From walk-up songs to seventh-inning stretches, music and baseball are inextricably interwoven. The Spin Rate is a weekly look at the stories behind the bands and artists who share a love for the sport, and the songs that draw inspiration from the annals of baseball lore.
Dylan Slocum is eight or nine years old when his future paths first converge.
The young pitcher — “a big gangly kid who couldn’t control his body” is how Slocum recalls his physique on the mound — just played in a summer league game, and when he gets back to his dad’s car, he spots a Squire guitar in the backseat that hadn’t been there before.
“He was like, ‘you can learn this thing if you want,'” Slocum said in an interview. “There was no provocation, but it changed my life.”
Music was always a core component of the Slocum household: Bruce Springsteen and Bad Company soundtracked early-morning chores, and even though Slocum half-jokes that they felt a degree of buyers’ remorse, his parents purchased instruments for him and his siblings.
That life-changing Squire, though, sat in his room, mostly unplayed, until Slocum was about 12.
“I kind of just forgot about the guitar for a while,” Slocum said. “You’re eight, just being a kid.”
For Slocum, being a kid meant playing baseball. He followed in his dad’s footsteps as a pitcher, prone to control issues and self-admittedly “kind of a head case as a kid” when he stepped onto the mound. But when he rose from summer league ball to a rotation spot for the Paloma Valley Wildcats, Slocum’s bread-and-butter weapon was a low-to-mid 90s fastball — “in high school, that’s enough,” he said.
When it came to the rest of his repertoire, Slocum added: “I worked quite hard on a changeup, but I could never figure out a curveball unless it was a knucklecurve.”
Slocum’s heater velocity bolstered his presence on the mound with a come-and-get-it arrogance. As a self-described “big dude with a long stride,” the California native was equal parts “mean power pitcher” and “middling bully.”
“I wasn’t afraid to go up and in,” Slocum said. “I wanted to try to outsmart you.”
The Squire guitar collecting dust for both a few years of Slocum’s youth and the past couple of paragraphs comes back in focus during his early teenage years, when he learned how to play from a brother’s friend who knew how to shred. He started playing in bands when he was 15 or 16 — and earned some stern talking-to’s from coaches when musical endeavors made him miss baseball obligations.
During his senior year of high school, Slocum committed to pitch at Santa Clara University, started a band, and subsequently had a terrible farewell season for the Wildcats. A coach apologized for the tough campaign after Slocum got “racked” during a May outing in Lake Elsinore, but with his collegiate plans already declared, Slocum’s priorities had fallen elsewhere, even if playing in a band didn’t feel like a long-term commitment.
“I felt like, ‘music isn’t getting you anywhere,'” Slocum said. “‘But you can throw a baseball hard, so you might as well try that.'”
Slocum was the first in his family to attend college, and felt naïve at first on campus. Baseball workouts would start his day at 6 a.m. with weight training, and the collegiate team would often practice until late after classes.
“To be successful in upper-level baseball, you have to live it in your body,” Slocum said.
The fastball velocity that elevated Slocum’s arsenal in high school was no longer the heat of hotshots, and he found himself adjusting to life in the bullpen, working with a coaching staff that sought to tinker with his pitches. They tried to convert the knucklecurve grip Slocum had figured out to a slider.
Slocum only made three appearances for Santa Clara, all in relief. His first outing came against Hawaii in a matchup that drew thousands of spectators. His final game — close to home at UC Riverside — saw a Broncos squad in the midst of a shelling call Slocum in from the bullpen after three warm-up pitches.
“The last pitch I ever threw, I just threw as hard as I could,” Slocum said. “I was pretty checked out at that point.”
Slocum knew that committing to baseball meant finding a balance on the student-athlete fulcrum that put less emphasis on studying; he also understood that a full commitment to the sport wouldn’t make him happy.
During bunting drills with the team, Slocum tore the meniscus in his landing leg. A six-week recovery from surgery stretched into six months. The final line on his college playing career? A 6.75 ERA in 1.1 innings, one walk, no strikeouts, five hits and a single earned run allowed.
When he eventually transferred from Santa Clara at the end of the school year, he went home and started a band. Not Spanish Love Songs — at least not just yet — as Slocum went into screenwriting and “disappeared into L.A.” for a few years. The band he now fronts comes into the picture when he’s 26, and shades of his brash, hard-throwing tenure on the mound still linger in the spotlights of music venues.
Slocum still taps into his competitive nature — “I want to be better than your band,” he says with a chuckle — and Spanish Love Songs releases contemplative punk gems with the reliable frequency of a workhorse starting pitcher.
After debuting with Giant Sings the Blues in 2015 and finding a wider audience with 2018’s Schmaltz, the band released the anthemic Brave Faces Everyone in early 2020. (“Optimism (As a Radical Life Choice)” tracks as necessary listening for battling April fantasy team panic.) It’s a record they reimagined entirely for Brave Faces Etc. earlier this April, and, in May, Spanish Love Songs will embark on a coast-to-coast tour.
Athletes who Slocum played with who moved onto higher levels of the sport have been aging out of professional baseball. (One of those elder statesmen who Slocum squared off with was San Diego native Stephen Strasburg.) And even though Slocum is just a fan of the game now (as a Nashville resident, he attends minor league outings when he’s home, and eschews major-league fandom in favor of “watching the best version of the sport”) there’s a familiar feeling in performing onstage best detailed in — what else? — a baseball metaphor.
“Pitcher is the flashiest position on the field, and an entire part of the game hinges on you,” Slocum said. “This is like being the center of attention in a different way. Performing a song you wrote is like painting the corner with a fastball.”
Photos by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire & Dorien Monnens on Unsplash | Adapted by Michael Packard (@artbyMikeP on Twitter and Instagram.)