Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Talkin' baseball with Rush's Geddy Lee
By John Broder Special to Page 2
Geddy Lee, the bass player and lead singer of Rush who also stars in the current ESPN Fantasy Baseball TV commercial, has credentials beyond his music skills to be rocking with John Kruk, Gary Sheffield and PJammer Gammons. While Lee is one of Canada's favorite sons, it's in America's pastime where he finds his other true passion.
"Hey Neil, can you handle things for a while? I need to go check my fantasy team."
Fear not Canada, however, as Geddy is a Toronto Blue Jays season-ticket holder who gets to about 25 games a year when he isn't touring (like this summer). From a Hall of Fame collection of signed and game-used memorabilia to his fantasy squad, Geddy knows and loves baseball.
Geddy manages a 40-man keeper fantasy team. Twenty-five guys are on the active roster with 15 in reserve. How serious is he about his team? On tour, Geddy doesn't mind brown M&M's, but he makes sure every venue Rush plays has high-speed Internet access so he can watch games and follow his squad. He has even gone to check on his team's stats while drummer Neil Peart is mesmerizing fans with a drum solo.
In addition to fantasy and following the Jays, Geddy has a museum-quality baseball memorabilia collection. He collects autographed baseballs and has recently gotten into collecting game-used items. Baseballs signed by Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner and Cy Young are just a few of his prized possessions.
"I really find it fascinating how baseballs are signed," Lee said. "It's not an easy item to autograph, but I love the sphere and have gotten hundreds signed in person. It's such a beautiful thing!"
His most recent autograph was Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka. He got Matsuzaka's signature at spring training, and Dice-K is Geddy's pick to win the AL Cy Young Award.
Lee started his collection when a friend who worked in the visiting clubhouse of the Blue Jays gave him a box of signed baseballs at the end of one season. They were signed by every team that played in Toronto that year. A collection was born that now includes a ball signed by the 1927 Yankees as well as the ball President John F. Kennedy used to kick off the 1961 season (signed by JFK, Lyndon Johnson and the Washington Senators' catcher who caught the ball). Lee takes his collection seriously and is expanding it to baseballs used in significant games.
"I've recently started collecting balls from no-hitter games, and I have about 15 different ones," Lee said. "I have four or five of them from Nolan Ryan no-nos. I've gotten to know Randy Johnson, as he is a fan of the band, so I have a ball from his no-hitter and one from his 19-strikeout game."
Lee's collection has variety, too. A ball his son hit for a home run in a youth game (signed on the sweet spot) is in the collection, along with a bat and ball Mickey Mantle used to hit a historic home run in Game 2 of the 1960 World Series.
The Mantle stuff shows his dedication. After seeing an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Lee was able to obtain the ball from the family of the fan who had it. Then a few years later, someone from the family of former Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry (to whom Mantle gave the bat) decided to sell the bat Mantle used. Geddy stepped up to the plate and snagged it. Although Geddy has the bat and ball Mantle hit for that Game 2 home run, he doesn't have a picture of the homer.
Lee's list of current players from whom he wants to get autographs:
(1) Vladimir Guerrero
(2) Carlos Beltran
(3) Jose Reyes
(4) David Wright
Geddy's under-the-radar fantasy picks (guys who probably weren't drafted who Geddy suggests picking up before someone else does):
Kelly Johnson, 2B, Atlanta Braves: "If you're looking for a second baseman with a bit of pop in his bat, I think Kelly could hit 15 home runs."
J.J. Hardy, SS, Milwaukee Brewers: "J.J. has good power, but he needs to hit right-handed pitchers better. He provides power from the shortstop position."
Alex Rios, RF, Toronto Blue Jays: "This kid can play. He's not on here to be my token Jay."
Luke Scott, LF, Houston Astros: "He suffered an elbow injury, but I think he can hit 15 to 20 home runs."
Scott Olsen, P, Florida Marlins: "The Marlins' young staff is something to watch."
Adam Loewen, P, Baltimore Orioles: "I like his stuff, and the Orioles need to give him the ball."
When Rush is on tour -- like this summer -- Geddy usually takes his son to games, and they enjoy visiting the different ballparks. Here are his favorites:
Look for Geddy to try to catch a game at PNC Park this season.
National League -- PNC Park in Pittsburgh: "I love the setup with the city in the background and how fans can walk across the bridge to get to the game. The Pirates sure did an amazing job with this ballpark, and the atmosphere is great."
American League -- Camden Yards in Baltimore: "I really enjoy Camden Yards in Baltimore. The food is great, and the ballpark is set up really well."
All-time favorite: "My favorite stadium was the old Comiskey Park in Chicago. I still can't believe they tore it down, and that new stadium has nothing [compared] to it. No history or ambiance to it at all. I think this was one of the worst things ever -- tearing down Comiskey, they messed with history. Joe Jackson played on that field, and to tear it down for that new place is a travesty. The new stadium has no atmosphere whatsoever. The White Sox went from my favorite ballpark to my least favorite, and there is no need for a new Yankee Stadium. Why?"
Other least favorite: "The SkyDome in Toronto. It's just too big. I'm a season-ticket holder, and I support my team, but it's just too much like an arena. Back in the day, when the place was sold out every night, it was fun, but it's my least favorite place to see a game."
Rush's new album will be released May 1, and its world tour kicks off June 13 in Atlanta. Look for Geddy in line for hot dogs, or catch him on tour this summer.
John Broder is an associate editor at ESPN.com who has collected autographs and memorabilia for more than 20 years. He carries a blue pen and has survived two Woodstocks.