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Thursday, May 16, 2013
Caveman with a van: Black Lips

By Stefan Marolachakis
ESPN The Magazine

Bream
Classic Braves moment: Sid Bream's slide.
Editor’s note: Drummer Stefan Marolachakis is traveling the country in a black van with tinted windows, touring for his band Caveman’s eponymous second album. Every week, Marolachakis will hunt the nation to gather musicians and athletes to discuss the link between the two clans. This week, our caveman speaks to die-hard Braves fan Jared Swilley, bass player and singer of Atlanta’s own Black Lips.

Our bass player, Jeff Berrall, hails from Atlanta but, as a legitimate longtime New York resident, has welcomed the New York Knicks into his life with open arms. And with his hometown Hawks having been ousted in the first round, he is left saddened like the rest of us by the way the Knicks have been playing recently. But while we’re all in the doldrums, the big league baseball team from Jeff’s hometown has started its season with a bang. Forty games into the year the Braves sit atop the NL East, a game ahead of last year’s division winners, the Nationals. One man particularly pleased about this is Jared Swilley, bass player and singer of Atlanta’s own Black Lips and die-hard Braves fan since childhood.

“I think anyone who was alive and watching baseball here in ’91 became a lifelong fan, because it was just so epic. The way I look at that Braves team is almost like the way you look at Paul Bunyan stories or something because it was so incredible. It was like a movie. Otis Nixon’s catch and Sid Bream sliding into home plate -- you can’t make that s--- up. Sid Bream was injured, and he was a horrible player, but he got it done.”

I tell him that professional athletes are some of the only people around whom I still get certifiably star-struck, and he definitely relates. “I look up to some baseball players the way people look up to rock stars or actors. You know how people remember where they were when Kennedy got shot? I remember exactly where I was when Sid slid. I was on Old Salem Road in Conyers, Ga., with my face pressed to the TV and I could not believe it.”

Swilley comes from a very long line of Atlanta natives. “I live less than half a mile from where my grandfather and my father were born, and the church where my great grandfather used to pastor is about a five-minute walk from my front door. I’m the only male in my family that’s not a preacher -- but there are a lot of preachers in the South. Religion’s kind of a big deal down here.”

Oddly enough, having a father in that line of work ended up bringing Jared even closer to some of his baseball heroes. “My dad’s a preacher, and Ryan Klesko used to go to his church. I remember one time around Christmas I had a friend over and was telling him that my dad was friends with Ryan Klesko. Of course he didn’t believe me. Sure enough, 10-15 minutes later there’s a knock on the door and it’s Ryan Klesko with a bunch of Christmas presents.”

It gets even better.

“He took my dad hunting for the first time -- wild boars -- in Alabama. He shot a boar and got it stuffed and mounted. Now I have that boar over my kitchen sink. And my dad does not hunt, he’s not that kind of guy, but Klesko made him go.”

I often ask fellow musicians if there ever came a time in their lives when rooting for sports felt like it conflicted in some way with being in a band, as cliché would often have it. “I think things have come full circle. Definitely in the ‘80s and ‘90s it was more weirdos versus normal. Now the cultures have melded in a way and people just don’t care, especially kids. When I was growing up, it started being cool to be weird. Cheerleaders thought we were cool for wearing leather jackets, jocks would invite us to their parties. You always hear those stories of people who got beat up in high school and made fun of all the time, but I never had that. Maybe people were just nice at my high school.”

The personality of the Braves team also always seemed to work perfectly with everything else Jared was into. “The Braves always kind of seemed like a punk team to me. In the ‘80s, when Ted Turner was the GM, our average attendance was 1,500. Turner would sit in the stands wearing the uniform with a portable PA, and just yell out things and tell jokes. Between innings he’d get out and do somersaults or run the bases backwards; he was a really goofy manager. He got drunk and talked s--- to other managers about trading and got banned from baseball for two years.”

While Jared identifies Turner as one of his personal heroes, there is someone else working in baseball of whom he is not nearly as fond: the commish. “Bud Selig, please, please stop and quit. Retire. Go to Florida.”

But why? “A one-game wild-card playoff? Are you f------ kidding me?! You can’t decide things in baseball on one game! You’ve got to have at least three games in baseball. Did you see how Atlanta got knocked out last year? Infield fly rule? Really? That call was the first time Atlanta fans actually went crazy and they started pelting the field with trash. I was in Beirut looking at a little stick figure on my iPhone at 5 in the morning and then the game stopped. So I went on the Internet and saw them throwing all trash and I thought finally Atlanta fans are doing something besides sitting there!”

He couldn’t help but love seeing his fellow fans fired up. “Everyone was saying it was so shameful that they wouldn’t do a replay and let the umpires control everything! Give the umpires less power. We have technology that can fix all of that. I wish they would have charged the field and kept throwing trash so they would have had to cancel the game and do it over.”

Technology has also had an effect on his fandom in another, more enjoyable way: Jared and his bandmates have been able to start talking to a bunch of Braves players via Twitter.

“We always talk to Kris Medlen and he became a Black Lips fan. The main Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer is into rock 'n' roll and likes our band, so he writes to us. And Peter Moylan used to write to us but I think he got traded to the Padres or something. We always try to get them to come to our shows but they haven’t made it out yet.”

Before we parted ways, we returned to the topic of instant replay and Jared left me with one last compelling argument for its use in MLB. “The umpires control this game -- they even use replays in college baseball! They say it’s going to slow down the game. You know what slows down the game? The seventh-inning stretch, or when they have the Home Depot tools do a race around the field. Selig’s just trying to make it more entertaining, but it’s not Chuck E. Cheese.”

He simply doesn’t understand people who try to dismiss the game as boring. “I don’t think it’s boring at all. I go to probably two or three games a week when I’m in town, I can walk to the stadium from my house. I like the experience of a baseball game. I like going there and getting a hot dog and drinking a cold beer when it’s so hot outside you can barely breathe. Everything about the experience is magical to me.”

CAVE DWELLINGS