Has there ever been a singer better suited to play a postgame gig at the Trop than Darius "Call Me Hootie and I'll Cut You" Rucker? After all, he's a rabid sports nut, has gobs of sing-along hits and, just like your Tampa Bay Rays, is one of the great back-from-the-dead reclamation projects of the 21st century.
Rucker, who will play a full set after the Rays take on the Orioles on Saturday, is also a heck of a nice guy; in fact, I'm 96-percent certain he'd never cut anyone. He deserves his feel-good storyline. After skyrocketing to fame with Hootie and the Blowfish in the 1990s - charting with such radio liteness as Hold My Hand and Only Wanna Be With You - his career did the ol' tankola.
So the South Carolina native took a wild creative chance - a black man in Nashville?! - and it paid off. He's now killing it on the country scene, the first African-American since Charley Pride to light up Music Row with No. 1 (Don't Think I Don't Think About It) after No. 1 (It Won't Be Like This for Long) and on and on.
During an early-morning conference call this week, the 44-year-old with that unmistakably soulful croon talked Yankee hatin', comebacks and why country fans are better than pop fans:
First of all, Darius, no self-respecting rock star would ever schedule an interview for 9:10 a.m. on a Tuesday. What's up with that?
(laughs) I'm a rock star with three kids! I'm a dad. I've been up for two hours.
We know you dig football - but what about hardball?
I'm a huge fan. I like baseball. And I like the Rays. I like anyone who's in the same division as the Yankees. I'm a Yankee hater.
What's more rewarding: killing it in the pop world or killing it in the country one?
This one. (laughs) I'm remembering it! I'm not in the middle of the party like I was with the last one. I'm older, wiser. ... I really didn't expect this. When I told my manager I wanted to make a country record, I didn't even think I'd get a record deal.
What's the main difference between country-music fans and pop-music fans?
Country fans and the artists that they love, they feel like you're their best friend. And I love that. I'm a people person. Country fans are loyal. Pop fans and pop radio are always looking for the next big thing.
Now that you're big in Nashville, are you a Titans fan? In other words: Do the Dolphins no longer make you cry?
No, no! I'm still a Dolphins fan. I still got the tattoo!
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The singer will perform after Saturday's Rays-Orioles game at Tropicana Field. First pitch is at 4:10 p.m. Concert is included with game ticket. For more information, go to raysbaseball.com or call 888-FAN-RAYS.