It was in the later innings of baseball games, particularly during the ones that were close, when I would be most vocal. Instead of cheering on my team, I would sing songs.
In the summer of 1990, while playing in the Major A league on the fields at Seven Oaks Park, my go-to song was “Between the Sheets” by the Isley Brothers. I played shortstop for FSI, and our ace pitcher, John Fraser, would frequently tell me to shut up. As I recall, the team’s third baseman, Ben Bridwell, was amused as I strained to mimic Ronald Isley’s smooth falsetto: “Ooh baby, baby. I feel your love surrounding me.”
Bridwell, like my other teammates, chose not to join me. I was 12, relatively new to Columbia, and dreaming of a singing career while playing my way toward baseball stardom. Neither quite worked out.
But more than 20 years later, Bridwell, the lead singer of Band of Horses, the country-inflected indie-rock quintet that plays at Township Auditorium Friday, has one of the most recognizable voices in rock music. His voice, a “honeyed whine,” as described by a Pitchfork writer, haunts and soothes at the same time.
“I never really tried it,” said Bridwell, who participated in performing arts in middle school, when asked why it took so long to discover his voice. “It’s not like I was stealing the lead from Chase Sternenberg. He wasn’t in danger.”
Friday night’s show is the first time local music fans will get to hear the Columbia native sing since a performance at Headliners in 2006. That was before Ryan Monroe, a keyboardist, guitarist and singer, joined Band of Horses. The last job Monroe had before joining was bartending at Headliners, the now-defunct Vista club.
For my one year in Major A and the two years after that Pony A, Monroe, a pitcher and good hitter, was a player I always wanted to beat. He and Bridwell were on the same Pony A team, Carolina Eastman.
“We had Sherwin, that’s all that needs to be said,” Bridwell said, referring to Sherwin Haltiwanger, the type of hitter who made the entire team back up to the fences when he stepped into the box.
Those baseball days have inevitably come up when I’ve talked to Bridwell and Monroe in recent years. It’s memories that make Columbia home — for me and them.
“No matter where I move the rest of my life, that’s home," Monroe, who now lives in Boston, said of Columbia.
But he’s never played here as a member of BoH.
“We’ll try to treat it like any other show,” he continued. “Ben and I are looking forward to it. I’m sure there will be some extra oomph. We’re going to try to blow the roof off that place.
“Doesn’t it have a new roof?”
The building was renovated in 2010.
“It’s not lost on me about the homecoming,” Bridwell said. “I didn’t realize until we booked this show that it had been so long.”
Since none of the members live in the city, a local show isn’t so simple. Only Bridwell and drummer Creighton Barrett live in the same city, Charleston.
“Ryan was talking about (playing the Township) forever,” Bridwell said. “I think management finally got tired of him asking.”
Both Bridwell and Monroe have fond memories of seeing events at the 80-year-old building. When Bridwell injured his knee playing baseball, his cast was signed at a wrestling match by The Rock ’n’ Roll Express, the tag team that feuded with the Four Horseman in the former NWA.
One of the last shows Monroe saw there was Alicia Keys and John Legend in 2005. He’s also seen Bob Dylan, Smashing Pumpkins, and The Allman Brothers Band at the venue.
“To be able to play the Township, it’s obviously like a dream come true,” Monroe said. “And I mean that when I say it, because I really have dreamt about it.”
This show’s guest, presumably, will be longer than any had by the aforementioned performers at the Township.
“It’s one of those things where you just kind of let it happen,” Monroe said. “Of course, you want all of your friends to be able to go. I’ve got a lot of calls from people who have already bought tickets. It’s one of those things, if you get requests, I’ve lived there a long time and I have a lot of close friends there.
“It’s better than them not wanting to come. I just want to get people’s faces in the place.”
BoH, which is rounded out by bassist Bill Reynolds and guitarist and vocalist Tyler Ramsey, released its fourth album, “Mirage Rock” in September. It made Rolling Stones’ top 50 albums of 2012 list.
The previous album, 2010’s “Infinite Arms,” was nominated for a Grammy Award in the best alternative album category. According to Monroe, Bridwell’s been writing songs of late that remind him of “Everything All the Time,” the debut released in 2006.
Like “Wicked Gil,” a song named after Gil Meche, a former Seattle Mariners pitcher? Bridwell formed BoH in Seattle in 2004 after the dissolution of Carissa’s Wierd, a band he played bass in. It took a few years for him to settle on a permanent lineup to back his voice.
“We went through a lot of members to find the right people,” he said. “They trust me that I have their best interests in mind. Same with my family at home.”
Bridwell, who has lent his vocals to songs by Dinosaur Jr, Biffy Clyro and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the latter two of “Thrift Shop” fame, is married with two daughters.
“A lot of the business decisions land on Ben’s shoulders,” Monroe said. “He’s definitely the captain of the ship. He’s the decision maker, but he has a lot of advisers.”
Bridwell, who, I’ll say, was a bit of a wanderer before concentrating on music, is gifted with an insatiable work ethic. He’s always writing. I’ve seen him at 2 a.m. playing the banjo while singing into a mirror. If he wasn’t playing music, he said he’d be flipping eggs for work and drinking tall boys for dinner.
“It’s survival,” he said. “It’s the only thing I’m qualified to do.”
He gave up trying for the major leagues before I did. Possibly because, in Pony A, he couldn’t hit my Eephus pitch, an arcane, high-arching toss.
“Yeah right, I’m a better baseball player than you still,” he said.
We can go to Seven Oaks Park while you’re in town if you’d like. I hope you’ve practiced since playing softball in the “Great Salt Lake” video.
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.