Bronson Arroyo pitched 17 seasons in the major leagues. Over the course of his career, he racked up 148 regular-season victories and earned a World Series ring with the 2004 Boston Red Sox. But even as he racked up the wins in baseball he was also pursuing another passion of playing music on his guitar.
Bronson Arroyo and The ‘04 released an album of original songs, Some Might Say, in February. The retired pitcher is proving that athletes can be serious musicians, too.
As we celebrate the opening of the 2023 MLB Season this week, we caught up with the former Reds all-star at Innings Festival where baseball and rock music come together to discuss the album, his favorite spots in Cincinnati and Boston, why he had to stop playing guitar for a while and surprisingly, his favorite sandwich to have in his gig bag.
Best 2004 Red Sox story?
Best story. That’s hard to do. I mean, everybody saw what we did on TV, but I think, you know, probably honestly, being down three games to one, we’re in Yankee Stadium. Kevin Millar finds a half a bottle of whiskey sitting on the table and he’s calling over our guy, Dave McCarty, who is like a Yale graduate or something. And he’s like, “Hey, nerd, come here.” He’s like, you’re not playing tonight. Get a shot of this whiskey, man. And then he started going down the line with guys in the bullpen, and next thing you know, there’s like 12 guys on the team who’ve taken a shot and we win. And then the next night, it’s like, hey, boys, we’re getting another shot. And we kept doing that through the World Series every single night. So, the next 6 or 7 games, it was a shot of whiskey before the game.
You had ten home runs in your career? Any standout ones?
Yeah. 2006, first start of the season. Glendon Rusch on the mound. Lefty 0-2 Fastball. I hit it out of the park in Great American Ballpark. And I was like, okay, cool, I hit a homer. Five days later, we play against the Cubs in Wrigley, wind’s blowing out, which is rare for April and another 0-2 count. I hit it out of the stadium onto Waveland Avenue. And you know when you get one good, but also, I knew the wind was blowing out. So, there’s no way it was staying in the park. And, you know, it’s one of those magic moments you think about as a kid. It never gets any better than that.
At Wrigley especially.
How do you feel about the new pitch clock rules?
I think it’s good. You know, the more that I think about the rule changes in the game, the more I’m getting excited about it. I know change is hard for people and a lot of times they complain about it, but I’m feeling like they’re building some tension in the game that I haven’t felt in a long time.
There’s a lot of swing and misses, right? There’s a lot of guys throwing the nastiest pitches you can, guys pitching five innings and being out of the game. Now, pick the pace up a little bit, force the infield to stay on the grass. There’s going to be a little bit more hits. You can only pick off the first base twice, so there’s a little bit more kind of tension I think that they’re building inside the game with this kind of strategy. I think I’m going to enjoy it.
You were recently elected to the Reds Hall of Fame. What did that mean to you?
Oh, man. I’m going to be the 91st person ever inducted in that thing. It’s like it’s Johnny Bench, it’s Pete Rose, it’s Joe Morgan, it’s Ken Griffey, Sr. It’s guys that not only have I been friends with over the last 15 years, but, these guys are legends.
This is like, you know, being on stage with Bob Dylan, right? And I’m in the house now with these guys, going to have my face immortalized there. For the next 100 generations to walk in the Reds Museum and see that is something out of this world. You never think about that as a player. You think about achieving the back of your baseball card, winning baseball games, but you never think about what’s going to happen afterwards. And it’s pretty cool icing on top of the cake.
Do you still live in Cincinnati?
I do as well and I spend a lot of time working in Boston, so my first question is are there any hidden travel gems in either of those cities you’d recommend?
Well, my buddy Chad Perrone, singer-songwriter out of Boston, has taken me to a Japanese sushi spot called Oishii a couple of times. It is A-plus, A-plus, sushi. I mean, it’s almost like a show. You need to take some friends there and it’s going to cost you a pretty penny, but man, it’s rockstar.
In Cincinnati, I usually have somebody cooking for me every day, but Jeff Ruby is always a mainstay for a good steak, if you want to catch one of his four or five spots in Cincy.
Anywhere to go out?
Back in the day, I used to love Mount Adams. That’s really a great spot. I think, you know, if you want to get that low-key vibe in the winter time and go inside, go up on Mount Adams to The Blind Lemon. They say Janis Joplin was there. It’s like a cool, little underground kind of place. It’s got a courtyard where you’ll have an acoustic player in the summertime, but then in the winter time, you go inside and it’s got low ceilings and there’s just cool stuff hanging everywhere. It’s very eclectic and you get a hot toddy and somebody’s playing singer songwriter songs. It’s a cool vibe.
Do you ever play music in Cincinnati?
I do. I’ve got a cover band there and we play everything from the Beatles to Nirvana to Pearl Jam to Stone Temple Pilots and Tom Petty. We play probably 15 times a year. A lot of times it’s smaller, little kind of like charity festivals where you’ve got four or five bands playing. But I’m there, you know, 200 days a year, and we play consistently at least. It’s the Bronson Arroyo Band.
When did you first start playing guitar or having interest in it?
I was 22. I was in Double-A with the Pittsburgh Pirates in a little town called Altoona, Pennsylvania. Somebody handed me an acoustic guitar and I had been kind of dabbling, singing a little bit of karaoke once in a blue moon and being like, oh, I think I sound in key, you know? And then once I got the guitar, it was almost like a magic trick to make the sounds come out of your own fingers. It was like, whoa. I got addicted to it in a hard way.
Didn’t they make you stop playing guitar at one point when you got carpal tunnel syndrome?
Yeah. So, that was Theo Epstein and it wasn’t so much the carpal tunnel. I went up to Portland, Maine on an off-day for the Red Sox and I had an acoustic guitar on the stage with my buddy Elan Trotman, a jazz saxophone player, and about 5000 people showed up. Theo saw that on TV and he was like, if you pitch badly next time, people are going to say that it’s because of the music. So, he wanted me to slow it down a little bit.
You played with Pearl Jam, one of my favorites, at Fenway. That park is really special for both baseball and music. How did that come about? And do you have any other dream collaborations?
You know, that came about from just slowly becoming friends with Eddie Vedder since 2010 and going to Pearl Jam shows, he’s a baseball fan. We have good chats about me beating up on his Cubs for a lot of years. I won three or four games against the Cubs a year, and he would call me and say, you know, I was rooting for the Cubs, but I was rooting for you as well and you did a hell of a job.
After becoming friends with him, we jumped up on the stage a few times and the first time he called me out of the crowd he didn’t have any idea if I could really pull a song off. Letting me play guitar with him, the four or five times I’ve gotten a chance to do it, it’s so special. It’s like Bruce Springsteen asking you to come up and you’re standing in a place.
Doing that in Fenway Park, I could see the moon literally glowing off the tarp they had on the mound and I thought, I won a World Series here, and now I’m standing on the stage playing my favorite song of all time, “Black”.
The crowd has got 40,000 phones out with the lights on. I’m singing the backup vocals with Eddie Vedder. It’s like stuff that you just pinch yourself and never think you’re going to be there. One time I asked Eddie, I said, “Don’t you ever find that funny being in those types of positions?” And he said, “Yeah, but we earned this shit, didn’t we?” And I said, okay, I guess you did.
Are there any bands you’ve recently gotten into?
The Revivalists. I’ve just recently been turned on to them. I’m not a real historian of music; I have to stumble across it almost like when you were a kid. I don’t go looking for it because I’m so busy all the time.
But, you know, I’ve watched them live a couple of times on YouTube over the last month and that kind of slow-building energy where people feel like they’re there and they’re present in your performance and want to sing it back to you is not easy to do. It’s really, really nice to watch it.
What’s your favorite song to play off the new EP and why?
Well, you know, honestly, people say all the time that it’s really hard to choose and it is. You feel good about most of the songs. I would say “Never Let You Go” is just so pretty and so touching that it feels really, really nice to sing all the time and plus it’s kind of a change from the rest of the record, which is pretty ripping.
“Guerrilla Warfare” as well. It’s just got so much energy in it. It’s a story about me being in Cuba writing that song and finding where my father’s family was living in the early 50s before Castro took over and seeing their baptism records at the church up on this hill. It’s so personal to me that it feels amazing as well.
Have you been to Cuba many times?
I’ve been just that one time in 2018. I walked up to this church in a place called Jesus del Monte and this lady typed out baptism records of my father and my uncle and every person I’ve ever known on that side of my family was on that paper and witnessed it. It was like, whoa, my DNA has been right here in this space, many, many years ago. That was pretty cool.
I’ve been to Cuba three times. It’s a magical place.
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It’s such a time capsule. You don’t get to feel that anywhere else in the world.
What’s your perfect vacation?
Oh, the perfect vacation for me is laying low with my wife in Cabo at a place called the Pedregal. You go through this tunnel on the side of the mountain for about 150 yards, you pop out the other side and, man, if you drop a spoon on the ground, they pick it up quick.
The food’s amazing and it’s just so relaxed. Everybody’s just reading a book. It’s one of the few times that I get to turn my brain off and I want to turn my phone off and just kind of lay low and enjoy myself.
Must pack items for travel?
I like a good pair of shoes and a toothbrush.
That’s probably my top two. Well, I mean, I love a great jacket. I always pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If you look in my music bag on stage, there’s one in there right now. You always gotta have one of those because if you’re feeling down or you’re bad or you’re hungry or you need to survive for three days. That peanut butter and jelly sandwich is there.
An emergency PB and J sandwich.
Absolutely. Sometimes they’re three or four days old and I’ll still eat them.
Do you like Uncrustables?
No, it feels too. It feels too McDonald’s-y, to be honest with you. It feels too cheap and too junky. I want to make my sandwich. I want peanut butter on both sides. That way it doesn’t leak, making the bread all soggy. If it’s there for a few days, it’s still rockstar.
So now we have the perfect PB and J recipe.