May 20, 2009 / 5:41 PM / 10 years ago

Yankees hero Bernie Williams eyes musical home run

NEW YORK (Reuters) - For most men, winning four baseball World Series titles would be life’s crowning achievement.

Former New York Yankees player Bernie Williams performs at the 2008 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year event in Houston, Texas, November 12, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files

But Bernie Williams has another field of dreams — music.

“Winning the World Series was obviously a great experience but the challenge of playing music and writing songs is something else entirely,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“It would be a great thrill to have a Number One record; that would be something amazing considering it’s such a competitive field,” said guitarist Williams, the long-time New York Yankees outfielder, who retired from baseball in 2006.

He’s already close to realizing that dream. His second album, “Moving Forward,” was sitting at Number 2 in the Billboard contemporary jazz chart this week. “I’m behind Chris Botti and ahead of Boney James,” Williams joked.

The history of American popular culture is littered with successful sportsmen who tried, many of them unsuccessfully, to become music stars after their careers ended.

The jock-to-rock list includes boxer Oscar de la Hoya who made a Latin pop album in 2000 — his last.

U.S. World Cup soccer icon Alexei Lalas cut a disc of mostly forgettable rock, while tennis great John McEnroe used to dabble in rock guitar. And who can forget basketball star Shaquille O’Neal’s five rap CDs, including his debut “Shaq Diesel,” which went platinum?

But Williams is no dilettante, he is deadly serious about his music. The album features mostly self-penned instrumentals for acoustic guitar. There is also a collaboration with Latino singer Jon Secada and the Harlem Boys and Girls Choir, of Secada’s “Just Another Day.” The final track is a live performance with Bruce Springsteen, of the rocker’s “Glory Days.”

A thoughtful man who patrolled the Yankee Stadium outfield for 17 seasons, winning four World Series championships, five All-Star selections and hitting 287 home runs with a career batting average of .297, Williams likes to compare that career with the one he hopes will last the rest of his life.

“I like to take the word of my former manager Joe Torre: ‘We don’t own the game, we just borrow it for a while.’ But I would like to borrow music for a lot longer.

“Baseball and music are similar in that you only have one chance to make an impression. In baseball you can’t call timeout when the ball is coming toward you,” he said.

He puts it all down to preparation “and the better your preparation the more instinctive you are. That’s why people practice every day and why in music you practice your scales.”

Williams, who has faced flame-throwing pitchers in clutch situations in stadiums full of thousands of people, said he gets nervous when he is on stage with just a guitar.

“You feed off the crowd and then things get better, like in baseball,” he said. “Music is all about energy and having a good time rather than playing every note perfectly.

“It’s like two outs in the ninth — for an hour and a half!”

Williams, 40, learned to play as a child when his father, a merchant sailor, brought a guitar back from Spain to the family home in Puerto Rico. Williams later attended a performing arts high school where he learned to read and write music.

Asked about his guitar heroes, he starts with the classical acoustic masters, John Williams, Julian Bream and Andres Segovia. Then jazz and blues stars like B.B. King and Pat Metheny, and rockers Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen.

But his biggest thrill was playing with Springsteen during a charity event at Yankee Stadium.

“I was familiar with his music but I had never played with him before we played in the Yankees clubhouse,” Williams said. “He autographed a guitar for me: ‘To Bernie — if you ever get tired of playing baseball’”

And did he get tired of baseball? “Never — it was such an incredible experience to do what I did for 20 years with the New York Yankees.”

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