CLEVELAND — New York Yankees legend turned jazz guitarist Bernie Williams has played alongside such celebrated singers as Paul Simon, James Taylor, Lionel Ritchie and Garth Brooks.
Williams said he was awestruck to perform with all of them.
Williams, 50, said he never dreamed of a career in music after his 16 seasons in baseball. But after winning four World Series, along with an American League batting title, four Gold Gloves, one Silver Slugger, one ALCS MVP award and five All-Star selections, the former center fielder has found something else that challenges him.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I had my history and my story told already with the baseball thing,” Williams said Sunday before Major League Baseball’s Celebrity Softball Game, part of the 2019 All-Star Game festivities. “I knew I was going to be involved in music, but I thought it was going to be more music education and things like that. I never envisioned myself playing on stage like I’m doing now.
“But I’m welcoming it with open arms because it’s something that keeps me challenged. Especially now that I’m used to playing and living my life a thousand miles an hour, it’s kind of hard to find something that will keep you motivated and wake you up in the morning and say, ‘Oh, man, I’ve still got a lot of things to do.’ Music has been that thing for me. It’s been a great experience.”
Williams will perform the national anthem and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony July 21 in Cooperstown, N.Y., with former teammate Mariano Rivera among this year’s class. During All-Star week, Williams judged an MLB Remix contest as fans submitted their versions of the iconic seventh-inning stretch song. On Saturday, he played at Nighttown, a jazz club on Cleveland’s East Side.
Nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2009 for his album “Moving Forward,” Williams expects to continue to get gigs through baseball. But playing with the likes of Brooks and Ritchie pushed him to practice more, seemingly igniting the work ethic that helped him excel in the majors.
“It’s a matter of realizing that you’ve got to put in the work, at least try to put in the work that they put in to become who they were,” Williams said.
“A lot of the opportunities I’ve had in music have come because of my relationship with baseball. But, at the same time, when you’re on stage you have to play, you have to perform. As soon as [opportunities] open, they could probably close as fast as well. It’s up to me to keep my chops sharp.”
Williams listens to remarks from his audience and seems pleased with what he’s hearing now.
“When I go there, I don’t want to hear the comments, ‘He’s not that bad for a jock,’ ” Williams said. “Most of the comments right now are like, ‘He’s a musician that just happened to play baseball.’ ”
Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia, 38, will retire at the end of this season, his 19th. Drafted 20th overall by the Indians in 1998, Sabathia spent 7½ seasons in Cleveland before being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in July 2008.
He got his first taste of the major leagues in 2000, when he was called up to start the Hall of Fame Game at Cooperstown against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Just 19 years old, Sabathia pitched three innings, giving up three runs on three hits and striking out four in a 12-7 Indians loss.
“I was in A ball, I think,” Sabathia said Monday during All-Star Game interviews, unsure if he was then assigned to Single-A Kinston or Double-A Akron. “I was honored; it felt pretty cool to be around the big leaguers. I got a chance to meet Sandy Alomar that day. That was fun, I definitely remember that experience.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.