The way Bernie Williams played center field for the New York Yankees was, in a way, a work of art.
Big and agile, Williams could cover a lot of ground at Yankee Stadium with ease.
After his baseball career ended, Williams went on to his second career, that of a musician, with that same ease.
“It’s exciting,” JUCO Tournament Chairmain Jamie Hamilton said of Williams agreeing to appear at this year’s tournament banquet. “To get one of those guys who was just at the peak of his career, the dollar amounts (for an appearance fee is usually prohibitive). You cannot pass up something like this.”
Williams, who played center for the Yankees for 16 seasons, retiring in 2006, will talk about both of his carers, baseball and music — he’s now a critically acclaimed guitarist, and has agreed to play a couple of tunes at the banquet.
He grew up in Puerto Rico and fell in love with a flamenco guitar his father brought back from a tour in Spain with the Merchant Marines. He attended a performance school, Escuela Libre de Musica, when he was 13, and excelled in sports and music.
Williams signed a pro baseball contract with the Yankees at 17, but kept his guitar with him, whether it was in the minor leagues or the Yankees’ clubhouse.
He released his first album in 2003, “The Journey Within,” that fused jazz, rock and the tropical music of Puerto Rico. It reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart.
His second album, “Moving Forward,” had guest appearances by Bruce Springsteen, Jon Secada, Dave Koz and some of the top studio musicians in the business. It debuted at No. 2 on the Contemporary Jazz chart and had two No. 1 singles, “Go For It” and “Ritmo de Otono.”
The album was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award for best instrumental album in 2009.
He’s working on a third album and is also writing a book, “Rhythms of the Game: The Link Between Music and Athletic Performance,” due out in July.
“I saw him perform at a baseball game and went to his website (bernie51.com),” Hamilton said. “I thought it would be neat to get a baseball guy with a little entertainment.”
On the field, Williams was a five-time All-Star and won four Gold Glove awards. He was on four World Series championship teams and was the 1996 American League Championship Series MVP.
He won the 1998 American League batting title and is among the Yankees’ all-time leaders in every major batting category. He has more postseason RBI than any player in Major League Baseball history.
Having a guitar-playing former All-Star as the banquet speaker is a first, and Hamilton is hoping it’ll be a hit with fans.
“We want something different that people can talk about, like people did last year,” Hamilton said. “It should be an exciting night. I think it’ll be different.”