Q&A: Justin Halpern on his Aztec baseball career, the entertainment industry and a new mascot for SDSU

From time to time, Kabeer Thirty sits down with SDSU luminaries to leach off their popularity and garner cheap web hits give you the inside scoop on these important Aztecs. Today we chat with comedy writer and former relief pitcher Justin Halpern. You may know Justin from “Shit My Dad Says,” but do you know which MWC city he considers a ‘shit hole?’ Keep reading for this and other shocking revelations!

During your time with the baseball program, what’s the most San Diego State Aztecsy thing you experienced? You are free to interpret that in any way you wish.

“It was 3 a.m. and I saw a dude in only board shorts finger banging a girl behind Los Panchos and he was holding a burrito with his non-finger banging hand. That should basically replace the Aztecs’ current mascot.”

Those days – the early 2000s – weren’t really glory years for SDSU athletics overall (though baseball was solid). What was it like being a student athlete on campus in those days?

Well, no one really gives a shit about baseball, but at the time, we were the best of the sports teams.  Generally speaking no one gave a shit, though.  I remember thinking/hoping that when I got on the team, people in my classes would care, but most often their response was ‘We have a baseball team?'”

Didn’t head coach Jim Dietz have an alcohol ban for his players? As an SDSU student of that era, my perception is that such a policy would have been, uh, unrealistic. How adherent were you?

“Dietz did have an alcohol ban as well as a bunch of other bans but all a ‘ban’ means in that context is ‘don’t get in trouble for drinking.’ My favorite story is that Dietz sat us all down before the season and said if ANYONE got into alcohol trouble he’d boot them off the team, no questions asked. The very next fucking weekend the biggest recruit we had got a minor in possession for alcohol and Dietz was suddenly like ‘we can’t turn our backs on people who need help.’ If I had gotten that minor in possession he would have thrown me off the team and had that lady from Game Of Thrones ringing a bell and yelling “shame.” Stars get treated different, which is fine, I just think it’s funny when coaches pretend like they have a strict code by which they live.”

Did you ever hear from Royce Ring after sharing that Hummer/DVD anecdote in Grantland?

“I never heard from Royce. I actually loved Royce. I spent a lot of time with Royce in the bullpen and in PFP sessions and all that stuff, and he is the purest form of baseball. Just a dude who didn’t give a shit about anything but playing in the show and getting laid and driving a nice car. There’s a poetry to that kind of simplicity. Dude never pretended he was anything other than that. I respect that.”

In that piece, you talk about injuring yourself in a beer league game and then going in to the coaches to quit. How did that go?

“Again, when I quit, because I was not an important player on the team, they didn’t care.  Although they did make a point to say ‘you will regret this for the rest of your life.’ Dietz said that. Which, I was sure he’d be right. And he was most certainly, I can say now, not right. I don’t even have a tinge of regret. I really thought I would, but I just didn’t love baseball. Rusty Filter, the pitching coach at the time, he had a bit more of an in-depth talk with me about it. I think he understood, or, if he didn’t, he was nice about it.”

How different are the cultures of college athletics and the entertainment industry? More different or more similar than we might expect?

“The entertainment industry is a thousand times more cut throat than college athletics, and yet, less fucked up in many ways. At least in the entertainment industry, everyone is like ‘this is a fucked up business, survive or die.’ In college athletics they pretend like they’re saving lives and bestowing honor on the athletes. It’s bullshit. What I love about athletics in general, though, that doesn’t exist in Hollywood, is that, for the most part, athletics is a meritocracy. There are some politics, but generally speaking, if you’re great you’ll go far and if you suck you won’t. There are exceptions and some guys don’t get opportunities because of politics, but it’s mostly a meritocracy. If sports were like Hollywood, we’d be watching Michael Jordan’s son be the starting point guard for the Knicks and people would pretend he wasn’t terrible.”

What’s the biggest influence being an Aztec had on your career and the person you are today?

“I have two film professors who were awesome. Greg Durbin and Lee Marshall. Greg is still there. He’s this hippie guy who is just the fucking best. If you had something you were passionate about, he’d help you do it. Love people like that.”

I know you still identify as a San Diego sports fan. Do you still follow SDSU sports at all?

I love SDSU sports. They are the college team that I root for. I follow basketball very closely, football less so, but mostly because I don’t get most of the games so I can’t watch them. I occasionally go on Goaztecs.com and check and see how the baseball team is doing.

Short answer

Who was your favorite Aztecs favorite teammate?

My favorite Aztec teammate was Chris Hartshorn.  He was a really talented pitcher I played with. Just a great dude.

What was your least favorite MWC city to travel to?

I only made probably half the traveling squads, but of the places I went I enjoyed playing Utah the most and UNLV the least. Vegas is a shit hole.

What was the best taco shop in the College Area, and what was your order?

I’m from San Diego, so I always went to the taco shop I grew up with, even though it was a bit of a drive. It’s called Nico’s, in Ocean Beach, and it’s outstanding.  Order the California burrito.

You have a family to feed. Anything you care to plug?

I have a few projects coming out, but they’re not going to come out until 2017, so I’ll just for now… buy my books? Sure, let’s go with that. Buy my books.

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Author: Aztecs Killing Him

Former proprietor of AztecsKillingHim dot com, a long-dead SDSU sports blog that was possibly dumber even than this one. On Twitter at @akh_blog.

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