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: Country star David Nail grew up three hours south of St. Louis, a youth baseball player immersed in Cardinals fandom. His third studio album, this year’s “I’m a Fire,” produced the hit “Whatever She’s Got,” which went to No. 2 on Hot Country Songs and No. 35 on the Hot 100. His old ballplaying skills came in handy at Major League Baseball’s 2010 All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game, when he hit a home run over the fence at Angel Stadium.
The team: The Cardinals are one of baseball’s steadiest superpowers. Last year’s team made it all the way to the World Series (they lost to the Red Sox in six games) and they’re in good position to get back this year with great leadership and a fine-tuned roster top-to-bottom. They weathered a bunch of early season injuries last year, thanks to breakout performances from first baseman Matt Adams, second baseman Matt Carpenter and starting pitcher Shelby Miller. The “Cardinal Way,” a team-wide code of conduct (more on that below), is definitely alive and well.
You played through high school and college, right?
David Nail: I played a semester at a junior college in Nashville and really just in an effort to use baseball to get to Nashville to explore kind of what the music scene was like and see if I was capable of pursing that dream. I quickly retreated back to Missouri because I was extremely overwhelmed.
Overwhelmed with baseball?
DN: Well, to be honest with you I had played so much my entire life that I was a bit burned out. I think that getting into the music and seeing Nashville, even though I knew I wasn’t quite ready but just being there and kind of seeing it kind of lit that fire even more. And baseball got put into second place and music kind of took over.
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
What is your favorite memory of the Cardinals?
DN: Being there for Game Seven (of the 2011 World Series). I was there working ironically, which is kind of bizarre in itself, you know being on that roller coaster ride of game six and game seven and not knowing and getting behind and then coming back and then driving behind again. Just being there, it’s weird. Like you said, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know a lot of people in the organization and a lot of them aren’t there anymore. They retired or moved onto other teams. But it’s a different kind of being a fan. But at the end of the day, you’re still a fan and you’re cursing them when they’re doing bad and cheering them on like hell when they’re doing great.
What was it like singing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch of Game Seven of the 2011 World Series?
DN: That was a really neat experience. I can remember looking over in the dugout and [manager Tony] LaRussa looking over and giving me a fist pump. They were winning and it looked like they had most of the momentum from the night before so it was definitely a really neat moment.
They lost some hitters like Carols Beltran and David Freese in the offseason. Who do you think they’re going to rely on to pick up the slack?
DN: You know, obviously, you still have Matt Holliday there, who is kind of the cornerstone and then there’s a young kid who actually played quite a bit at first base, Matt Adams, who is a big home run hitter, big slugger, but can also can hit for a pretty high average for someone as big as he is. He’s a big ol’ boy. But then Matt Carpenter kind of came out of nowhere last year and was an all-star and a candidate for MVP for a while there. It’s weird, man, the culture there is so team-oriented that even their quote un-quote “superstars” — especially since Albert Pujols left — they just all kind of pick up. Seems like in the past that they always have, if they don’t necessarily have one guy who can pick up the numbers, they’ll have two or three guys who kind of share the load.
And of course there’s catcher Yadier Molina. He was third in the NL MVP voting last season.
DN: Yeah, definitely. He’s a backbone. He, Holliday and Adam Wainwright have been there the longest. You hear people talking all the time about the “Cardinal Way” and it’s just weird, man. I’m not a Yankees fan so it’s hard for me to say this: I’m sure it’s a lot like putting that Yankee uniform on. You’re able to get every ounce of ability out of your body and maybe a little bit more just from the culture of winning and they have such great guys, great family guys and it’s really bred from the top down.
Being from the area, who do you see as the most popular players on the team?
DN: I would probably say Molina. He’s got such a great personality. He’s always smiling. He just busts his ass all the time. And catchers, I played catcher so I know it’s such a grueling position and it takes so much out of you. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to him a couple of times and he’s just the happiest person in the world and you can tell that those young guys, especially those young pitchers, really rely on his ability and his knowledge. I would say him or Adam Wainwright would be the most popular players.
Can you give me a World Series pick for this year?
DN: I’m going to pick my Cardinals but you know the American League, it’s funny, I’m such a National League guy, it’s hard to follow. I’ve gotten to be friends with Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy over the past couple of years. Just seeing that clubhouse, man, when the Cardinals were in the World Series, I knew they were in trouble because the clubhouse was just so tight and they were having so much fun and playing so hard and it just seemed like destiny was on their side. I think that if they can stay healthy and have one of those young guys pick up the slack from losing Jacoby Ellsbury, they’re going to be hard to beat for sure. Just as long as it’s not the Yankees.
Check back with Billboard.com tomorrow when City and Colour’s Dallas Green previews the Toronto Blue Jays