The Carneys, baseball and rock and roll

James Carney left, and his son Patrick Carney of The Black Keys have been going to Indians games together for years. Photo courtesy of James Carney

When Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney and his father James made the drive from Akron to Cleveland for the Indians' home opener, they were continuing a father and son tradition that spans three generations and nearly 60 years.

It didn’t matter that there was a rain delay lasting more than two hours, or that the whims of Northeast Ohio weather turned a lovely 65-degree day into Ernest Shackleton Day at Progressive Field. Or that Patrick discovered that even at a busy ballpark, there's no anonymity for a rock star -- even in the sanctity of the men's room. Even when you've waited in line 15 minutes for your turn to go.

“Right as I get up to go, this guy screams across the bathroom "Hey look, the guy from The Black Keys is about to pee," he said. "I turn around and every single dude is looking at me and I get the worst stage fright I've ever had in my life. I had to run to the bleachers and find another rest room."

Baseball and music have been common ground for Patrick, his brothers and his father James, 64, a newspaper reporter who recently accepted a buyout at the Akron Beacon Journal.

"My dad introduced me to basically everything I like still as an adult -- music, sports, baseball and comedy," Patrick said. "I remember clearly the first time my brothers and I played catch. It was summer 1987 and we all became hooked on baseball. All of us played Little League for the next few years and would drive to the games listening to (Indians broadcaster) Herb Score."

Baseball may have set Patrick’s future music career in motion, too. The other half of The Black Keys, guitarist and fellow Akron native Dan Auerbach, played in the same Little League as Patrick -- the West Akron Baseball League. "I actually think the first time I really hung out with Dan was when I was nine and we traded baseball cards," Patrick said. (The band has sponsored a team in the league and this year donated about $28,000 to the league from the sale of T-shirts on its website.)

Next week, Patrick and Auerbach will head to Europe to kick off a tour supporting their new album, "Turn Blue." While it’s not easy to follow sports from the road, Patrick has his father to keep him up to speed.

"We text a lot about sports," James Carney said. "Usually my text is one word -- if the Indians win, it's 'pennant.'"

This father and son sports connection has deeper roots. It started with James Carney and his late father William Carney, a polyester researcher at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. The elder Carney, whose father died when he was 3 years old, took his son to his first baseball game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in 1957 -- a day James remembers well.

"My first game, he surprised me. He picked me up at school -- it was a day game and I didn't know what the heck was going on," James said. “He picked me up at my grade school and said 'you're coming with me.' I said 'OK, where are we going?' and he didn't tell me. And we showed up in Cleveland to a day baseball game.

"We went to a few games a year," James continued. "We would go to a Sunday doubleheader -- usually against the Yankees -- because we could get in early and watch batting practice, one price for two games. We'd usually stick around for the middle of the second game and drive home."

"I always had great relationship with my dad, but sports was kind of the glue that held it together," James said. "We were pals in terms of sports and always discussing what was going on."

The Indians' fortunes declined after the 1950s, and it took decades to turn things around. When the team finally reached the World Series in 1995, James brought his father to Game 5, just as his dad had taken him to games nearly 40 years before. And when Cleveland returned to the Fall Classic in 1997, it was Patrick's turn to come along.

"I just remember it was my senior year of high school and I was more into music than sports at that time, but the Indians going to the World Series was still a huge exciting thing for my dad and I," Patrick said. "It was freezing and snowing and I mostly just remember at this point that we lost the series to the Marlins, which was and is a total bummer."

His father, having a longer perspective on Cleveland's seemingly cursed sports scene, looked at it a little differently.

“The important part -- the victory to me -- was going to a game with (Patrick) and being at a World Series game," he said.

Sports weren't the only bond handed down from generation to generation in the family; William Carney appreciated music, too. "He loved music of the '60s and the big band era -- he loved the Beatles, the Stones and all that stuff," James Carney said of his father.

Patrick has fond memories of music at his grandfather's house as well.

"We'd spend the night at Mamaw and Papaw’s house once a month when we were kids," Patrick said, his words for his grandparents hinting at the family's West Virginia roots. "The routine was we'd go down to the basement -- which was like a rec room with a pool table -- and they'd put on this record my uncle Ralph made with a band he was in when he was in his mid 20s called Tin Huey. They made a record for Warner Bros. -- they were a proggy new age band. I loved the record but it just didn't do anything, like most records."

“But that was the routine -- listening to Uncle Ralph's record on the stereo."

Before Patrick really got into rock and roll, sports played an important role in his childhood. Patrick’s parents were divorced in the late 1980s, and he and his brothers were splitting their time between two households. Against that background, baseball and Cleveland’s sports teams were a place where the boys could bond with their dad in the time they had with him -- even though the city's teams kept finding ways to break their fans' hearts. Especially the Browns.

So yes, Patrick remembers "The Drive" and "The Fumble."

"Oh yeah, that was brutal," Patrick said. "Honestly, when it happened, I paid attention to the Browns but not nearly as much … I was so let down."

As for the Indians? They had one winning season in the 1980s and were still playing at Municipal Stadium, which had not aged gracefully. Tickets were dirt cheap, but "there was never anybody there," Patrick said.

That being said, he still remembers his first game with his dad.

"The first game we went to, just the two of us, was June 10, 1988, against the Detroit Tigers," Patrick said. "The Indians lost but it was the first day of my summer vacation and probably the best day of that summer for me."

When he wasn't watching baseball, Patrick was playing it.

"My first year, we were the worst team in Little League in the age group I was in -- we were all in our all first year," he said. "My second year we were all the oldest kids and we won -- so we didn't win any games the first year and won every game the second year. And that like was the most fun season. Well, both of those years were fun.

"After that they started dividing kids up by talent and that's when I started not really being into playing as much," he added.

But there was one last thing that completed his switch from baseball to music as his favorite pastime.

“I think my dad got me a guitar for Christmas when I was in seventh grade."