Major League Baseball Preview: Umphrey’s McGee’s Ryan Stasik & Joel Cummins On The Pirates & Cubs

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In advance of Major League Baseball’s opening day this Sunday, JamBase reached out to a number of musicians and asked them to preview the upcoming season for their favorite team. Along with predictions for the pending 162 game schedule, the artists also shared insights into the love for their favorite team and how they’re able to manage following the wins and losses while living the life of a touring musician. Today we have reports on the Pittsburgh Pirates by Umphrey’s McGee bassist Ryan Stasik and the Chicago Cubs by the band’s keyboardist Joel Cummins. Check back tomorrow for more MLB previews.

Ryan Stasik – Pittsburgh Pirates

When did you first become a Pirates fan?

I became a fan of all things Pittsburgh when I was born in November of 1976. My dad would make me name all the Steelers and Pirates players in 1978 and 1979 when I was unable to sleep at night. It beat counting sheep!

How do you think the Pirates will do in 2016?

The Pirates will be in a position to win the division in 2016. With an elite outfield consisting of [Andrew] McCutchen, [Starling] Marte and [Gregory] Polanco, the return of [Jung Ho] Kang and [Josh] Harrison, and a legit pitching staff anchored by [Gerrit] Cole and [Francisco] Liriano, the Bucs are the real deal this year. Even though people are talking (too much) about the new young juggernaut team known as the Cubs to be unstoppable, let’s not forget I lived in Chicago for 12 years and I know that rancid stench of false hope that permeates Wrigleyville every April. They may not be the same team that was mathematically dead in June, but mark my words, they will not win the World Series in 2016. Sorry Joel.

How closely do you follow the team while you’re on tour?

Joel, Brendan [Bayliss] and I split an MLB.TV subscription so we can watch every game on our phones. I actually prefer listening to the radio broadcast at times, it reminds me of my youth when my pops and I would listen to ball games.

How often do you make it out to the ballpark?

I do not make it to PNC every year, but I am able to sport my black and gold to Wrigley Field a few times a year regardless if the Cubs are playing the Pirates or not. I bleed black and gold and I rock it with pride at Wrigley no matter who is playing. I love Wrigley, one of my favorite places ever to see baseball. Living in the city for 12 years allowed me to spend many, many days and nights at the historic park. Always a good time.

Who is your favorite player of all-time and why?

If I had to choose an all-time favorite player it would be Roberto Clemente hands down. However, growing up in the 80s and frequenting Three Rivers Stadium I was an avid fan of Andy Van Slyke, probably one of the most underrated center fielders of all time.

Commissioner for a day: What would you change about MLB?

I would change the Wild Card from a one game to a three game series. It is ridiculous to me that an entire 162 game season can be decided by one bad pitch. I would prefer to see a double header game and a deciding game the next day for the Wild Cards. Or, dig this: get rid of divisions all together and just have the NL vs. AL. Best records get byes.

Thank you and go let’s go Bucs!!!


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Joel Cummins – Chicago Cubs

When did you first become a Cubs fan?

I first became a Cubs fan in about 1980, at 5 years old. Dad would take my friend and me to games and in the beginning we’d bring coloring books to entertain ourselves. That quickly changed to a scorecard, as my dad was a math teacher and wanted to teach me as much about the game as possible. After playing tee ball and getting into the game myself, it was on. Going to Cubs games was a wonderful thing for us to do as a family, and my fandom was further stoked by the 1984 Cubs team that made it to the playoffs. So I would say that I became a bigger and bigger fan from 1980 to 1984. And now that we have Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon running the ship, my fandom is probably at an all time high. Plus there’s just so much more information to digest and discuss now that social media has made that available. I love following the minor league teams as well as the major league teams at this point in 2016. I also should mention that I’m a huge fan of all of the renovations the Ricketts family has done with Wrigley Field. The video boards are phenomenal and informative, and this year, the Cubs will have the biggest, most advanced clubhouse of any team in the league. Before this year, their pinch hitters only had enough room in the clubhouse to warm up on batting tees. These are professionals! That blew my mind.

How do you think the Cubs will do in 2016?

Anything short of a World Series appearance is going to be a disappointment for this team. The Cubs took a 97-win team and improved significantly in all of the areas of need, from starting pitching, to outfield defense. With Maddon at the helm, and an incredibly flexible and talented lineup filled with power and contact, it would seem only injuries could derail our chances to make the playoffs and advance to the series. We took [Jason] Hayward and [John] Lackey from the Cardinals, and the Pirates didn’t make any large scale improvements. That being said, they’re both going to be challenging opponents this year no matter what. The Reds and the Brewers are going to account for a ton of losses as they try to sell off parts and rebuild, so the other three teams in the NL Central could benefit from that. I’m not sure the Cubs will get to 97 wins again, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up with the best record in baseball.

How closely do you follow the team while you’re on tour?

For the fourth year in a row I’ve purchased the MLB.TV season package so that I can stream games wherever I am. So we watch as many games as we can when we’re on the road. It’s an incredibly fun thing to do. I’ve also plotted out about 9-10 games I can attend in person this year, which is also a lot of fun. Last year I saw games at Wrigley, Jacobs Field in Cleveland (where the Cubs won 17-0), the Cell [U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago] and at Dodger Stadium. My wife and I and a couple of friends attended the Jake Arrieta no hitter, which was easily one of my favorite experiences ever being at a game. And I got to high five Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine right after the game, he was sitting right next to us with his mom. That was cool. I watched the Cubs beat the Pirates in the Wild Card last year from Greece. I had the stream going at 3 a.m. and a huge storm knocked out the power for about 30 minutes in Santorini. Couldn’t believe the timing but it came back, thankfully, and I was able to watch Arrieta and Kyle Schwarber dominate the Pirates.

How often do you make it out to the ballpark?

I typically make it to about 11-12 Cubs games a year, even while living in L.A. I’ve also been to about five Dodgers games a year now that I live out here. I went to the Dodgers vs. Mets Game 5 here in L.A. when the Mets beat the Dodgers, unfortunately. I knew the Cubs were gonna have a hard time with the Mets pitching staff, and I of course selfishly wanted the Dodgers to win so I could see the Cubs play in L.A. We might go to a Tigers vs. Twins game while in Minneapolis this April, that looks like a cool stadium. As a kid I was really into baseball stadium architecture, I would try to build stadiums using Legos. It was a good time killer, I suppose. This year I somehow got lucky enough to have the day off when the Cubs open at the Angels in Anaheim, just an hour from where I live. I’m particularly excited for that game as the Cubs will be using a DH, meaning their lineup will be even more formidable than usual.

Who is your favorite player of all-time and why?

My favorite player of all time is probably still Ryne Sandberg, but I have a suspicion someone on the Cubs for the next four or five years might supplant him. I can’t decide if it’s going to be Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Jason Heyward or Kyle Schwarber … could be Addison Russell or Javier Baez too. This Cubs team is so loaded with talent it’s insane. I feel badly for opposing teams pitchers.

Commissioner for a day: What would you change about MLB?

First off, I would make the Wild Card Series a three game series. Last year the Pirates won 98 games and were eliminated in nine innings, for the second year in a row. That’s just not fair. The Wild Card should be a double header at the home team’s park then a single game at the worse team’s park in just two days. Second, I would try to improve the system of calling balls and strikes by having a reward system for the umpires that get the highest percentage of calls right … these would be the umpires that would work the playoffs and the World Series, and they would also get paid more as a result. I saw some games end, including during the Cubs season, on some absolutely awful calls. There needs to be more consistency in how pitches are called, and it starts with there being some sort of system of checks and balances. Third, I would cut down on inter-league play. I liked when each divisional team had four series against each other throughout the year, and now, for instance, the Cubs and Dodgers only play each other twice. If there’s going to be a DH in the American League and not in the National League, too many inter-league games becomes a bit of gimmick. I would also update the system that is in place for qualifying offers on free agents as it seems to be pretty broken. Players aren’t getting signed or aren’t getting good deals because they have a draft pick attached to their signing. It’s really messed with free agency. Lastly, I would mandate better safety standards for the fans that are closest to the field between the dugouts. They are starting to make changes in the safety netting now, extending it beyond what has been the norm. But those seats are so dangerous and the fans need to be protected as the game gets faster and faster.