SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Twenty-five hundred miles away from the stadium that made him famous, and 3,000 miles from the island that helped shape him into the man he is today, former Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams was at ease in the corner of a bookstore in an Arizona shopping center.
He was exactly where he was supposed to be. All the signs said so.
Magazines surrounded Williams — magazines from all over the world, and they were separated into racks and categories with big brown labels and shiny little letters. The “Current Events” mags were just above his head and to the right. The “General Interest” section was directly behind him and to his left, the “Arts” section was so close he could reach over and rip out a page or two.
In front of him sat a microphone and about 50 people, many in faded Yankees t-shirts with Williams and Martinez and Mantle written across the backs, and all clutching a copy of the book Williams co-authored with Dave Gluck and Bob Thompson, “The Rhythm of the Game: The Link between Musical and Athletic Performance.” Behind those fans, near the “Meet the Author” poster, stood about 25 more people trying to get a glimpse of a true Yankees star back in Arizona.
“I like Arizona. I really do,” Williams said. “The 2001 World Series was a memorable time for us, but maybe not the ending, because we lost. Game 7, two outs and Mariano on the mound? Are you serious? Really?”
Williams was kidding. Then he was serious.
“I’m just honored to [have] been able to play baseball during that difficult time in history. We played for our country that year,” he said. “September 11th affected all of us.”
Williams’ days of roaming the outfield at The House that Ruth Built are long gone, or at least mostly gone. He retired from the game in 2006 but he was back at Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago for the annual Old-Timer’s Game.
He’ll always be remembered as one of the most prolific hitters in postseason history but, this record player prefers vinyl — or a CD.
Weekends at Bernie’s are now made up of bookstore tour stops, concerts and guitar practice — plenty and plenty of practice. Williams plays jazz, classical, Brazilian and Latin, and when he’s not playing music, he’s listening to it or studying it. The Puerto Rican-born musician lives in New York but he’s in Arizona this weekend to share the story of his dedication to music and baseball, and how one helped the other in his new book.
Following the book tour stop Friday in North Scottsdale, Ariz., he’s scheduled to play a private concert in Phoenix on Saturday. On Sunday, he’ll play the National Anthem before the 2011 XM Futures Game at Chase Field as part of the All-Star Weekend festivities.
“I don’t think it’s going to be anything they’ve ever heard before,” he said.
Williams’ seven-stop book tour resumes next week in New Jersey and will take him to Connecticut, Long Island and New York before wrapping up the first week of August at J&R Music and Computer World in lower Manhattan. The author performs his music in private concerts and special events. He’s played on the same stage with Bruce Springsteen.
“I know I can pique curiosity,” Williams said. “People not knowing what to expect from me works in my favor. They will see a couple of things: I’m really passionate about music and I’m very serious about it. People see that I apply all the things I applied to be a successful player to my music.”
Williams, who has released three albums, admits his music is still evolving and he’s growing as a musician. His message, however, remains the same and it’s a big part of the book.
“Music and baseball seem different in so many ways but they have a lot things in common, because you build from confidence by trusting your preparation and being able to access all that experience so you can perform at your very best when it really counts,” he said. “I knew a lot of great batting practice hitters and a lot of musicians that are just awesome in practice, but when it comes down to showing what you can do and it’s all on the line, they come up short.”
“To me, the answer is not the physical,” he continued. ‘The answer is the mental aspect of the game and how you access that confidence or trust that preparation. There are lessons to be learned for everybody in that respect.”
Williams hopes to pass on those lessons to the young players he meets Sunday at the 2011 XM Futures Game. He doesn’t know their names but he knows the young men will be talented. He hopes they appreciate the weekend’s festivities and will carry the experience with them into their own future games — on and off the field.
Williams has been there. He was a five-time All-Star.
“To be looked on as one of the best prospects is an honor and it will help them look to the future,” he said. “They will not want to play another year without being involved in the All-Star scenario. This is a time to celebrate the game. The fans, and I think as a young player, it’s very important for them to experience that so it can cement the love for the game and love for being the best.”
Love for sport and music is important to Williams. It always has been. So is passion.
Not long after the strong connection is established, the preparation begins. Then the confidence develops and rhythm of the game takes over.
“You have to trust what you know and what you have done thousands and thousands of times and not freak,” he said. “For me, it’s how you get to that point. There are some people not able to access that confidence. We think our experiences can be beneficial to them.”