By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — In 1987, Bernie Williams was practicing switch-hitting when he spent a summer playing with the Oneonta Yankees.
Tonight, after rising into the majors and a career as a New York Yankees center fielder, Williams returns as guitarist with his all-star band to perform the sounds and rhythms of jazz, blues, rock and other genres in a style he prefers not to limit with a label.
“I consider it very eclectic,” Williams said. “It’s a little bit of everything.”
Williams will appear at the Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center on Market Street at 8 tonight, with doors opening at the Market Street venue at 6 p.m. Tickets are $40 or $50.
The band has been performing in the tri-state area, including in Albany, and Williams said he wanted to make a stop in Oneonta, of which he has “great memories.”
At least two veteran baseball fans — Sam Nader, former Oneonta Yankees owner, and John Brooks, a life-long Yankees fan from Oneonta — plan to be at tonight’s concert.
“I can’t wait — this is going to be exciting,” said Brooks, a retired owner of Brooks’ House of Bar-B-Q, a concert sponsor. Brooks said he heard Williams perform at the new Yankees stadium when it opened in 2009 and has a Williams autograph from spring-training days.
During his 16-year seasons with the N.Y. Yankees, switch-hitting center fielder Williams played for four World Series championships. A .297 career hitter with 287 home runs, Williams won the American League batting crown in 1998 with a .339 average.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Williams said when he arrived in Oneonta in 1987, he was “a little depressed” because he felt the move had been a demotion. But during that season, he said, he raised his switch-hitting skills to levels that contributed to his success.
“It was a very pivotal time for me,” Williams, 44, said.
Nader, former owner of the Oneonta Yankees, said he remembers Williams and followed his baseball career. Williams was an outstanding center fielder, he said, and is a “wonderful person.” Nader said he isn’t familiar with Williams’ musical career but has heard that “he’s pretty good.”
“I’m going to the concert,” Nader said Thursday. “I’m looking forward to renewing my friendship with Bernie, to having a good evening and enjoying his music.”
Williams studied classical guitar at a performing arts high school in Puerto Rico before coming to the United States to pursue baseball.
The self-discipline of practicing a musical instrument is similar to that required to drill skills for playing baseball, Williams said.
“Preparation is keep in both disciplines,” he said. “You have to prepare and be sure you’re ready mentally.”
However, he has found that the relationship with audiences is different.
In a stadium, with thousands of fans watching a game, Williams said he was focused on the game. But on stage performing music requires sharing emotions, being vulnerable and interacting with listeners.
Williams said he plans to share some emotions, experiences and energy in tonight’s concert when he said music will transport him “into a different world.”
He released his his first album, “The Journey Within,” in 2003 while still playing for the Yankees. His second album, “Moving Forward,” released in 2009, was nominated for a Latin Grammy.
Huemac Garcia, executive director of Foothills, said ticket sales have been strong and close to a sell-out is expected. The Foothills theater has about 625 seats.
“His music will be astounding,” Garcia said. Foothills staff was working to arrange a meet-and-greet time before or after the performance, he said.
Williams, who lives in Westchester County, said he has many and varied opportunities as a former baseball player and he advocates for arts and music programs in schools.
“I have made a life after baseball that is very rewarding,” he said. “I’m having a great time.”