KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Bernie Williams, the noted jazz guitarist whose most recent CD was titled “Moving Forward,” stood Sunday afternoon before a baseball dugout, a setting from his youth. Forty-three years old, he was in a baseball uniform, the flag of Puerto Rico on his chest, and surrounded by young men not half his age, moving backward for a day.
That’s OK, though. His first CD was “The Journey Within,” more appropriate given his surroundings two days before the All-Star game at Kauffman Stadium, and given the places he’s gone in order to reconnect.
Among the more endearing and decorated players of his generation, Williams, a five-time All-Star and one-time Latin Grammy nominee, managed the World team in the Futures Game on Sunday.
True to Bernie, he had little notion of how he got there, what he was supposed to do once there, or what would come afterward. So, he generally did the stuff he thought seemed managerial, such as leaning against the batting cage, encouraging the boys to play hard, and chatting up the press in English and Spanish.
“I have no idea how this came about,” he said with a grin. “Second point, I have no idea what I’m doing here.”
His entire experience as a manager consisted of a couple end-season games with the New York Yankees. That’s when Joe Torre would hand the team to one of his veterans, the equivalent of a dad having his teenaged son up-shift the Karmann Ghia for a couple spins around the block.
Somebody from baseball had called, and Bernie said, “Cool. Let’s do it,” and a manager-for-a-day was born.
When it was suggested we assumed he’d had other plans with his life after baseball, beyond, you know, the occasional Old Timers’ game and ceremonial wave, he burst into laughter.
“And I do!” he shouted. “I do! I do have another life out there! I got sucked into it!”
So, the pregame whirled around him, names and credentials of players familiar in places but not many. Instead, he introduced himself, then slyly snuck glances at the backs of jerseys as they passed, watched the ball carry during batting practice, and waited for the game to start.
“I do feel a lot of admiration for the managers,” Williams said. “I’m glad this is just one game.”
He’d seem to have plenty to do with himself outside the game, one that wouldn’t involve eight months of travel, eight months of headaches and all that time away from his guitar. The minor leagues are out there. He laughed at the idea that he might pursue a job like this full-time, given, he said, the “political” maneuvering to get one, “and then the staying” in the job, which might actually be more strain.
Instead, he seemed content to simply hang around for a couple days, represent Puerto Rico, say hello to some old friends and introduce himself to new ones. The ballpark always was a cooler place with Bernie Williams in it, and it was again Sunday, no matter why he was there, or where he was going from there, or whether he was moving forward or back.
And yet, a few hours later, in the manager’s chair, he did seem kind of, I don’t know, managerial.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I kind of like the atmosphere, doing this. … I think it is something I could maybe possibly in the future possibly [see] doing. It’s kind of intriguing at this point for me.”
And this was after a 17-5 loss.
“After this game,” he said, “I might have to reconsider.”
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