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Rays fan and Yankee hater Darius Rucker brings country vibe to tonight's concert.

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 today, 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 story line. After skyrocketing to fame with Hootie & 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?

(Laughing) I'm a rock star with three kids! I'm a dad. I've been up for two hours.

We know you dig football - you even filmed a music video with your hero Dan Marino - 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!

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.

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If you go

Darius Rucker

The singer will perform after today's Rays-Orioles game. First pitch is at 4:10 p.m. Concert is included with game ticket. For information, go to raysbaseball.com or call toll-free 1-888-326-7297.

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