John Fogerty couldn't hit. Couldn't pitch a lick, either. As for his position on the diamond: "I played left out!" But the Berkeley boy could holler, and he could pick a mean guitar, and in 1985 the former benchwarmer/current rock king took all the things he loved about baseball and merged 'em with all the things he knew about music: Centerfield.
On Saturday, the 64-year-old will play that life-affirming hit — as well as his chooglin' arsenal of Creedence Clearwater Revival classics — on the swamp-green Tropicana Field turf after the Rays host the Jays. He's the best catch yet for the Summer Concert Series. Fogerty is excited, too: "I've never actually played after a baseball game before."
In anticipation of his local gig — and eager to gab about his beloved boys of summer — Fogerty chatted up a few local writers about dissing Jose Canseco, loving those Rays and owning a Louisville Slugger guitar:
John, I'm totally obsessed with your baseball bat guitar. What's the story behind that?
I thought it'd be really cool to have a special way to present Centerfield. I've had a couple of custom guitars made by a guy up in Santa Barbara. His name is Philip Kubicki; he worked for a long time at Fender. I asked him one day about making a baseball bat guitar. He loved the idea. He had to figure out how to conceal the tuners and make it look real. One of the more interesting things is that it's got the real Louisville Slugger stamp on it. He actually contacted Bradsby & Hillerich — or is it the other way around? — and used their stamp on the guitar.
Twenty-five years after Centerfield, are you still enamored with the game of baseball?
I follow the game a lot. Although I must say, because rosters change so much, you tend to not have them as firmly implanted in your head as, let's say, 20 years ago, or when I was a child. You knew everybody's position, number, batting average and, of course, if they were left- or right-handed. Now, when you know things are going to change, it doesn't stick like glue in your mind from year to year.
Can you tell us a little about the writing of Centerfield?
The first book I can remember reading was called Lou Gehrig: Boy of the Sand Lots. I think I was in the third grade. I actually have a copy of it now, although it isn't the one that I checked out of my school library. I got it in my mind when I was going to make (the album Centerfield) that it was a comeback of sorts and decided, well, What is really important to you? I have always felt my whole life that springtime and spring training is the most hopeful time. It's almost a metaphor for life. Everything is brand new, you're going to start all over. Everybody is in first place on Opening Day. So I tried to get that sense of hopefulness, almost like a motivational speaker.
Who's your favorite team? You'll pull for the Rays when you're here, right?
My personal team is the Oakland A's, because I grew up in the Bay area. … When Tampa was in the World Series, I was pulling for them because it was such a Cinderella kind of story. We love underdogs and that sort of thing. When my favorite players get traded to a different team, a little piece of me goes with them.
Did you play baseball growing up? If so, what position?
In the late '80s, I was with the A's sitting in the dugout. I think it was spring training. I mentioned to a writer that (as a kid) they always put me in right field because I was the weakest guy. I heard somebody say, 'Uh-oh, don't say that around Canseco!' And it was that same year Jose Canseco got traded and had a fly bounce off of his head! I felt very sheepish about the whole thing until I saw that video, then I felt a bit vindicated. … I have four brothers, and there was always a bunch of kids around my neighborhood. We didn't have video games, skateboards, all the other stuff. Baseball was much more center stage in my mind. I even tried my hand at switch-hitting every now and then. I was probably a legend in my own mind.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blogs is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.