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03/16/12 7:06 PM ET
Arroyo channels Vedder at Woodjock fest
Pitcher, band perform four-song set of Pearl Jam classics
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- In the fine tradition of most musicians, Bronson Arroyo arrived stylishly late on Thursday night, 10 minutes before his scheduled 10 p.m. set. He wore a faded tan suede jacket, white T-shirt with a hand imprinted on it, and a pair of well-tattered blue jeans sporting holes around the left pocket and knee.
Twenty minutes later he was on stage, joining his hard rock band with no name, which turned up the temperature by wailing Pearl Jam numbers. Arroyo sang the vocals and sounded so much like Eddie Vedder you might have thought the real band was in the front room of Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill. The rest of his group cooked.
It was certainly a much different side of Arroyo, the right-hander who makes his living starting for the Reds. To say the four-song set was the highlight of this year's Woodjock fest would be an understatement.
"I only get to play with these guys once or twice a year," said Arroyo, autographing baseballs in a private lounge area later. "They're all New England boys. They love the Red Sox, and that's where I met them years ago. It's great to do something like this, but it's really nice when you have your own guys."
The guys are professional musicians: two guitarists, an electric bass player and a drummer. They arrived in Phoenix almost on cue from Los Angeles mid-Thursday afternoon. Arroyo picked them up at the airport, and after some quality hanging out and a good dinner they arrived just on time to join the fest.
For those Pearl Jam aficionados, the set list included "Oceans," "Even Flow," "Alive" and "Given to Fly."
"They're my favorite group of all time," Arroyo said.
Truth be told, there was some concern among the promoters as the clock ticked toward Bronson's appointed hour.
"We were at dinner for two hours," Arroyo said. "The restaurant took forever."
But it was well worth the wait.
"It's always fun, man," said Arroyo, who grew up in the early 1990s digging Pearl Jam. "Honestly, it's great to do that in a fun atmosphere, especially with my friends. The only thing that compares with that is going out there and throwing a good game on the mound, man. There's nothing else in the world that makes me happier."
What makes him more happy?
"I've got to go with the baseball, but it's a different feel, man," he said. "This is fun in a different way, because I feel like I'm playing for the people who are watching. Baseball, I feel like I'm playing for me and my teammates. It's a little different."
Arroyo didn't play on Thursday night, choosing to shun the guitar, which he also loves. A few years ago he developed carpal tunnel syndrome in his pitching and pickin' hand. The more he strums a guitar, with or without pick, the more sensitive his fingers become.
Numbness in the fingers of the right hand is not the greatest idea for someone who makes his living twirling a baseball. Arroyo is in the second year of a three-year $35 million contract extension. Something had to give, and it wasn't going to be pitching. Even Arroyo admits he does these concert gigs as a lark.
"This time of year it's hard for me to play and write," he said. "Holding a pick and a pen for years and years has made my fingers go numb. Once the season gets going it's hard for me to throw a breaking ball, and it's hard for me to have command. I can play without [the pick]. I don't know what it is, but over the years it's not as bad, but it still does something to me. I feel like I have a tourniquet on my arm. It's weird, man."
It hasn't really affected Arroyo's control yet, as his two walks per every nine innings pitched last year attests. His WHIP of 1.37 was built largely on allowing 10.3 hits every nine innings pitched. That obviously was a contributing factor to his 9-12 record and 5.07 ERA. He came out of last Spring Training dealing with a bout of Valley Fever. It's all something to be concerned about.
At 35, Arroyo knows he's at his peak as a young male adult, but just growing older as an athlete. So concessions must be made. Thus, no guitar. But even he thought his voice was challenged on Thursday night.
"I'm totally out shape, you can hear how raspy I am. I don't sing enough," he said.
Sadly, Arroyo's spring concert season is over. And the numbness in his hand doesn't stop him from pitching or signing autographs. On Saturday, reality will set in and he'll be back on the mound.