The Spin Rate: Steve Sladkowksi of PUP

The PUP guitarist talks Toronto baseball and his outlook for 2022.

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.

 

 

While the band PUP may be unraveling — that’s the loose concept threading together the barnstorming Toronto punks’ new record, at any rate — guitarist Steve Sladkowki’s devotion to his hometown Jays has remained tightly spun for as long as he can remember.

“Baseball has been in my life basically as long as I have had consciousness,” Sladkowksi said in an email interview.

Sladkowksi is just old enough to recollect the Blue Jays winning back-to-back World Series in 1992 and 1993; when the defending champs outlasted the Phillies for their second straight title, he ran around his grandmother’s apartment throwing confetti into the air in celebration.

In his youth, he didn’t just admire the game from the comfort of the TV in his grandma’s living room. Sladkowski followed in his dad’s ballplaying footsteps, playing at a pretty high competitive level until he was 18. One of the teams he competed on finished in third place at the Canadian equivalent of a state level.

“When it came time to choose between a new (and expensive) Fender Telecaster or another season of rep ball, I chose the guitar,” Sladkowski said. “I’d say it worked out!”

And work out it has: PUP is riding the momentum of their ambitious fourth record, The Unraveling of PUPTheBand, although the Jays’ renewed playoff successes in the mid-2010s proved to be a distraction while the band was in the studio recording their sophomore LP, The Dream is Over. 

“I was probably more distracted than I’d have admitted at the time,” Sladkowski confessed. “There were moments recording backup vocals where I had the game streaming on my phone while we were tracking, and we stopped recording altogether for The Inning.”

The Inning is altogether deserving of its proper-noun treatment: In the pivotal seventh inning of Game 5 of the ALDS, with Toronto and Texas staring down the prospects of their World Series hopes mirroring the title of PUP’s in-progress album, the Rangers recorded three consecutive fielding miscues, no interference was called at a play at the plate by both the umpire and a subsequent review, and José Bautista’s legendary bat flip on a three-run blast was the powder keg that ignited the clearing of both benches. And the members of PUP, in a studio they were paying to record in, watched it unfold.

Seriously, though. Can you fault them? The dream wasn’t over.

(A fun little interlude: After a Cut4 interview where Sladkowski talked about “burning money” by watching The Inning, the guitarist became good friends with someone at MLB, through whom he met his fiancée. Baseball moves in mysterious ways.)

“When they moved on to the ALCS against Kansas City, my dad and I were lucky to get tickets to all three home games — the Marco Estrada Game 5 masterpiece was one of the loudest crowds I’ve ever heard — and I absolutely bailed early on recording to get down to the Dome to soak it all in,” Sladkowski said.

Even when PUP is out of the studio and on the road, Sladkowski finds time to squeeze baseball into his routine. Paying attention to the band’s touring schedule and scouting their off-days helps him catch a litany of teams — both major and minor league — in action, including the Phillies, Chicago cross-town duels, the road-warrior Jays in the Windy City, the Quad City River Bandits, and the Richmond Flying Squirrels.

“The true beauty of baseball is that you can have it on in the background if you’re doing other things, like, uh, being in a touring rock band.” Sladkowski joked. “We also have a lot of downtime between soundchecks and gigs that MLB TV fills nicely.”

With PUP hitting the highways in support of The Unraveling, Sladkowski will team up with Dan, the band’s tour manager and an avid Cardinals fan, to keep abreast of MLB action while on the road this spring. Dan usually turns a game on in his production office, and Sladkowski will have one on in PUP’s green room. Between that tag-team effort and the omnipresence of Twitter, they keep covered on the league news front.

Posed with the question of which of PUP’s anthems might serve best as a Blue Jays theme song, Sladkowski pointed to recent single “Totally Fine” as “a perfect encapsulation of baseball fandom.” Outside of the purely hypothetical, the band’s music has an apparent footnote in Toronto history: Sladkowski has heard rumblings that the team once played “Lionheart” (off PUP’s self-titled 2013 debut) in the Dome while Mark Buehrle walked off the mound.

Now that the Jays are back to calling the Rogers Centre home on a permanent basis, Sladkowski said a full summer of baseball in Toronto (and another Vlad Guerrero Jr. MVP campaign) is just what the city has been craving. Opening Day is here — finally — and the halcyon days of baseball games admirably filling the gaps between soundchecks and gigs can commence anew.

“The Matt Chapman trade is perfect for the team, and I think the pitching staff has an astronomical upside too,” Sladkowski said. “The lineup might be a little heavy on right-handed hitters but I am looking forward to them mashing their way through the best division in baseball.”

 

Photos by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire & Dorien Monnens on Unsplash | Adapted by Michael Packard (@artbyMikeP on Twitter and Instagram)

Erik van Rheenen

Erik van Rheenen is a Syracuse University alumnus, aspiring novelist, Yankees fan, live music enthusiast, and a believer in long-winded lists and the Oxford comma. You can find him on Twitter @therealvandyman.

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