Talking Baseball with Jason Isbell

One thing we’re interested in here at Pitchers & Poets is the space where baseball interacts with, well, everything else in our world. Starting now, and then through the off-season, we’ll speak with folks who’s day jobs aren’t baseball-related but are in one way or another notable, about the old national pastime.

Our first interviewee is singer songwriter Jason Isbell, formerly a Drive-By Trucker, currently leader of his rocking band the 400 Unit. He’s from the Muscle Shoals region of Alabama, and a huge Atlanta Braves fan.  Next month he hits the road headlining the first ever Paste Magazine tour, along with Langhorne Slim, Jesse Sykes, and more.

We’ll get right to it:

PnP: Leadbelly once said that all songs, in the end, are about baseball. With that in mind, have you written any songs about baseball?

Jason Isbell: I’ve attempted to do so, but it’s not something I’ve felt success with just yet.  I actually discussed doing a concept record about baseball with Will Johnson (Centro-Matic, Monsters of Folk) at one point, but I don’t know if he realized I was serious.  He’s an expert on the game, by the way.

PnP: Do you have a favorite actually about baseball song?

Jason Isbell: I love the poem about the mighty Casey, but I guess that doesn’t qualify as a song.  I always liked the theme song to “Talkin’ Baseball,” the show they played after This Week In Baseball when there was an extra long rain-delay.  Campanella is a really lyrical name.

PnP: How did you become a baseball fan? A Braves fan, specifically?

Jason Isbell: I played ball starting when I was 6, so I followed it then.  I guess my Dad was initially responsible.  My grandparents on Dad’s side were very religious -my granddad had been a Pentecostal preacher- so there wasn’t much they could look to for non-offensive family entertainment.  Because I played ball, my grandparents started watching the Braves on TBS, and they wound up getting a lot of joy out of those games.  As I got a little older, I realized how much they valued the afternoons and evenings we spent together watching Braves baseball, and that made the team mean something very special to me.  I wish they were still around to watch Bobby’s last season.

PnP: Are you worried about the Braves in a post-Cox, post-Chipper Jones era? Or are you confident in the future of the Jason Heyward Braves?

Jason Isbell: I loved them in the Gerald Perry, Dale Murphy days, and I’ll love ’em if they lose again.  However, I think they have a lot of strength in younger players like Heyward, Prado, and Infante, so they should be fine.

PnP: I grew up watching a lot of Braves baseball on TBS and found the Carey/Sutton broadcast team almost impossibly boring. What do you look for in a baseball broadcast?

Jason Isbell: I like the unexpected.  I think the guys on Sports South do a good job, because they aren’t always so serious.  They make some really silly comments and crack themselves up fairly often.

PnP: Twitter seems to be your biggest outlet when it comes to expressing Braves fandom. Have you connected much with other fans or baseball press or even Braves players?

Jason Isbell: I’ve spoken to Dave O’Brien at the AJC quite a bit, and there are lots of Braves fans who also follow my music, so it’s nice to keep in contact with them when I can.  Still trying to start a conversation with the Braves organist, because he’s absolutely hilarious.

PnP: How do being a baseball fan and a musician reconcile? Do you sense any of that high school strain between the rockers and the jocks, or conversely do you see the two as having a beneficial relationship.

Jason Isbell: I was not at all a jock in high school, but I know a lot of musicians who were.  I think we can all get along, especially since baseball is a thinking man’s game.  I also feel it’s not a sport that’s only accessible to the relatively wealthy, like golf, so that made it easier for me to get interested.   I would’ve never been able to afford to play golf as a kid, but you can always find an open field and a stick.

Since we recently discussed American Mythology including the subject of this particular tune, here’s a video of Jason playing his song “The Day John Henry Died” acoustic. Thanks to Jason for his time.

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