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: Joan Jett is a punk icon, of course best known for her No. 1 hit “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” She had plenty of other hits and continues to make music with the Blackhearts, as they released their last album, “Unvarnished,” last year. She’s long been a celebrity fan of the Orioles. She was a guest of honor when Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record, and sang the national anthem they day he tied it. She sat alongside President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and baseball greats like Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays.
The team: The Orioles have an exciting young team that led the American League in home runs last year. First baseman Chris Davis, who hit 53 of them, was baseball’s breakout star of 2013. The Orioles are an above average club, but the trouble is they play in baseball’s toughest division, the American League East. Their rotation has upside, but it looks shaky compared to the lineups of division rivals like Boston, Tampa Bay and New York.
You’ve been an Orioles fan since the late-60s, right?
Joan Jett: Yeah,’69. We used to live in Maryland and my dad took us to see the Baltimore Orioles several times. But my first game was Jim Palmer against Catfish Hunter of the Oakland A’s. Jim Palmer threw a no-hitter. So how can you not be an Orioles freak after seeing that for the first game? It was the team with Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and the 4 20-game winners. It was quite a learning experience at the time.
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
What sorts of things have you done with the team over the years?
JJ: I’ve sung The National Anthem before the game six or seven times. I got a chance to go out on the field during batting practice in the 80s. That was when Cal Ripken, Jr. was going to play his first game. I was on the field joking with those guys, like Eddie Murray. It was just nice to be a fan and be on the field with them.
I also went to Fantasy Week. We would go down and spend a few weeks before Spring Training started. Each team has it and you can go. I did it in ’92. There were 105 people and 5 women including me. You form teams and play baseball for two weeks. You get Major League coaches. My coach was from Baltimore. They would teach you what to do. I played second base; those throws are far! When you’re on a major league diamond, it’s a whole different deal. I had real people teaching me out to pitch. Mike Cuellar, who was a 20-game winner for the Orioles, taught me how to throw a screwball. If you’re a baseball fan, that’s one of the best things you can do with yourself.
What’s it been like to see the Orioles become a winning team again over the past two seasons?
JJ: It’s really exciting to see, seeing someone like Buck Showalter come in and make some changes. I think the general manager, Dan Duquette , is making some moves. I pay attention from Spring Training on.
How do you think the team looks this year? They’re in an awfully tough division.
JJ: They are in a tough division. They’ve got plenty of bats. It’s about the pitching. It’s about making sure the pitching is good. So far, we’re doing okay. I’m sure we’ll be in it. I have a feeling Baltimore will be in the mix.
Watch Joan Jett talk Orioles on MLB Network:
Chris Davis repeating last year again would be pretty big.
JJ: That would be big but I don’t think you can expect that. I’m sure he would like that to happen but you can’t count on that. All of your hitters have to hit. Our defense I think was the number one defense so that has to stay at number one or two. We had great fielding percentages. They need to perform to what we know they can do. Nick Markakis needs to play the game he can play. Adam Jones playing the game he can play. Manny Machado was a rookie last year. He hurt his knee so I don’t know if he’ll be starting the season. But we have some back-ups who will hold the 3rd base position until he gets better. I’m excited to see what can happen. We have plenty of ammo.
How many games will you make it out to this season?
JJ: I’m going to try to make it to at least a handful down in Baltimore. I’m also going to try to go to a few in New York. I really do enjoy going to Camden Yards. It’s a beautiful ball park to see a great game at.
Check back on Billboard.com tomorrow when Pete Wentz and the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle preview the Chicago Cubs’ season.