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TO THE EXTREME, ROCK A BAT LIKE A VANDAL

I'm not gonna lie: When I heard Vanilla Ice was coming to Tropicana Field for the Rays Summer Concert Series, one memory popped into my mind.

The year was 1999, and MTV was counting down the 25 lamest videos of all time. Comics Chris Kattan, Janeane Garofalo, Denis Leary and a pre-Daily Show Jon Stewart were there to dish out some snark. And when they reached the nadir, the No. 1 worst video of all time - Ice Ice Baby - Vanilla Ice himself came out to destroy the master tape with a baseball bat.

It was supposed to be a fun-loving, self-deprecating cameo. But as the group dissected the cheesy 1991 clip, the comics egged Ice on, pushing the rapper, well, to the extreme. And at some point, Ice snapped. He grabbed the bat and went full Ninja Rap on the crew, demolishing the set with a swing that would make Carlos Pena proud.

"No, Vanilla!" whimpered a clearly terrified Kattan. Priceless.

Today, the man born Rob Van Winkle is happy to break down his swing that day.

"I can swing a bat, sure," Ice laughed Wednesday during a chat with reporters to promote his concert Friday at the Trop. "I just went in there with a bat, and they tried to throw me in there to all these comedians like a piece of meat, so to speak, so they could humiliate me and have their way with me. And I turned it around on all of them and stole the show. Everyone was confused, and they kicked me right out on my butt for that, but even the security guard said, 'Man, I gotta do my job, you gotta go, but god, that was awesome!'"

It's good to hear Vanilla Ice talk this way. All that rage, the tattooed nu-metal persona he developed in the late '90s - none of it suited him. At 42, Van Winkle finally seems willing to embrace the goofy, Zubaz-wearing, Queen-biting white boy act that made him a superstar in the first place.

"I love taking it back to the old school," Ice said. "Back with Ice Ice Baby, everybody remembers where they were at, who they were dating, if they had zigzags in their hair, or Z. Cavaricci pants on, subwoofers in their car. Just good memories, good times. I'm excited about that. I'll play Ice Ice Baby for sure."

Van Winkle's willingness to embrace the Ice of old is paying dividends. This year, Irish pop duo Jedward scored a No. 1 hit with mashup Under Pressure, featuring vocals by Vanilla Ice. As a result, he's been invited to perform at a handful of music festivals, including the vaunted Glastonbury Festival in England.

"It's kind of unexpected to me as well," he said. "Stevie Wonder was on there, U2 was on there, a ton of acts were on there. There were 200,000 people, and it was amazing. It was next to Stonehenge, one of the seven world wonders. I'm still kind of pinching myself, it was so surreal. I'm like, 'This is awesome.'"

After he throws out the first pitch and performs Friday, Ice will head home to South Florida. He's filming a reality show for DIY Network about rehabbing and flipping one of his mansions, titled VIP: The Vanilla Ice Project.

If he needs to tear down some drywall, we're sure the Rays can lend him a bat.

* * *

Vanilla Ice

The rapper performs after the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians game Friday night at Tropicana Field. First pitch is 7:05 p.m. Free with game ticket. (888) 326-7297, rays.mlb.com.

- cridlin@tampabay.com

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