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.
Riley Breckenridge has been behind the drum kit for Thrice for a long time. Eleven studio LPs, two live albums, and countless tour dates, spanning the storied rock band’s longevity of over two decades and counting.
But he’s been a baseball fan even longer.
Growing up in Orange County, with two local teams to vie for his attention, Breckenridge would watch the Angels and Dodgers with his dad. Once games ended, he’d bring his best impression of the players he saw — from Rod Carew to Fernando Valenzuela — to the local park.
“I’d make little replica baseball stadiums in the tiny sandbox in my backyard, obsessively sort baseball cards by stats, pore over box scores in every morning’s newspaper,” Breckenridge said in an email interview. “I had it bad.”
Bad enough, in fact, that Breckenridge’s passion for baseball came first even when he became a music fan around 10 or 11 years old. A collection of baseball cards, scorebooks, and programs from Angels games underscored the scope of Breckenridge’s burgeoning love for the game.
“My baseball fandom dwarfed everything else in my life, music included,” he said.
Those aforementioned Angels programs were amassed by virtue of living about 20 minutes from Angel Stadium. That proximity held a gravitational pull to the Halos that has stuck with Breckenridge for life; catching games and experiencing the in-person electricity of the ballpark “took the obsession to another level.”
Breckenridge’s playing career brought him from postgame homages to big-league icons at the park to a walk-on roster spot as a middle infielder for Pepperdine, where, according to an interview with The Athletic’s Levi Weaver, he got a “handful of at-bats” as a late-inning defensive replacement. His athletic trajectory was changed by tearing his ACL and MCL playing football going into his senior year of high school — an injury that also led him to start playing the drums.
The lessons Breckenridge picked up on the diamond didn’t fall by the wayside in his pivot to drumming full-time.
“I think the discipline I learned in baseball – with regards to practice, preparation, punctuality, and the tenets of teamwork – has definitely carried over into my life as a drummer/band member,” Breckenridge said. “On a personal level, baseball taught me a lot about coping with failure and criticism, and while it’s something that will always be a work in progress, I’m really grateful to have that base of experience I got playing baseball.”
Breckenridge also draws parallels to life as a fledgling band and the journey of a young baseball player, from logging miles on the road to being away from friends and family, to enduring the ups and downs of performing on a nightly basis.
Keeping up with MLB action in the “old days” of Thrice proved to be a challenge. Breckenridge said trying to watch an out-of-market team was impossible, and even finding a place within walking distance of a venue with a game on TV was a rarity. Now, with the convenience of having MLB.tv perpetually in his pocket, Breckenridge can – and does – follow baseball whenever, wherever.
“I love being able to throw a game on as I warm up for a show, spend a weekend afternoon watching entirely too much baseball, firing through highlights from around the league before bed,” Breckenridge said.
Getting to the ballpark while on tour can be a little trickier, especially when it comes to navigating a tangle of schedules for both the band and the local team. An off day for Thrice requires a lack of other obligations, the day off has to be in a city with a stadium, and the team has to be playing at home. But Breckenridge tries catching games when those stars align, and when he can’t, he’ll route his morning runs around the nearest ballpark just to “be around that energy.”
One of Breckenridge’s productive outlets for sharing his affinity for the sport is Productive Outs, collectively a podcast and a repository for baseball jokes and almost-believable fictional player names. It’s a joint venture with Ian Miller of Kowloon Walled City, who Breckenridge met “in the dark corners of early internet music message boards.” The duo first bonded over likeminded senses of humor and music obsessions, before discovering they were baseball-nerd kindred spirits. Miller proposed starting an account in the nascent days of Twitter, and 11 years later, Breckenridge is still christening bizarro-world players-to-be-named-later.
“Right now, the feed is essentially a place for me to purge myself of the fictional baseball names that have been ping-ponging in my skull for my entire adult life,” Breckenridge said. “It’s a curse, not a blessing, and I am sorry to have exposed anyone to it.”
It was with Miller (along with singer Mike Minnick and guitarist Jon Howell) that Breckenridge recorded a trio of grindcore albums under the moniker Puig Destroyer, a portmanteau of Yasiel Puig and Pig Destroyer. Puig’s scorching-hot rookie campaign as a Dodgers outfielder inspired the project’s name and aesthetic (“One Man, Five Tools” is a track-name highlight), and while Puig Destroyer hung up the cleats in 2014, the league’s current superstars boast the flashy talent – if not the pun-ability – worth writing songs about.
On Breckenridge’s shortlist: Shohei Ohtani, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Tim Anderson, Wander Franco, Jazz Chisholm, Fernando Tatis Jr., Marcus Semien, and Juan Soto.
“I honestly don’t think the game has ever had as large a collection of super-talented players as it does now,” Breckenridge said. “None of those dudes is as unhinged and unpredictable as Puig was (and that’s probably a good thing), but they’re all equally or more explosive and mind-blowing in their own ways.”
Even with Puig Destroyer in the rear-view and the Productive Outs podcast “on mothballs,” baseball remains a running theme in Breckenridge’s endeavors. In 2020, he launched Classic Grit, an apparel company inspired by the game’s aesthetic, a look the drummer has always loved. The concept of the brand was sparked by Breckenridge’s buyer’s remorse for merch he bought over the years (“like 90%,” he approximates) that he’d be “embarrassed to wear anywhere other than a ballpark.”
“We wanted to make Classic Grit gear be stuff you could be stoked to wear anywhere because the designs are clean, classic, iconic, and as comfortable as anything in your closet,” Breckenridge said.
Over the years, Breckenridge has discovered the flip side to the musician-baseball fan dynamic: He’s made a good number of friends in pro ball thanks to a mutual passion for music. It’s rare but awesome, he notes, to find a player whose listening habits extend beyond “the standard MLB default of radio-ready country, hip-hop, and nu-metal.”
“You can tell when a guy actually cares about music and has spent some time digging around to find and enjoy left-of-center stuff,” Breckenridge said. “They’re diamonds in the rough, and it’s been fun to pick their brains about baseball and let them pick mine about music.”
Photos by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire & Dorien Monnens on Unsplash | Adapted by Michael Packard (@artbyMikeP on Twitter and Instagram)