LOS ANGELES – The options, whimsically proposed, were baseball star or rock star and while Steven Brault sorted through the proper way to reply while wearing a baseball uniform and drawing a baseball paycheck, his teammate, less encumbered by the optics, blurted, “Rock star.”
And, well, if it was out there anyway …
“Yeah, you have to be a rock star, right?” the Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander said. “You have to be a rock star. Are you kidding me? Being a baseball player, what I am now, is absolutely incredible. Being a star at the level of [Clayton] Kershaw or [Max] Scherzer, one of those guys, would be absolutely awesome. If you’re a rock star, though, you’re well known, you’re traveling all around the world, getting to play all these places in front of all these people, that’s more just letting your passion go. Baseball is showing a skill that has passion along with it. But music is just, ‘Here’s my passion.’
“So, yeah, I would go rock star.”
He grew up in San Diego a baseball fan, a Padres fan, a Tony Gwynn fan, the kind of fan whose dad put him and his brother into an RV 11 years ago and drove them 2,800 miles to Cooperstown to witness Gwynn’s Hall of Fame induction.
So the baseball thing is real.
He grew up in garages and basements making music, in front of alternative rock (and fleeting) bands called Off the Water and Melancholy Felon (“Won a couple battle of the bands, so that was cool,” he said), and in high school auditoriums playing Conrad Birdie and Joe Hardy.
The music thing is real.
And so when he stands behind home plate in a baseball uniform, as he did a couple weeks ago at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, and delivers the national anthem to 14,000 people, when his favorite worlds – his passions – meet again and it seems as though everyone is nervous but him (“I was nervous as hell,” he insisted), the story of Steven Brault is of persistence and timing and sacrifice.
Out of high school, he chose Regis University in Denver, he said, “Because it was the only school that would let me do both.”
He changed into his baseball uniform in his dorm room and walked to the baseball field because there was no clubhouse, only a locker room that was too small for both men and gear. They chose gear.
He sang at a church across the street, in a room the musical performance majors called the “café-torium,” part cafeteria, part auditorium, where the acoustics were lousy but the finger sandwiches weren’t half bad.
He loved it all so much he returns to campus every winter just to walk around and say hello to the people who let him play ball and let him sing, who never said no, who nodded when he prioritized musical performances first, baseball games second and let the practices for each fall where they may. His alarm went off most mornings at 5:30 a.m., and by the time he’d returned to bed he’d worked out and attended classes and sung some more and pitched some and hit some and somehow kept his head up long enough to get his homework done.
That way, you see, if he threw himself at everything, wanted everything, the choice would become clear, almost like it would choose him.
He figured it would be music.
When he was young he’d shared a bedroom with one of his three brothers, Jack. As the youngest, Steven’s bedtime was half-an-hour before Jack’s. Steven liked to sleep with the light on, in a quiet room. Thirty minutes later, Jack would arrive, turn off the light and turn on his music.
“So, basically, I had to be asleep in 30 minutes or I was not going to sleep,” Steven said. “And I would always wake up to this one song in the middle of the night.”
He knew neither the song nor who performed it. Years later, Jack gave Steven a CD.
“I put it on,” Steven said. “And that was the song. ‘Oh my gosh, I know this band.’”
The band was Incubus. The song was “Drive.”
“But lately I am beginning to find,
That I should be the one behind the wheel.”
He auditioned for the choir. He started or joined bands. He won roles in plays. He played baseball, and as a high school senior had a 2.56 ERA and .378 batting average. He went to college, figuring on music and grad school and, why not, four more years of baseball. Two years into Regis, he was on that course, too, when a pitching coach – Ben Buck – told him, “I think we have more in there.” Buck and Brault tore down Brault’s mechanics, rebuilt them, and by the summer before his junior year Brault was throwing in the mid-90s, and by February of his junior year he’d met his first professional scout.
“He said, ‘Heaven forbid you get taken in the 15th round, but would you take it?’” Brault recalled. “I’m like, he thinks I’m going in the 15th round? I had no indications I’m going to get drafted at all at this point. ‘Gosh, this is crazy.’”
In June 2013, he went in the 11th round to the Baltimore Orioles. He left Regis. Traded (in the Travis Snider deal) to the Pirates in early 2015, he made his big-league debut in 2016, and over parts of three seasons has appeared in 44 games, 16 as a starter. He’s won six of them, five this season. His career ERA is 4.81.
And on a Tuesday evening in Pittsburgh, with his teammates smiling on his left and the Milwaukee Brewers peeking with curiosity on his right, he held a microphone in a hand he knew was shaking and reminded himself the mound and the stage remain intractably linked. He was Conrad Birdie once, and Joe Hardy, and he fronted for freakin’ Melancholy Felon and, later, Street Gypsies, and it was all good, better than good, and on top of that he has the stuff to get big-league hitters out. And, thing is, he’s not a baseball star or a rock star yet, which isn’t really the point, not yet, maybe not ever.
“It’s one of the things I kind of get away from, especially when I’m not doing music very often,” he said. “I kind of get away from the fact that the reason I perform is because I love that. I love the intensity of the moment, in that. It’s almost a competition with yourself, right? I think pitching is a lot the same way. Very similar. It’s more of a competition with yourself than competition between you and the hitter. … Really the reason I play baseball is the same reason I perform. I love that competition. So, that is the kind of thing, being a 26-year-old idiot, I lose track of.”
He laughed at that, and you know there’s a spirit about Steven Brault that’s different than most. That, in a world of choices, in a world of ultimatums, in a world of black and white, Steven Brault may just choose … both.
“But lately I am beginning to find
That when I drive myself my light is found
So whatever tomorrow brings
I’ll be there with open arms and open eyes
Whatever tomorrow brings
I’ll be there, I’ll be there.”
So, yeah, here he is. And here’s his passion.
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