Bernie Williams expounds on parallels of baseball, music at JUCO banquet

A hint of a smile crosses the face of baseball great and musician Bernie Williams as he plays a slow rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during Friday’s JUCO banquet at Two Rivers Convention Center. Williams was the keynote speaker at the banquet.

It wasn’t until a couple months ago that Bernie Williams began to learn about Grand Junction and the Alpine Bank National Junior College World Series.

After arriving in town Friday and speaking at the pre-tournament banquet at Two Rivers Convention Center, he felt compelled to apologize.

“You can feel the electricity in the air,” Williams said. “It’s a great feeling being here.”

The former New York Yankee All-Star center fielder addressed the crowd in a live interview with banquet emcee Jim Davis and played a little guitar for the crowd, including his own rendition of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’

“One of the great things about baseball is you get an opportunity to travel and see places like this,” Williams said. “I’ve never been here and I like it already.”

Williams grew up in Puerto Rico and fell in love with the sounds of a flamenco guitar and the game of baseball.

The track standout became one of Puerto Rico’s most sought after young baseball prospects, signing a contract with the New York Yankees at age 17.

During his 16-year career with the Yankees, he was a four-time World Series champion and a five-time All Star. Williams won four Gold Glove awards, the 1996 ALCS MVP award and the 1998 American League batting title.

Although steroid use was prevalent during his career, he told the audience he wouldn’t consider it.

“(Using steroids) is not the right way to play the game,” Williams said. “I have a lot of respect for the game. It is a moral issue for me. If someone else was doing it, fine. I’m going to do it natural and still beat you.”

His baseball career ended in 2006, but he continued performing, playing his flamenco guitar. His first album, “The Journey Within” was released in 2003 and reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart.

His second album, “Moving Forward,” was No. 2 on the same list and was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Album in 2009.

“I think there is a lot of similarities between baseball and music,” Williams said. “As a matter of fact, we’re just finishing writing a book between the similarities between the athlete on the field on a high profile level and a musician playing on stage.

“There are a lot of things I drew from baseball as far as overcoming pressure, adversity and not dwelling on your mistakes. I was able to apply a lot of it to music.”

A couple of years after Williams retired from baseball, he would struggle at times being away from the game, but found solace in his guitar.

“Whenever I would feel sad, I would pick up my guitar and start playing,” Williams told the crowd. “I would mess around with different chords and came up with a different rendition of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’ “

He is back in the studio working on a third album and is co-authoring a book, entitled “Rhythms of the Game: The Link Between Music and Athletic Performance,” scheduled for release July 14, he said.

“That’s one of the things we talk about in the book, there is no substitute for experience,” Williams said. “The more you do it, the more you get comfortable with it. It all comes down to preparation. Music is a lot about practicing and acclimating yourself to playing in front of people. That’s a huge part of it.”


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