Of Metal & Bäseball

Legendary horror metal maven and self-described "semi-retired punk/metal atavist" Stevo of Impetigo/Tombstones fame assures Decibel "baseball scorekeeping is in many respects a totally underground and kVlt activity" and links a "re-kindled passion for baseball to my still-burning passion for metal." On the eve of the Razorback Records deluxe reissue of Impetigo's classic 1992 leveler Horror of the Zombies and the revamping of his clever, enlivening website The Baseball Enthusiast, it seemed as good a time as any to afford Stevo some space to explain himself. Predictably, he acquits himself with aplomb. Those seeking more should follow his frenetic Twitter feed and/or friend him on Facebook... My story is typical and atypical at the same time. To be fair, I liked baseball before I was aware that I liked metal. I had always been a music fan, and never really much into sports. But baseball was different than sports; I didn’t understand why then but I do understand it now. I had a personal edge to being a baseball fan: my uncle played for the Kansas City Royals in the early Seventies. I enjoyed collecting things besides records, especially trading cards, and I liked collecting baseball cards more than any other sports cards. I wasn’t a student of the game, I didn’t play it, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the numbers or the strategy, and I wasn’t very concerned about leagues, rosters, or management.

I liked the cards, I liked the uniforms, and I particularly enjoyed the serious-not-serious countenances of the hundreds of mustachioed and wild-haired Bolsheviks pictured on these cardboard flipcharts of nascent stardom. My fandom was increased to mega-dork level by the fact that my uncle was on some of these cards, and that I sorta knew him at all. He wasn’t a very good baseball player, but I thought it was an excellent point to dwell on, at that age.

I lived in Eastern New Jersey during the summer of 1977, aside from being related by marriage to a position-player for the Royals, being in the vicinity of New York City during one of the greatest baseball campaigns of that era -- that of the infamous “The Bronx is Burning” New York Yankees -- was one of the most thrilling summers of my life. I can’t describe the experience in so many words, but I can tell you that this doesn’t mean that I was necessarily a Yankees fan...although I was similarly thrilled to be at Thurman Munson’s last game against the White Sox when I returned to Illinois the following year.

That was my first professional baseball game of memory, but prior to that I enjoyed watching games on television, never cognizant of the amount of time it took to get through them. I was self-conditioned to find idyllic pause and refreshment in observing the exchange of the ball between offense and defense against a panoramic view of majestic grandstands and an expanse of grass that I knew was green, even though observed on a tiny black and white set. I was a Baseball fan, in the purest fashion that a boy of ten could ever be, albeit a minimalist one. At the time, my interest in Baseball was unique…I didn’t know it then, but I know it now: I thought baseball was metal. My fandom was by no means mature or pragmatic; it was just totally kVlt and nothing more than that. Youth passes on quickly, however...My also voracious taste for music -- and collecting records -- began to reach a frenzied pace, well beyond early fascinations with Black Sabbath, Kiss, and Thin Lizzy, into the late 70s when one of my dad’s college students introduced me to punk rock and its misunderstood cousin, New Wave. Where all that glittered with Kiss and their ilk still held me spellbound, this new vehicle began the irreversible process of altering my childhood forever. By the time I owned my very first guitar, I had unconsciously set aside by baseball cards and magazines for good, to devote my full adolescent attention to the most important of things -- girls and music.

Due to my own maturity, I suppose, some changes in my behavior and enjoyment as a music fan began to emerge. One in particular was that I began to ingest information pertaining to music beyond the level of enjoyment I had experienced up to this point. The music itself was important, of course, but now who was making the music was a new universe for me. I knew the members of Kiss when I was young, for example, but with all these new bands and new sounds and more records in my collection than ever before, I started developing a related passion for tracking who was in what band and when and how this band influenced that band and how their stuff was related. You could find music magazines in my room prior to this, but now there were hundreds of copies of CREEM, Hit Parader, Sounds, NME, and Trouser Press stashed in all corners of my subterranean parlor. One band’s mention of another led to a new list I brought to my local record shop, and one musician’s involvement with another led to new discoveries, all of which squandered my afternoons and hard-earned cash in violent throes of kVlt-ism. The structure of the music behind the music was now a firm part of my interest, and subsequently made my appetite swell exponentially.

I can’t tell you when music truly changed me, but I can tell you that when I first saw The Plasmatics in the pages of CREEM, there were pistons in my brain firing ravenously for the very first time. The visual extremism of Wendy O. Williams, the aural magnetism of the Plasmatics, their revolutionary sound and message...all that mixed with puberty and passion created a lock of sorts that would serve to dominate my frontal lobe for decades. I didn’t even know what baseball was anymore, but I truly knew what metal was; furthermore, I began to understand that punk was a hybrid of metal, not the other way around. In doing so, I knew that I could eat my cake and have it too, and it was the penultimate cultural phase that marked the end of whatever innocence I had left.

The years that followed cemented my Metal madness...NWoBHM and the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, T.S.O.L., Mausoleum Records, Metal Blade Records...It was only a few years until tape trading, fanzines, and local acts changed my cultural obsession into a working methodology. All intertwined with the music and what was behind the music, the straw that stirs the drink. Enjoying the band was one thing, knowing all about the band was an important part of it; and with the new things that were happening in the music world -- the one that I lived in, primarily -- digging in at this level was crucial, mandatory, and as it did before, led me to other paths, other bands, other records, and eventually...other fans like myself.

I met Mark S. when I was in college, truly the first person I ever knew who shared the same type of interest in music -- as well as in the same types of music -- and in 1987 Impetigo was born. My previous efforts to start a band -- working methodology! -- had failed because the like minds weren’t there; with Mark this finally happened, and therefore it was of little surprise to me that we achieved the results we did, based on our collective philosophy and obsession with metal. The story of Impetigo and our brief career, the relationships we formed, the respect we earned and shared with others is exhaustively documented above and beyond our concise discography. We were fans and enthusiasts first -- and also fanzine editors -- musicians second. Mark and I remained friends beyond the demise of Impetigo; we also shared a long-standing interest in Asian culture and thanks to his generosity, I traveled to Singapore to visit him while he lived there in the early 2000s. This trip included several days in Japan with Mark, the greatest summer of my life.

My long-passed interest in baseball only lingered in passing over the years. I peeked, as if through the window of a neighbor’s house, at the 1984 Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres; I ogled the 1991 Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins; I held more than a minor interest in the 1994 strike and its aftermath; I was amazed at the 1998 Sosa/McGwire race and astounded at the 2003 Cubs, as well as how tragically they fell. During that time, I learned -- from the outside looking in -- that many fans had “quit” baseball due to the strike and the “Steroid Era” but I paid little more attention to it than that. I also had no idea that I would return to baseball, ever.

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My love for Japan, and for the people of Japan, and for their culture -- and every part of their culture, from music to food to literature -- is partially responsible for bringing back Baseball into my life. During the trip to Japan that I took with Mark, I noticed the presence of baseball (yakyu) in their society, and in their hearts. The way the Japanese loved baseball was the very same way that I loved baseball as a kid, way back when. Unlike my perceptions of Americans, the Japanese were not mad at baseball for any reason. Even better, baseball players that couldn’t make it in MLB were playing in Japan -- and had been for years -- and were regarded as heroes, for the most part, to their Japanese fans. As a guy consumed by his job and his work, exhausted from raising a family, and closing in on his fortieth birthday, the feelings that I had for baseball as a kid threatened to overcome me with nostalgia, and in a precarious manner when mixed with a Japanese flavor.

As I was more or less “retired” from an active role in Metal (work, kids, work, etc) I was only removed as far as embracing the working methodology I had in the past, but only in the realm of songwriting, rehearsing, recording, and performance. I wasn’t plugged into the scene as much as I had been, but I was still the same kind of fan I was before...I just wasn’t living it out the way I had for eight years or so, through the end of my band activity. The gap in activity had been filled nicely by secondary hobbies -- brewing beer; Japanese cooking -- and those pastimes had similar theological and historical premises as an active participation in music, but when I started thinking about baseball again, the concept was elusive at first. I had renewed interest in a game that I didn’t understand. As my period of maturity while young had occurred after my love for baseball had faded, I had a lot of ground to cover.

Baseball is as culture-rich and multi-faceted as metal is. That was the first thing I realized. All of the card collecting and lore that I enjoyed so much as a kid found new appreciation in my eyes when I considered that “lost magic” in the same regard in which I held metal. I wanted to incorporate knowledge of the game behind the game, in order to fill in some blanks that I was so accustomed to otherwise. While I was doing some casual research on Japanese players in MLB, I came across some Baseball scoresheets, and something nefarious clicked almost immediately.

I barely recalled scoresheets as a kid, maybe it was because they looked too much by math. By means of my education later in life, I found out I was pretty good at math, and also very enthusiastic about statistics. Scoresheets looked a lot different to me now, and since I was learning a lot about statistics and baseball, there was no threat or danger in my mind when I suddenly felt like maybe I should give scorekeeping a shot. For no other reason, I felt like scorekeeping would help me understand more about the game. What I didn’t realize until later, was that scorekeeping became a function of employing a “working methodology” towards enjoying baseball.

Scorekeeping linked my particular re-kindled passion for baseball to my still-burning passion for metal. I was participating in the historical aspect of the game, and in a practical manner...the preparation and discipline was very much akin to the same preparation and discipline I espoused while an active musician. I started to post my completed scoresheets, as I learned the proper way of keeping score, on a blogger site I implemented only to “preserve” each document...just as I would consider a live recording a document of a performance, a scoresheet of a game I watched or was at was the very same thing. My archived scoresheets allowed me to revisit the details of any game I ever saw, and recount those games in recap format on my blog.

In the very same way my tape trading list was an abstract document of a point in time of the history of metal, my scoresheets did the same for baseball. You’ll be pleased to know that baseball scorekeeping is in many respects a totally underground and kVlt activity, the type of honor that I compare to my own participation in the underground movement in metal. The same kinds of heroes exist on both platforms...the tragedy of Eric Show and Jeff Becerra, the suddenly lost greatness of Rick Ankiel and Celtic Frost, the baseball heroes who were known more for their charisma and historical propinquity than for their numbers and mass appeal are very similar to the same figures in metal. Both owe significant praise not to the superstars that make their appeal marketable, but to the lesser-known heroes who had a much more relevant impact. Baseball is a game that, at any level, belongs to the fan.

Metal is music that, at any level, belongs to the fan. No corporation or pop culture movement can ever take this away from us.

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Sometimes, the affliction of obsession tends to get under one’s skin. A talon of destiny that buries itself deep inside your veins, your consciousness, and primarily your soul. We move through our lives from cradle to grave fondly embracing some aspect of culture or another that grips our experiences with various degrees of intensity. No matter what type of road we travel, no matter our occupation or vocation, there’s always something we focus on to do more than pass the time. Obsession is often escapism, disguised as gestalt fixation on a hobby or seemingly casual prurient interest.

It has been said you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. For what it’s worth, this colloquial statement is more or less a euphemism for several truths that would otherwise suggest unhealthy or irrational behavior. I’ll be blunt about this, from a personal standpoint: just like anyone else, my interests ebb and flow now and then over a period of time...I enjoy a lot of different things, and I spend my time enjoying all of that whenever I can. I’ve taken on several hobbies and activities well beyond a pedestrian level, mostly because once my interest takes root, I don’t hold back at all on moving towards a more profound enjoyment of such, in order to experience these distractions in as rich a manner as I can afford to.

I can’t say I’ve ever been capable of shaking any fascination I’ve ever had with anything, but it is true that there are two things that are such a part of me that I could never drift away from their influence, no matter what. Metal and baseball.They are a part of me, I am a part of them. To me, there is a very deep relationship not only between myself and these components, but between the components themselves.

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