This week in Ask An Indie Rock Dude About Sports, we venture to the far Northwest, home of Starbucks, Microsoft, and one of the longest-running modern icons in the history of alternative music. Ben Gibbard has been writing some of the most devastating love songs in the world through such renowned venues as Death Cab for Cutie, ¡All-Time Quarterback!, The Postal Service, and the occasional solo record. Death Cab albums have been coming out since 1998, with the rickety, eye-licking Something About Airplanes, 10 years later they were a legit festival-tent headliner under the propulsive major-label successes of Narrow Stairs and Plans. Currently they’re reissued past-classics like Transatlanticism, as well as working on an as-of-yet untitled eighth studio album.
So it may be surprising that as well as being universal comfort-food for romantic stress, Ben Gibbard is easily the biggest Seattle Mariners fan in the history of pop music. Seriously, go watch Death Cab play “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at 2010’s opening day. Gibbard is everlasting proof that sensitive indie-rock nerds can like sports too, so naturally he was always a personal hero of mine. It was an honor to feature him on AAIRDAS, as we talked about the Mariners’ current successes, living in Seattle during the Seahawks’ title run, and why he hates the Angels so much.
How did you first start watching sports?
Well growing up in the Northwest you just kinda fell into it. I have fond memories of being six years old and watching what was then a very, very bad Mariners team with my Dad, a quality of play that continued for most of my childhood. When you grow up in a place that has a team it’s hard to end up a Red Sox fan or whatever, no matter how bad the franchise might be, you’re still going to end up cheering for them. That being said, it is nice to be able to talk about baseball in September in the Northwest.
Let’s talk about that, the Mariners after a couple years of middling indifference have a pretty good baseball team right now, and are in good position for a wild card, what’s it been like having a good Mariners team up in Seattle? Did you think they were going to be this good?
I really didn’t, as a Mariners fan we’ve been living with this promise that when our young guys put it together we’re gonna have a good team. That’s been the story for the last five years. To date, a lot of those prospects haven’t quite panned out, with the exception of guys like Seager who can hit for power but strikes out a lot. I thought we were going to maybe be .500, I was happy with the Cano signing despite the knowledge that it was going to be an albatross in five years, but of course we all thought that he would be visibly regretting his decision to come here. But it’s been very clear that he’s been taking on a leadership role which is the sort of thing Ichiro never did.
Have you gotten more optimistic about the Cano signing since it happened?
My feelings will always stay the same. It was clear that Seattle wanted to land a real superstar, and we’d have to overpay because of the location, the travel, the weather, it’s what it is. The fan in me was excited but the realist in me knew we were going to get three or four good years and then we’ll be paying a DH way too much money. But if the Mariners land in the World Series under his watch, that will be more acceptable. We’ve never won one, if it takes an overpay, there won’t be much complaining about it.
How much longer do you think Felix Hernandez is going to be this good?
It’s important to remember the guy is 27 years old. 27! The last few years he’s started to fade down the stretch, but those are also the same years where he wasn’t really pitching for anything. I can see Felix being great for at least three or four more seasons. Every time I go to see him pitch now, at some point I lean over and have to say “you know, we need to remember what we’re watching right now.” It’s one of those sports things that you’ll be telling your grandchildren about. What other baseball player has his own cheering section? It’s like a great day when Felix pitches, everyone comes out.
Is there still bad blood between Mariners fans and Ichiro?
I think it’s all going to be okay. I mean once anyone goes to the Yankees people are going to sour on you for a bit. It’s like “oh now that you’re on the Yankees now you’re okay with not batting at the top of the order.” That was a bummer. Anyone who’s not a Yankees fan hates the Yankees. I don’t have any issues with Ichiro going to the Yankees, because he wasn’t going to make the playoffs with the Mariners, but at the same time it was frustrating watching him make compromises for a different franchise. But eventually we’ll forget all the stuff and remember the good times.
What was it like up in Seattle when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl?
It was amazing. The thing the most inspiring and awesome about it is when you’re walking around, and everyone is chattering about the Seahawks. I live up on Capitol Hill which is kinda like the younger neighborhood, and even people who six months earlier were doing that “ugh sportsball” thing were talking about the Seahawks. Even the people who were too cool for it were converted! There was nothing more awesome than that. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves after they won. We just wandered out to the middle of Capitol Hill. Thousands of people were down there, just standing under the street lights. There were barrel fires and cops were okay with it. This is a neighborhood where people never cared about this stuff. To me, I went through a period where I didn’t care as much about sports as I did, but coming back around to it made me realize how important all that drama really is.
Was there a specific moment during the Super Bowl where you realized that the game was over, there would be no Manning comeback, and the Seahawks were going to win?
Yeah totally, the Percy Harvin runback. Before the game the national media were all on Peyton Manning’s junk, and honestly, after how stressful the San Francisco game was? That was the Super Bowl to me. The Niners are the second best team in the NFL by far. They could’ve been the best team if it wasn’t for Sherman. But the whole week leading up to the Super Bowl was just covered in Peyton Manning, and going into halftime, we still heard about the incoming Manning comeback, but as soon as Percy ran that ball back I knew it was over. Throughout my entire life of watching sports, that’s the only game I’ve seen where everything went the Seahawks way. We got every break. It felt like there was something else at play.
How badly does Seattle need the SuperSonics back?
I think the one thing about the SuperSonics getting stolen, and I’m one of those people who believes they were stolen, is that just last year the NBA used a very similar tactic to blackmail Sacremento into a new arena. Seattle has now become the ogre on the hill that’s going to come steal your team if you don’t pay up. At that point everyone in Seattle was like “you know what? Fuck David Stern, and fuck the NBA.” The relocation committee is headed by Clay Bennett who robbed the SuperSonics saying like “we don’t like to move cities, we don’t like to do that in the NBA,” it’s like wow, fuck you man. Now it’s a real longshot to get them back, and that sucks.
What sports franchises do you hate the most?
The Yankees and Red Sox are in another class of hatred. If you’re doing a statistical analysis of outliers, they’re in that category. I think Angels are my most hated team. I just… number one, they’re always good, which is annoying. But I think it’s all the red, it’s the Anaheim/Orange County thing. When I lived in L.A. I used to drive down there to watch the Mariners play and the stadium is terrible. By any standard, terrible. I’ll take the Coliseum over that stadium. It’s just this soulless, terrible park. And going to an Angels game is like going to a Republican National Convention, all this OC money. When you go to a Dodgers game and that looks like L.A., in all the best and worst ways. It always feels good in Dodgers Stadium. But I just couldn’t handle Angels Stadium. I just can’t go there.