dropping $10 million or $14 million a year for one guy, in an emergency situation, I say that’s a job pretty well done.
With all that, it must be comforting to have such a good bullpen to fall back on.
I feel good about the pen, yes. Even without Jonny Venters, Luis Avilan and David Carpenter are two of the best set-up men in baseball. Craig Kimbrel is the best closer. If we can get it for the seventh inning, we should be good.
There's a lot of question marks around your outfield. How much do you think you'll get out of Jason Heyward and the Upton brothers?
I never liked the B.J. Upton signing. I never thought that was a good idea. He certainly underperforms. He can’t be any worse this year than he was last year, so maybe he’ll be better. Justin I like. I think he’s a good player. If Heyward can stay healthy and realize some of his potential, I think we got the hitting to do it. There’s a lot of pressure on Alex Wood right now to man up. There’s so many unknowns on the pitching staff. There’s a lot of question marks and we’re going to have to see. Can Aaron Harang step up? I don’t really know.
As far as the NL East going forward, would you say the Nationals are their biggest competition?
Yeah, the Phillies are on a downhill slide. The Mets are about a year or two away. The Nationals you have to worry about. If Harper stays healthy, they’re going to be tough to beat.
As far as playoffs, do the Braves have a good chance at winning the division or getting the wild card?
A lot of people are predicting the wild card and I can’t say that it’s too far off. I think if the pitchers come through, we should win the wild card. Anything can happen. We can still win the division, but the Nationals are going to be tough.
Check back on Billboard.com tomorrow when country singer David Nail previews the St. Louis Cardinals.