The soundtrack to Gabe Kapler's life (2024)

The soundtrack to Gabe Kapler's life (1)

It’s 5:35 p.m. on a Sunday, and Gabe Kapler isn’t thinking about baseball. Just over an hour after the final out of San Francisco’s 4-3 win over the Cardinals, he’s thinking about rap.

Kendrick Lamar had just released “The Heart Part 5” in anticipation of his fifth studio album. It was the Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper from Compton’s first solo single since 2018.

Kapler listened. And re-listened.

Kapler’s ears are analytical. He can dissect tracks like a college level music theory professor. He texts his 20-year-old son Dane to break it down.

“We were sending each other lines that we liked,” Dane told KNBR. “We were talking about the sample. It was sort of like a 70’s soul, jazz kind of thing. Then we figured out it was a Marvin Gaye sample. We were talking about that track for a little bit, it’s fantastic.”

Music is a Kapler family heirloom. There was always music playing in Gabe Kapler’s childhood home — just like there was for Dane and Chase, 22. Kapler’s dad, a pianist, composer and music teacher, would play the piano. His mom influenced his love of world and folk music. His grandfather was a saxophonist, grandmother a jazz singer.

As Kapler looks out onto the Oracle Park field from the dugout railing, the memories flood back to him. Skateboarding through Woodland Hills, California to Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. Listening to hard rock with his brother. Even when baseball pulled him away, music never left him.

“I wish I would have spent more time with my dad on the piano bench,” Kapler, 46, told KNBR. “He obviously invited me all the time. I remember sitting on his lap with my hands on the keys, but then really just wanting to go outside and play baseball. Baseball drew me away from what I think is now my greatest love. I love baseball, but I probably love music more.”

Really? More than baseball?

“Baseball is like sort of my blood,” the 2021 Manager of the Year said. “It’s what I know best. It’s what is the most influential thing in my life. But that pure love is probably music. And that’s from my mom and my dad.”

Always unprompted, Kapler will open press conferences by giving music takes or updates on what he’s been listening to. In spring training, he recommended Vince Staples and Billie Eilish’s “fiery collab.” When Farhan Zaidi walked into the dugout for his season-opening press conference, Kapler played a Mac Miller song from his iPhone for walk-up music.

Before games, players walk into the clubhouse to hear music spilling out of Kapler’s office — R&B, jazz, and most often hip-hop. During them, he notices everyone’s walk-up songs. Background music plays in his head subconsciously like a movie score. He shares artists with his players and uses music as a device to connect with his sons.

There’s always a song playing in Kapler’s mind. He’s not just a fan; it’s a true, omnipresent passion.

Because of how sprawling Kapler’s music taste is, it can’t really be comprehensively described.

Longtime team DJ Brandon Crawford described Kapler’s music as “eclectic” and “wide-ranging.” Old and new.

“We’re similar in that way, where we can probably listen to any type of music at any time,”Crawford said.

Does it surprise Crawford that his manager loves music more than baseball?

“No,” Crawford said with a grin. “I might feel the same way.”

Dane and Chase grew up with playlists of some of their dad’s favorites: Metallica, Motley Crüe, and 90’s hip-hop. Give Kapler a few minutes and he’ll rattle off names from any era of any genre: Miles Davis, Ice-T, Earl Sweatshirt — the Chicago rapper whom Dane put him on to.

This May — Mental Health Awareness Month — Kapler’s been listening to a lot of Mac Miller. His most-streamed artist for the past couple years has been Bon Iver, whom he and SF’s coaches saw perform this spring at the Mesa Amphitheatre.

“I think I always loved all music,” Kapler, who plays the drums, bass and piano, said. “I think now my taste was so wide-ranging. It’s so all over the map. I never thought I would enjoy country music. Never. In high school, I was pretty snobby about that. Then when I got into professional baseball, I got into country music. Now some of my favorite artists are country singers. Chris Stapleton, right now, is one of my favorites.”

It’s not an “I like all kinds of music” cop-out in a trying-to-be-inoffensive way. It’s a genuine worldliness.

The manager’s got takes, too.

Gabe Kapler stopped his pregame interview just to make everyone listened to Greta Van Fleet playing over the loudspeakers ?

— KNBR (@KNBR) August 21, 2021

Eyes rolled when Kapler told reporters he thought Frank Ocean was an underrated R&B artist. How can a two-time Grammy winner be considered underrated?

“Because I think people think of Frank Ocean as a great R&B artist, but I don’t think they think of him as one of the top three artists that ever lived,” Kapler. “I’d put him in the top five of all-time in R&B.”

With Frank Ocean in Kapler’s pantheon of R&B artists: Prince, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye.

Kapler can go all day.

Favorite all-time artist? Ali Farkah-Touré. Beatles or Stones? The Fab Four (“I like the psychedelic Beatles more than anything else”). Best concert? Cypress Hill and House of Pain, 1993 in Irvine. Apple Music or Spotify? The former.

If Kapler could see any artist, dead or alive, perform, it would be Tupac.

“That’s pretty easy,” Kapler said. “I don’t think Tupac was the greatest lyricist ever. But I think he was the most passionate hip-hop artist that I’ve been exposed to. When he’s talking about something that he cares about, he was incredibly authentic. And venomous when he was angry, and thoughtful when he was introspective.”

Then there’s Kendrick Lamar, Dane’s favorite artist since he was 13. The 14-time Grammy winner was, of course, top of mind on Monday — the day after “The Heart Part 5” dropped.

“You guys hear the new Kendrick song?” Kapler asked a scrum of reporters from the dugout. “Incredible bass line. Marvin Gaye sample…I’ve been listening to that track on repeat.”

LaMonte Wade Jr. said he’s never had a manager with quite Kapler’s ear.

“It’s pretty cool that he likes the same kind of music that I like,” LaMonte Wade Jr. told KNBR. “Every day, you walk into the locker room, his door’s open and he’s blasting some music. “You kind of find yourself nodding your head as you walk in, listening to his music.”

An MLB ballpark, with all sorts of sound effects and music cacophonies blaring for hours — is a peculiar place for someone as into music as Kapler is.

In a previous (or possibly future) life, Kapler would be in charge of a stadium’s entertainment.

“That would be a really fun profession, coming up with music for in-game entertainment,” Kapler said. “I would like to do that at some point. I love it. It feels like such an opportunity to get people hyped up or put people in certain head spaces or moods.”

He’d make plenty of changes — he’s not the biggest fan of “Bye Bye Baby” or the organ — but cranking up the volume would be a good place to start.

Said Kapler: “For as long as I’ve remembered, players have said: ‘When I come up to the plate, I wish they’d play it longer, I wish they’d play it louder.’”

In Oracle Park, there’s “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” for the seventh-inning stretch, Journey’s “When The Lights Go Down in the City” in eighth innings and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” by Tony Bennett for wins.

And, of course, there’s dozens of personalized walk-out songs.

“I notice everybody’s walk-up song,” Kapler said. “Everybody’s. Very in tune with what type of music to and what gets them going. I don’t miss that. And when a pitcher comes in, I’m noticing what they’re playing as well, both on the road and at home.”

“Erase Me,” the mellow, poppy track Kapler had in mind when Rodón is dealing, is a far departure from Rodón’s walk-out choice — the grunge-rock “Rooster” by Alice in Chains.

“I think it suits him,” Kapler said. “First of all, it’s a classic, beautiful song. I like the pace for Carlos. Like Motorbreath from Metallia — high-paced, really aggressive music would not be good for Carlos in my opinion. I like something that brings the mood down just a little bit, but it’s still fierce. It still has some edge and represents Carlos well. I love it for him.”

He shared a moment with Wade in the dugout during Sunday’s game, complimenting his walk-out choice of Gang Starr’s “Above The Clouds.” Music is intergenerational; the rap song is a classic for Wade, but a staple of Kapler’s teenage years.

There’s an art to the walk-up song.

From Kapler’s playing days, Red Sox closer Keith Foulke’s “Mother” by Danzig sticks out. He remembers the dark metal song blaring over the Fenway Park speakers.

“It was loud,” Kapler said. “That stadium rocked. The speakers were so important…It’s a big advantage. It means a lot.”

Kapler rotated through a bunch of walk-out songs for himself. The one he used with the Brewers in 2008, “Beyond Raging Waves” by DJ Krush, features 4:25 of electronic Japanese instrumentation.

At that time, Kapler had taken to meditation daily, he said, with that specific track. So when he’d dig in, that song would snap him into the right, calm mindset.

Kapler, of course, no longer has a walk-up song. As a manager, he doesn’t need one.

But music still pulses through him, in his stream-of-consciousness. And the music blaring through a stadium’s sound system can be in a constant battle with the tunes in his brain.

The moon on May 8 came out early. A waxing first quarter moon hung over Oracle Park while the sky was still pinkish blue, late in SF’s 4-3 win over St Louis.

“You guys see the moon tonight? It was incredible,” Kapler said as he began his postgame press conference that night.

When Kapler first saw the moon from the dugout, he thought of Kid Cudi and Eminem’s “Adventures of Moon Man and Shady.”

A little on the nose, sure. But Kapler highlighted Eminem’s verse specifically. In the 2020 track, the rapper seamlessly transitions from boasting about his talent to riffing on COVID-19 to commenting on racial injustice.

Kapler considers Eminem a poet. That poetry narrates what Kapler sees on the field every night — while he’s deciding who to pinch-hit, when to call to the bullpen and how to manage personalities in the dugout.

“Randomly, I’ll have lyrics pop into my head,” Kapler said. “Sometimes they’re closely associated with what’s happening in the game, sometimes they’re just completely random. Sometimes it’s a repeat of something I’ve been listening to a lot.”

When pitchers walk out to the mound, Kapler often thinks of Eric B. and Rakim’s “Paid in Full” (thinking of a master plan). For hitters stepping into the batter’s box: “Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em” by the same group.

On Monday, Carlos Rodón rang up 12 Rockies in a six-inning masterpiece of a start. When Rodón got into two-strike counts, Kid Cudi and Kanye West’s “Erase Me” would start playing in Kapler’s mind.

“It’s not to be disrespectful to a hitter, but ‘erase me,’ I was thinking like erase the hitter,” Kapler said. “Hitters battling, lots of foul balls, like instead of ‘she wants to erase me,’ it’s he wants to erase me.”

Kapler isn’t associating the “perfect” song for any particular moment. It just happens subconsciously.

He breathes it.

“Lyrics and music feels like a soundtrack in my brain,” Kapler said.

The soundtrack to Gabe Kapler's life (2024)


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Whoever had the rose in their hand would have their turn to talk about Kapler's dad. “When I had the rose in my hand, I thought about what it would be like if he had the rose in his hand,” Kapler said of his father. Another reason behind the tattoo was that Kapler's grandmother on his father's side was named “Rose.”

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Contact Athlete Speakers today at 800-916-6008 to book Gabe Kapler for a virtual event, virtual meeting, virtual appearance, virtual keynote speaking engagement, webinar, video conference or Zoom meeting. The booking agents at Athlete Speakers work to get you the best price for your desired sports personality.

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