Evan Meek: Guitar Hero

A lot of professional baseball players – especially pitchers – play the guitar. Evan Meek is among the best of them. The 31-year-old right-handed reliever takes music nearly as seriously as he does pitching. He’s been playing for two decades and composes his own songs.

Meek, who has a 3.63 ERA over 179 career outings, broke into the big leagues with the Pirates in 2008 and spent this past season with the Orioles. He will always be known for giving up Derek Jeter’s storybook final hit at Yankee Stadium, and he just might write some guitar hits if he chooses to pursue a second career.

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Meek on his pitch repertoire: “I throw a four-seam fastball, but most all of my fastballs cut, so it’s really a cutter. I also throw a slider and a split change-up.

“My usage kind of varies over the course of a year. It’s pretty rare you have success with all three pitches when you’re relieving in short outings. One day the slider shows up and the split doesn’t, or maybe the split shows up and the slider or fastball doesn’t. Not all days are the same.”

On his guitar repertoire: “A lot of what I play depends on my mood. What’s my vibe that day? I use the word ‘vibe’ a lot because it kind of translates to the music I like to play. If I got a lot of sleep and am energetic, I might play something more upbeat. If I’m tired, I might play something slower.

“I’ve played in bands, mostly rock. There have been acoustic sets, basically getting a group of guys together to play. The stuff I do now is mostly with a travel guitar. I do a lot of hotel-room playing. Sometimes I’ll go down to a lobby, or somewhere quiet, to play.”

On pitching and playing: “There are definitely similarities between the two. When you play in a band, there’s a plan – there’s a set – and a way you go about doing things. On the mound it’s the same thing.

“Going in to pitch, there are certain checkpoints when preparing in the bullpen. For me, it’s making sure I can hit down-and-away and getting extension on my pitches. I then get eight warmup pitches on the mound, and throw every one at game speed. It’s my last checkpoint before the action.

“With the guitar, a checkpoint could be as simple as making sure it’s tuned. I’m checking the strings. I’m checking the sound levels and doing warmups with my hands, making sure I’ve done my stuff around the neck. You have to know what you’re going to play, so I’m going over the chords in my head. I’m making sure I’m prepared.

“Every time I play, there’s one thing I like to do – I like to drop E. I go to open-tuning an E. And there’s one song I play every single time. I might dance around it and play other stuff, but I always find myself going back to that one song. It’s familiar; it’s comfortable, I would equate that to throwing my cutter. It’s also comfortable. It’s the pitch I throw more than anything. The other pitches could be other songs, and the song I always come back to is my cutter.”

On his go-to song: It’s just a song I wrote. There are no words, just an open E, and it’s three-and-a-half minutes long. I’ve played it for a couple of guys in the clubhouse. Every time I play it for somebody, I play it the same way. But if I’m sitting by myself, I might play a different note or maybe add or subtract something to try to make it better. I’ll kind of tinker around.

“The song has lots of layers to it. It starts out slow, picks up, slows, picks up, and then goes into a completely different beat, finger-patterns and everything. So it’s fun, and everyone seems to enjoy it.

“Guys will ask me if I can play certain songs, but they always want me to play that one song. It’s funny, too, because the best place to play is in the shower – in a bathroom area – because of the acoustics. It sounds louder and there is natural reverb. It just sounds good.”

On different styles and unplugging: “A lot of people try to play other people’s stuff. You hear a lot of Dave Matthews from guys who like to listen to Dave Matthews. It kind of depends on the person. I’ve known guys who only like to play Pantera, or hardcore rock stuff. Others like to play soft music or are into jazz or flamenco, or Spanish soft guitar. They kind of fall into their own little types of personalities. The guy that likes to play Pantera all the time – his name is Trevor – is a strength guy. He was a strength instructor in Triple-A, and he jams. I’m more subtle acoustic, If you go to a restaurant and hear a nice guitar in the background, that’s kind of my style of play.

“I’m from Seattle, so growing up I actually played a lot of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Dave Matthews. I started out in that whole Seattle grunge, long hair scene. I played some Metallica.

“I eventually started to get annoyed with electric, because you always had to plug in. You couldn’t travel with it, so I started playing acoustic. Acoustic is harder to play than electric. It’s heavier. Your fingers don’t glide as easily; it’s a thicker neck. Electrics are smaller so it’s easier for your wrist. Acoustic is all I play now. I haven’t played an electric guitar in ten years.”

On flamenco and front-door cutters: “A cutter in to a lefty is easy for me, but a (front door) cutter to a righty is a hard pitch for me. I basically have to throw it at the righty’s hip, so if I don’t throw it correctly, I’m going to hit him. It’s a risky pitch, but if you pull it off it’s a really good pitch. I would equate that to flamenco style of play – not particularly one song, but the style. Flamenco is a Spanish style and the hardest style in playing guitar.

“The technique is what makes it difficult. It’s difficult because of the style and the speed of the play – how much your hand is in sync with the other hand, and with the guitar you’re playing with a pick. Flamenco-style players have very long nails and they play like they’re dancing. To be able to hit a string here and here, and correlate it to here, and then in the blink of an eye be up here… you have to be very, very talented and it takes a lot of practice. It’s beautiful music, but very hard to do.

“Controlling the cutter on both sides of the plate is hard to do. There’s really only been one guy that was able to master it, and that was Mariano Rivera. He was the best. He could throw it up, down, left, right, didn’t matter. To me, it was the most beautiful pitch to watch, and he made it look so easy. I could say the same thing about flamenco-style guitarists: They make it look easy, but it’s very hard to do.”

On creativity and consistency: “With pitching, you have limits. You know what your pitches are going to do. It’s not like you’re going to try to get creative with a different slider grip. If you’ve had success with a grip, you’re not going to change it. You’re not going to say, ‘Wow, I’m going to get creative with this.’ If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. That kind of thing.

“Of course, everybody goes through stages where the sinker they’ve been throwing for all these years ain’t sinking, and they don’t know why. Maybe they try to change the grip, but it’s still easier to be creative with a guitar. As baseball players, we’re very protective of our pitches because we spend so much time on one thing. It’s not like I’m going to throw a fastball five times this way, and then this, this and this. We’re going to find a grip and stick to it.

“With guitar, it’s kind of ‘Oh, I like this, but let me try this, now let me add this.’ You have much more flexibility with an instrument. You can build off the notes, the layers – you can take away, you can add. You can do many things with guitar.”

“Think about how often you hear a song on an album – Dave Matthews is a good example — and it’s four minutes long. Then you hear the same song in a live performance and it’s taken to nine minutes. They add in things, making it a drawn-out jam session.”

On playing by ear and evolving: “I’ve played everything by ear my whole life. I can’t read music. That’s like Japanese to me. But anything I listen to, I can play right away. I started playing guitar when I was 10 or 12, and got good when I was maybe 18. That’s when I started to tool around with writing and playing my own stuff. I started flirting with different styles of tuning – open tuning, drop D tuning, slide guitar, and different tapping techniques, arpeggios. I almost never play anyone else’s stuff anymore, just my own.

“I know what I like, and what my roots are, but I’m always open to new things. I enjoy a wide array of music. Very wide. As a matter of fact, it’s ridiculous. Hearing new things is kind of like trying a new food. You might try it and be like, ‘Ugh, I don’t like that,’ but being open is how you learn. You’re kind of finding out who you are. I feel like I’m an ever evolving, changing person.”

On players who play: “Guitar-wise, I’ve played with a lot of people over the years. There’s been a lot of ‘Oh, you play? Let’s sit down and jam a little bit.’

Jeff Locke and I played together a little bit when we were in Triple-A. Phil Irwin, who was with the Pirates, is the only guy I’ve played with who I thought was really, really good. Charlie Morton is phenomenal. He’s a good guitar player and had one of the best voices I’ve heard. That guy can sing. It’s funny – as a rookie, you’ve got to sing. The veteran guys will call you up to the front of the bus and you’ll sing, they’ll boo you, and you’ll sit down. With Charlie, instead of being like ‘You’re terrible!’ it would be quiet.

“I think I can sing a little myself, although others probably don’t. With a little liquid courage in me, I’ll open up a bit.”

On instrumentals and enjoying music: “Going back to that ever-changing thing, it’s never just one thing with me. I mean, I went from listening to grunge to Death Cab for Cutie to Muse. You’ve got this different spectrum. I think the reason I’m like that is, when I’m listening to music I can hear everything going on in the song. Everything. I can single out each instrument.

“I can be hearing a song and the only thing I’m listening to is the awesome piano riff in the background. Or maybe it’s the sweet guitar solo, or the drums. I mean, there’s a band out there, Tool – they’re a heavy rock band – that has the most unbelievable melodies with the guitar and the drums, where they’re synced. I haven’t heard any other band really do it. They’re amazing. Muse – they’re the most-talented group with putting different melodies you’ve never heard before together.

“It’s funny, the last thing I listen to in a song is the damn lyrics. If you were to ask me what a song is about, I’d have no clue. I’d have no idea. But I would know what was going on with the music.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Geddy Lee
7 years ago

Evan Meek shall inherit the earth……