The Turnover: Dylan Slocum of Spanish Love Songs

From walk-in songs to seventh-inning stretches, music and baseball are inextricably linked. 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 on the annals of baseball lore.

Dylan Slocum was eight or nine years old when his future paths first converged.

The young pitcher – “a big lanky kid who couldn’t control his body” is how Slocum remembers his physique on the mound – has just played in a summer league game, and when he gets back to the car of his father, he spots a Squire guitar in the backseat that wasn’t there before.

“He was like, ‘you can learn this thing if you want,'” Slocum said in an interview. “There was no provocation, but it changed my life.”

Music has always been a central part of the Slocum household: Bruce Springsteen and Bad Company recorded the early morning chores, and even though Slocum half-jokes that they feel some buyer’s remorse, his parents bought instruments for him and his brothers and sisters.

This life-changing squire, however, sat in his bedroom, mostly not playing, until Slocum was around 12 years old.

“I kind of forgot about the guitar for a while,” Slocum said. “You are eight years old, you are just a child.”

For Slocum, being a kid meant playing baseball. He followed in his father’s footsteps as a pitcher, prone to control issues and, by his own admission, “kind of a headache as a kid” when he got on the mound. But when he went from summer league ball to a rotational position for the Paloma Valley Wildcats, Slocum’s bread-and-butter weapon was a ’90s fastball — “in high school, that’s enough “, did he declare.

Regarding the rest of his repertoire, Slocum added, “I worked pretty hard on a switch, but I could never figure out a curveball unless it was a knuckle curve.”

Slocum’s speed of heating reinforced his presence on the mound with back-and-forth arrogance. As a self-proclaimed “big dude with a long stride,” the California native was equal parts “average power pitcher” and “average bully.”

“I wasn’t afraid to go up and back,” Slocum said. “I wanted to try to outsmart you.”

The Squire guitar that had gathered dust during the few years of Slocum’s youth and the last two paragraphs returned to center stage in his early teens, when he learned to play from a brother’s friend. who knew how to shred. He started playing in bands when he was 15 or 16 – and won tough conversations with coaches when musical endeavors caused him to miss baseball obligations.

During his senior year of high school, Slocum signed on to present at Santa Clara University, started a band, and then had a terrible farewell season for the Wildcats. A coach has apologized for the difficult campaign after Slocum was ‘knocked down’ during a May outing to Lake Elsinore, but with his college plans already stated, Slocum’s priorities had fallen elsewhere, even if playing in a band didn’t seem like a long term commitment.

“I felt like ‘music doesn’t get you anywhere,'” Slocum said. “‘But you can throw a baseball with force, so might as well try that.'”

Slocum was the first in his family to attend college and initially felt naïve on campus. Baseball practices started his day at 6 a.m. with weight training, and the college team often practiced late after class.

“To be successful in high-level baseball, you have to live it in your body,” Slocum said.

The fastball speed that elevated Slocum’s arsenal in high school was no longer the heat of hotshots, and he found himself adjusting to life in the bullpen, working with a staff of coaches who was looking to tinker with his shots. They tried to convert the Knucklecurve handle Slocum had found into a slider.

Slocum only made three appearances for Santa Clara, all in relief. His first outing was against Hawaii in a match that drew thousands of spectators. His last game — near his home at UC Riverside — saw a Broncos team in the middle of a bombardment calling Slocum from the bullpen after three warm-up pitches.

“The last pitch I threw, I threw as hard as I could,” Slocum said. “I was pretty checked out at that time.”

Slocum knew that committing to baseball meant finding a balance on the student-athlete pivot that placed less emphasis on academics; he also understood that a total commitment to the sport would not make him happy.

During bunting drills with the team, Slocum tore the meniscus of his landing leg. A six-week recovery from surgery spanned six months. The final line of his college playing career? A 6.75 ERA in 1.1 innings, one walk, no strikeouts, five hits and only one earned run allowed.

When he finally transferred from Santa Clara at the end of the school year, he returned home and started a band. Not Spanish love songs — at least not yet — as Slocum got into screenwriting and “disappeared in Los Angeles” for a few years. The band he now leads burst onto the scene when he was 26, and the nuances of his brash, hard-hitting tenure on the mound still linger in the concert hall spotlight.

Slocum still taps into his competitive nature – “I want to be better than your band,” he laughs – and Spanish Love Songs release contemplative punk gems with the dependable frequency of a hard-working starter pitcher.

After starting with Giant sings the blues in 2015 and find a wider audience with 2018 Schmaltzthe band released the anthem Brave faces for everyone in early 2020. (“Optimism (As a Radical Life Choice)” follows the much-needed listening needed to combat April’s fantasy crew panic.) It’s a record they’ve completely redesigned to Brave faces, etc. earlier in April and, in May, Spanish Love Songs will embark on a coast-to-coast tour.

Athletes with whom Slocum has played and who have risen to higher levels of the sport have aged out of professional baseball. (One of those former statesmen Slocum clashed with was San Diego native Stephen Strasburg.) And even though Slocum is just a fan of the game now (as a Nashville resident , he attends minor league outings when he’s at home and eschews major league fandom in favor of “watching the best version of the sport”), there’s a familiar feeling to playing on stage better detailed in – what else? – a baseball metaphor.

“The pitcher is the flashiest position on the field, and a whole part of the game is up to you,” Slocum said. “It’s like being the center of attention in a different way. Performing a song you wrote is like painting the corner with a fastball.

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


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Grace D. Erickson