Play Ball: Kings of Leon & Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. Talk Detroit Tigers' 2014 Season
Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill and the Detroit-based indie pop duo talk Tigers
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 musicians: Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill is such a Tigers diehard that he'll have his drum tech pass along scores while he's performing in concert. The Tigers are expected to be one of baseball's best this year, so he should be getting plenty of good news as his band tours in support of last year's album "Mechanical Bull."
Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein make up the Detroit-based, Tigers-rooting indie pop duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. They're signed to Warner Bros., who released their sophomore album "The Speed of Things" last year.
The team: The star-studded Tigers are one of baseball's perennial contenders -- they've made deep playoff runs the past three years, led by pitchers Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and first (formerly third) baseman Miguel Cabrera, baseball's best hitter. But a World Series title with this core still eludes them, so this offseason they went all-out in improving their weak spots. They signed battle-tested closer Joe Nathan and made a series of moves that should improve their poor defense.
How did you become a Detroit Tigers fan when you're from Nashville?
Nathan Followill: My dad is from Oklahoma. He was a huge Detroit Lions fan because back in the 1970s and 80s, the Lions drafted a few players from Oklahoma University, and we're diehard fans. They drafted Steve Owens and Billy Sims from O.U. and my dad followed his favorite players from college to the pros, because in Oklahoma, there wasn't a professional team. And my dad was like, "Well, I don't have a baseball team, either, and since I cheer for Detroit in football, I'll cheer for them in baseball as well. That's how it was passed down to me. And Sparky Anderson was my favorite manager and Cecil Fielder was my favorite player growing up.
My daughter Violet has little Tigers and Lions jerseys now and I'm carrying on the family tradition.
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
R.E.M.'s Mike Mills Talks Atlanta Braves
David Nail Talks St. Louis Cardinals
City and Colour Talks Toronto Blue Jays
The Get Up Kids Talk Kansas City Royals
Thrice Talks Los Angeles Angels
Switchfoot Talks San Diego Padres
Gaslight Anthem Talks New York Yankees
You mentioned you think they can win the World Series this year. What makes you so confident?
NF: Last year we got the experience of what feels like to lose and that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. I think that's actually a blessing in disguise getting that close but having it taken
More on Kings of Leon:
away from you, that's all the motivation you need. From a musical standpoint, if you lose a Grammy to a certain band, you want to make sure your next record kicks that band's ass.
We're stacked. I'm not gonna lie -- I was a little scared about Miguel Cabrera's big contract. That's usually the kiss of death; when you give someone that much money, you're just begging for an injury. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that's not going to happen. When Verlander's on his game, it's pretty much a guaranteed win. With Scherzer, same thing. Now we've got Joe Nathan closing, so that's awesome. My biggest concern is at shortstop, but I think Alex Gonzalez is a nice addition for sure. And Ian Kinsler, I'm interested to see what he does.
I was sad to have to retire my Prince Fielder jersey. I had a nice little ceremony of mourning, folded it up and put it in the ol' wardrobe case.
We get a little time off (from touring) soon, a five-week break. I'm gonna surprise my dad and catch a weekend series in Detroit with him. He's never been so I think that would be a lot of fun, to have a father-son trip and watch our favorite team play.
I'm not sure people know I'm such a big Tigers fan. Hopefully the team will read this and let me throw out a first pitch.
Yeah, at first I thought you were a Dodgers fan because you threw out a first pitch there.
NF: I threw out a first pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers a few years back. My bucket list is to throw one out at every Major League stadium. I've done the Dodgers, the Cleveland Indians and the San Diego Padres. I had shoulder surgery two years ago so I'm just getting back into shape where I can get one across the plate and not make the Sportscenter "Not Top 10."
Have you ever seen Carly Rae Jepsen's infamous first pitch in Tampa Bay?
NF: No I haven't! The most serious people go warm up in the bullpen. George W. Bush threw out the first pitch at a Rangers game. They said he gets there like an hour beforehand and throws in the bullpen to loosen up. I never really took that approach. They always tell you to aim three feet higher than you think you should. And it doesn't seem to make any sense. You think, "I'm not gonna be that jackass who throws it three feet over the catcher's head to the backstop." But on the other hand, you don't want to one-hop the guy a few feet before the plate. My record for first pitches is two balls and two strikes. I'm still looking for that first strikeout. Maybe it will happen in Tigers Stadium, who knows!
Do you think the Tigers will win the A.L. Central again this year?
Daniel Zott: I watched the first game and I went to the second game and the one thing I noticed is how when relief pitching came in, I wasn’t as stressed out… I feel a lot better with our lineup, having Joe Nathan... We are also younger, faster. It’s fun seeing some of these different guys out there -- some of them are guys who came up, no-namers, and then some of them are the big pickups like Ian Kinsler.
Joshua Epstein: Personally, it's exciting for me to see a Jewish baseball player in Detroit -- a professional Jew.
DZ: Who’s the Jew?
What did you guys think of trading for Kinsler and giving up Prince Fielder?
JE: I like Kinsler… I think the circumstances surrounding the trade on Detroit’s side are a little weird. They unloaded Prince’s contract, which was eventually going to be a burden for them… The whole rumor in Detroit is that Prince Fielder’s wife was having an affair with one of the rookies, Avisail Garcia, who got traded to the White Sox and looks like he’s going to be an amazing player. So I would have liked to have kept at least one of them and as a result of that -- if that is true -- we lost two power hitters.
What do you think makes Miguel Cabrera such an amazing hitter?
DZ: He seems like a smart guy. I’ve seen interviews with him where he has stats on pitchers and he has a good instinct of what they are going to throw him. I think that’s something people overestimate possibly because he speaks a different language. They don’t think he’s dumb but they think of him in another way. He’s a power hitter, he’s a slugger, but in reality I think that he really understand pitchers and then combine that with the fact that he’s so powerful -- he can pull the ball anywhere really and that’s a unique thing for a power hitter. For instance, today, several players would get up for Kansas City and our whole outfield would just shift over to where they know the guy always hits. But with Cabrera you can’t do that because he can hit anywhere and that’s such an advantage.
Check back on Billboard.com tomorrow when Steve Wynn of the Baseball Project and Dream Syndicate previews the Los Angeles Dodgers' 2014 season