Thursday, December 25, 2014

Don't worry, he's with the team

Hard-core rocker/ hard-core fan J.B. Brubaker, lead guitarist for August Burns Red. If you can´t see his eyes, they´re probably watching the game.
Hard-core rocker/ hard-core fan J.B. Brubaker, lead guitarist for August Burns Red. If you can't see his eyes, they're probably watching the game.
Hard-core rocker/ hard-core fan J.B. Brubaker, lead guitarist for August Burns Red. If you can´t see his eyes, they´re probably watching the game. Gallery: Don't worry, he's with the team

Next time you’re annoyed that you can’t get out of work to catch a business person’s special at Citizens Bank Park, just remember it could be worse: You could be stuck in the middle of Norway trying desperately to find a Wi-Fi signal just to learn the game’s score - like J.B. Brubaker.

Lead guitarist for the metal band August Burns Red, Brubaker has a problem that rockers like Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead don’t. He’s a lifelong and extremely passionate Phillies fan, and his band’s intense touring schedule — the Lancaster-based group is a headline act internationally — makes it tough to follow the team.

He doesn’t let a couple of measly time zones or tour dates get in the way of his fandom, but he does have to get creative on the 150 nights a year that his band is on the road.

“It’s actually not that difficult when we’re on tour in the States,” Brubaker told SportsWeek by phone before a gig in Milwaukee. The band’s 45-foot luxury tour bus, a Prevost XL II, is equipped with a DirecTV satellite dish and a subscription to MLB Extra Innings. “As long as our satellite isn’t blocked, I can just turn on the game and watch it on TV.

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“What sucks is that I generally have to watch the away broadcasts,” he said, adding that it’s “annoying when the Phillies are losing because, you know, it gets rubbed in your face.”

Roadies to the rescue

As a headlining act, August Burns Red typically hits the stage as the Phils reach the late innings, just when the game starts to get good. So he and his road crew have devised a strategy that lets him follow along live even when performing in front of thousands of screaming fans.

“Our guitar tech will stream the game [using MLB.tv] on his iPad on the side stage while we’re playing and give me updates between songs.” During close games, Brubaker keeps one eye on his roadie at all times.

Case in point: the Phils’ recent game against the Marlins on Sept. 11, when the band was in Pittsburgh. “We took the stage in the eighth inning, I think Phillippe Aumont was on the bump.

During our second song, I walked over to where our guitar tech is and he holds up his iPad and I see that the Marlins have runners on first and second, nobody out, and I’m like, ‘Oh, God,’ and start freaking out.

“After another couple of songs, we took a quick break,” Brubaker said, “and I walked over just in time to see [Jonathan] Papelbon strike out Jose Reyes for the win.”

August Burns Red’s popularity in Europe means that about 40 percent of his band’s gigs take place internationally. And while it’s tough enough to follow the team from Pittsburgh, it’s downright arduous in, say, Cologne, Germany.

“No one in Europe cares about baseball at all. It’s never on at a bar or anything,” he said. “Plus, there’s a six-hour time difference, so games are just starting at 1 a.m....sometimes I just have to wait until the next morning to see the score.”

Wireless technology raises hopes only to dash them. “I can’t just stream games on my phone over there because I have limited international data on my cell-phone. It’s fine if we have Wi-Fi, but by that time of night, we’re usually on the bus driving to the next city and the buses don’t have Wi-Fi over there.”

Postseason? What postseason?

The band’s touring schedule has seen Brubaker out of the country during the MLB playoffs every year since 2008, so he’s never been able to watch a Phillies playoff game in America, let alone in person.

For the 2008 World Series, “I stayed up late on my BlackBerry every night...getting pitch-by-pitch text message updates from my sister,” he said. August Burns Red was in Zurich, Switzerland, the night the Phillies and Rays resumed the suspended Game 5. The band persuaded 

the club they were playing to stay open late so they could watch the game. “We explained to them, ‘Our hometown team is playing in the championship today. Can you please stay open for us?’ ”

The club owners obliged and allowed them to stay in the green room, where they huddled around a laptop. When Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske to record the final out, the band celebrated the Phillies’ championship with bottles of champagne that the giddy club owners gave them.

“It was cool, but I wanted to be at home celebrating with the city,” Brubaker lamented. “It would have been way more fun to be there.”

Wherever the tour schedule takes him, Brubaker is a proud advocate for the team. He often wears Phillies T-shirts onstage and has custom-made grilles for his guitar amps emblazoned with the Phils’ logo. And if you’re spotted at an ABR show in Phillies gear, you might get a treat:

“In Pittsburgh, we saw a kid waiting in line decked out in a Roy Halladay shirt and a Phillies hat, so I quickly wrote a note that said, ‘Thanks for showing your colors in Pittsburgh.’” Other members of the band signed it before passing it to the surprised metal-head.

“During the show, he worked his way up to the front of the crowd and handed me his Phillies hat,” Brubaker said.

“I wore it for one song and the whole crowd booed.”

Ryan Petzar rpetzar@gmail.com
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