Bolton also has hits on the softball field

December 12, 1993|By Roger Catlin | Roger Catlin,Hartford Courant

His latest album, "The One Thing," is Michael Bolton's fourth consecutive album in the Top 3, including the past two, both of which made it to No. 1, selling a combined 18 million worldwide.

Yet the new home video from the two-time Grammy winner has nothing to do with music. It's about softball.

And after scheduling scores of charity softball games in conjunction with past concert tours, Mr. Bolton is spending his winter months dreaming of another summer campaign -- on the ball fields.

"I want to play 100 games," Mr. Bolton says from London.

Oh, there will be some concerts fit in there, too.

But to hear him tell it, it's almost as if the shows are something he and his band do to occupy their evenings, to pay for their trips.

"I'm in deep, I admit it," says Mr. Bolton, who, at 40, is reliving his youth by playing softball.

"I played Little League for five years in New Haven [Conn.] when I was growing up. But when things go well for you in music, you don't have time for that anymore. You pass baseball fields all throughout Connecticut, and you wonder why those guys now have time on weekends to play ball and you don't anymore."

When he found out that half his band, and some of his road crew, also loved softball, "We put together these challenges, and they became very serious softball games against radio stations and league teams."

With proceeds going to charities, it was a situation where everyone won -- but especially the Bolton Bombers, for whom the softball equipment on the plane became as important as guitars and microphones.

They even enlisted softball legend Dave Carroll as batting coach, whose straightforward advice makes up most of the instructional video, "Michael Bolton's Winning Softball: Hit Harder, Play Smarter," just released on Sony Music Video.

And no, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Mr. Bolton's concerts, which rank among the top moneymakers annually, are to be scheduled around the games.

"It sounds sick, but believe me, we've done it," says Mr. Bolton with a chuckle.

"There's a field we found we fell in love with in Indianapolis, and we got rained out in the middle of the game. We wanted to go back there so badly, we booked a show there last year, in a very short tour with just a few dates; we threw in a show in Indianapolis so we could challenge the team again and finish the game. Is that sick? That's sick.

"This year, we scheduled a double-header -- and we didn't have a concert scheduled there."

With an overall record, in three years, of 76-5 (Mr. Bolton is obsessed enough to keep track), the Bolton Bombers even have their own tour sponsor, Louisville Slugger, the bat maker.

Next summer, Mr. Bolton hopes to up the ante, not by meeting up with the usual ragtag disc jockey teams across the nation but by issuing challenges to each state's top slow-pitch team. "Next year, we're going to take it to the next level."

Mr. Bolton loves to tell of the game in Chicago's Comiskey Park, opposite a team organized by Michael Jordan that had Magic Johnson, Evander Holyfield and all manner of Chicago Bears.

"He had a bunch of big jocks in the game, and they figured that we were going to be a bunch of long-haired musicians climbing off the bus," Mr. Bolton recalls with pride. "And we beat them 7-1, in front of 15,000 people. So now they're taking us much more seriously."

Proceeds for that went to the Michael Jordan Foundation, but Mr. Bolton is just as proud of the celebrity softball game in Stamford, Conn., in September that was the kickoff for the Michael Bolton Foundation, which helps women and children at risk.

"The foundation itself deals mostly with women and children in Connecticut, who are at risk primarily because of poverty and neglect," says Mr. Bolton, who lives in Westport. "But we also spill over into some national organizations that help kids, including a commitment I have on an ongoing basis to try to create an opportunity for African-American children to pursue their dreams in the arts."

That aim dates back to his own "appreciation and gratitude to my early influences, who are the great black writers and singers who I grew up listening to."

Among Mr. Bolton's string of hits have been his top-selling versions of the soul hits "Georgia on My Mind," "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," and "When a Man Loves a Woman," for which he won a second Grammy.

Without such role models as Ray Charles, Otis Redding or Percy Sledge, respectively, "I know that success would have not been as great as it was -- if at all," Mr. Bolton says. Except for a song by Bill Withers, Mr. Bolton sticks mostly to his own material on his new album, "The One Thing," most tracks of which were recorded in his home studio.

Although there is no shortage of the kind of full-throated balladry that has earned him huge female audiences, exemplified by the current hit single "Said I Loved You, But I Lied," Mr. Bolton also returns to other Connecticut roots by recording a crunching rocker.

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