03/16/12 10:00 AM ET
Players, artists team up for second Woodjock
By AJ Cassavell / Special to MLB.com
The country music star doesn't have the bat speed or the fastball velocity to make it to the big leagues, but for one night, he was happy to share the stage with ballplayers.
Nichols headlined Thursday night's "Woodjock," a clash of baseball and music at Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill in Mesa, Ariz., with proceeds going to the Arizona RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program.
On the baseball side of things, Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo, former Indians infielder Ben Broussard, retired umpire Ed Montague and Spinks Award winner and MLB.com columnist Peter Gammons performed before an audience of fellow ballplayers, baseball fans and music fans.
"When you see athletes get on stage, they don't look nearly as bad as musicians getting out on a field and trying to throw a baseball," Nichols said, noting the talent of the ballplayers who performed Thursday. "But I'm glad to be on the opposite end of that, I'm glad they let me come out here and play a little music with them, and it's a great chance for me to get out here and meet some of the guys I admire."
The event was emceed by former All-Star third baseman Matt Williams, and a few hundred fans packed the venue.
Those in attendance got to see a variety of music, from country (Nichols) to blues (Gammons) to grunge (Arroyo).
"For me, I was right at home," said Arroyo, whose band played a set of four Pearl Jam songs. "I've been doing this kind of stuff since '04-05. It's always fun, especially when you can use your talents in other areas to raise some money for RBI with some people, and that's awesome."
Arroyo, a guitarist, didn't play any instruments, opting instead to save his fingers for pitching. But he did take on the role of Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder, singing -- and even imitating -- most of Vedder's signiture stage moves.
The event was the second edition of Woodjock. The first came in 2010, when White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy hosted the event with proceeds going to the Jake Peavy Foundation to benefit several charities.
Williams, like Arroyo, was on hand for the first Woodjock, and Thursday he took on the task of running the show.
"Every athlete wants to be a movie star, a rock star, a country star, or all of the above," Williams said. "And singers seem to want to be athletes. So we're combining both of them tonight and raising a little money."
Williams praised the efforts of RBI, whose mission is to increase interest and participation in baseball and softball among inner-city youth.
"RBI is one of Major League Baseball's premier endeavors," Williams said. "It goes well beyond baseball. We're going to raise money for kids and their families with household incomes under $12,000. [The program] can mentor [kids] and provide them a space to play sports, and mentor through sports, especially baseball. "
Montague fondly recalled the phrase his father had reminded him of constantly: "The best thing you can do for a kid is put a ball in their hand."
It was Montague's first time playing in front of a big crowd. Prior to the event, Williams suggested he was certain Montague would receive cheers, but a light-hearted Montague had other ideas.
"Maybe if they boo, I'll recognize that better," the former umpire joked.
Broussard used to take his guitar on road trips, making sure there was always room for it on the team plane. He said he often was ribbed by teammates, but without the music, Broussard was not sure he could have handled some of the pressure of a baseball season.
Broussard remembered a time specifically when he was facing Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning, that he simply stepped out of the box and hummed a tune to himself in order to calm down.
"Music was my constant and my peace," said Broussard, who has recorded two albums. "That was what kept me sane. I think I would have gone crazy, because you stress out playing baseball."
Thursday was a special night for Broussard, who said he still feels like a part of the game even though he hasn't played since 2008. Events like Woodjock are why he sticks around.
"It's about raising money and helping these kids, and helping them love baseball," Broussard said. "And the good part is, I get to have fun and sleep in tomorrow, and these guys are up for their 8 a.m. stretching and running."
AJ Cassavell is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.