04/03/2008 2:24 PM ET
Toops puts down the bat for a guitar
Ex-Cardinal hits the road to support new album
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
The greatest baseball moment in the life of Brady Toops came in the 2004 NCAA regionals when the left-handed-hitting catcher for the University of Arkansas extended the Razorbacks' season with a two-out, two-runs-down grand slam in the ninth inning to beat Wichita State.
Almost 4 years later, he's trying to hit another one out of the park, but it's a much different ballgame.
Toops, who was selected in the 10th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals and played a few seasons in the Minor Leagues, finally gave up on baseball and dedicated his life to two other callings: music and his Christian faith.
Now he's driving around the country with an acoustic guitar, a box of his self-produced, debut CD, Only You, and his dreams. He plays gigs, speaks to youth groups and wonders where it all will take him.
"Music has been my passion ever since I was little, but baseball was always at the forefront because it's what I did and kept succeeding at," says Toops, 26. "I was always of the mindset that I'm going to play until they kicked me off the field."
Toops said he began singing as a child, whether in church or at home or in his parents' car when the radio was on. He participated in a choir at his school and with different ensemble groups. He first picked up a guitar in 2001, his freshman year at Arkansas.
"I learned from friends, taught myself the chords, and started writing songs maybe a year later," he says. "I just began to explore that whole arena, and it was a real escape for me from baseball. Especially being a catcher in the SEC on a competitive team, there's a lot of pressure and stress. The way I would get out of that was to pick up a guitar and jam for a while."
Once Toops decided last year to no longer pursue baseball, he said he pondered what to do with his life and came to the conclusion that, "Music is what I want to do if I can find a way to make a living at it."
He traveled for a while and played small gigs before coming home and telling his parents that he needed "a five-month plan."
That plan included finishing up the three credits he had left for his degree in marketing management -- he wrote a 40-page, single-spaced thesis paper to accomplish that goal last November -- and making a CD.
courtesy Brady Toops
Soon enough, by the winter, Only You was complete, with everything from production, engineering, mixing, mastering and album art having been coordinated and funded by Toops.
The result is a clean collection of seven acoustic, gentle, heartfelt and melodic songs that have won the Minnesota native fans across the Midwest as he travels around selling them at gigs.
"Graduating college gave me the freedom to lie and explore the life of a musician and playing," Toops says. "Since then, I've been booking all sorts of places to play in the last three months: coffee shops, churches, retreats, Bible camps, private Christmas parties. You name it, I've played there."
And through word of mouth, his two Web sites - www.bradytoops.com and www.myspace.com/bradytoops -- and getting his album in iTunes, Toops says he's managed to "break even" on his touring so far.
"In baseball, I played a lot before thousands of people," Toops says. "In music you're before people, too, and you have to learn how to handle yourself, play at a top level and perform. It's been a fun transition."
Toops says he's mostly influenced by artists "who are real and authentic in songwriting and unafraid to be passionate or wear their emotions in their songs."
That has led him to Christian singers Anthony Skinner and John Mark McMillan as well as secular artists Damien Rice, Ben Harper and Ray Lamontagne.
"I love listening to all types of music, from secular to Christian," Toops says. "Everything influences me in a different way and helps me find ways to say things lyrically and find new sounds. I look for something that's real, that has some sort of passion in it, something that affects the soul."
Toops says he can't predict how his music career will end up but he's enjoying the ride while it goes on.
"If I can do what I love and get paid for it, that's a dream come true," Toops says.
"Right now, it's working."
Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for MLB.com/Entertainment. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.