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.
Pkew Pkew Pkew – “The Prime Minister of Defense”
John McDonald had the kind of journeyman career often lost to MLB history. The well-traveled, glove-first infielder accumulated just 0.9 WAR over 16 seasons, sporting a .233/.273/.323 triple-slash with a paltry 28 home runs.
Johnny Mac’s defensive wizardry earned him folk hero status with the Toronto faithful during a several-season stint north of the border in the late aughts, and his faithful constituents granted him a suitably bureaucratic nickname for his efforts: The Prime Minister of Defense.
Canadian outfit Pkew Pkew Pkew immortalized that moniker in rousing punk fashion on their self-titled 2016 debut LP, painting the infielder as an everyman: “We’re all Johnny McDonald,” lead singer Mike Warne howls on the track, “Always at the plate, trying to break a slump.”
“It’s like when you unreasonably like a player a lot and wish he was better,” Warne said in a phone interview. “He was great at defense, but I wanted him to be a good hitter, too. He was just the kind of guy that, whenever he did anything, you knew he was trying his hardest.”
Warne’s affinity for the Blue Jays stretches back to his childhood: He was seven and eight years old during the team’s back-to-back World Series wins. Growing up, he’d make his own Jays jerseys — Joe Carter and Devon White — and, after a tepid foray into soccer (Warne’s first sport, and one he hated), he played baseball for the better part of a decade, sticking mostly to the corner infield spots.
“I wanted to play second base for Alomar,” Warne said, “But I could make the throw from third to first.”
In the nascence of Pkew Pkew Pkew, Warne wrote most of the band’s debut album at his first office job, and “The Prime Minister of Defense” featured among the first five or six tracks he penned.
“I wanted to be really specific in my lyrics,” Warne said. “And you can compare baseball to anything that happens in life. The song comes from being a huge fan.”
Those were days of five-buck tickets and 500-level seats at the Rogers Centre, willing aces Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett to rack up enough strikeouts for Pizza Pizza to fork over free slices. (Seven was the magic number for the promotion.) A brother of one of Warne’s friends worked on Toronto’s famously fast grounds crew, and the singer laughed in recollection of watching him fall over while trying to keep up.
Now when Pkew Pkew Pkew tours, afternoon ballgames are a “sweet spot.”
“The four of us are really lazy travelers,” Warne admitted. “We could probably go to more. Our tour manager is also a baseball fan, and proactively looks for stuff to do.”
Warne feels most drawn to stadiums with bars and standing areas. He’s equally happy to have a ticket for the bleachers — “I just feel lucky to be there,” he said — but Detroit’s Comerica Park stands out as a stadium with space to roam.
“You can buy a seat and never have to go to it,” Warne said. “You can always find better places to watch for a few innings.”
But when Warne finds himself seated in a stadium’s lower decks on the first- or third-base side, he says he’s nearly jumping with every pitch, ready to catch a foul ball. It hasn’t happened — yet — but his optimism remains intact with each ballpark walkabout. He is, after all, the songwriter behind this refrain of cathartic baseball-as-metaphor-for-punk-rock sentiments: “Let’s stay in the minors/Where we can hit well, even when we’re drunk.”
The modern-day Blue Jays don’t much resemble the squad that previously rostered John McDonald. For one, the middle infielders Toronto trots out in the starting nine aren’t small-ball specialists who strive to make up for their light hitting with exceptional glovework.
“It’s an exciting team, with guys you just want to root for. There’s a ton of good hitters,” Warne said. “In the McDonald era, it felt like they went out there just wanting to hit home runs.”
Warne goes through phases of his baseball fandom, which waxes and wanes and lapses and bends, but he’s grateful for a sport that’s there for him when he’s ready for it.
“The nice thing about baseball is that you can always leave and come back to it,” Warne said. “Baseball always works out.”
Photos by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire & Dorien Monnens on Unsplash | Adapted by Michael Packard (@artbyMikeP on Twitter & IG)