Bernie juggles center field, center stage

Bernie juggles center field, center stage

NEW YORK -- Two years have passed since the Yankees waited to see if Bernie Williams would decide to walk through the doors of their spring complex, just in case he would come down and give baseball one more shot.

Now, though Williams is busy with a budding music career and a possible comeback attempt, the veteran says that he will be amenable to attending camp as a guest instructor for former teammate Joe Girardi -- if the timing works out.

"It's going to come down to make sure that I have enough time in my itinerary," Williams said. "It's always a good time. Spring Training was always one of my favorite times of year and it would be awesome if I have the opportunity to go."

Having made commitments to both the Puerto Rico entry of the World Baseball Classic and his label, Reform Records, Williams is halfway between center field and center stage. Sometimes those experiences must feel like one and the same.

Williams recently completed recording on a follow-up to his critically acclaimed first musical album, and was included on Puerto Rico's preliminary Classic roster. Many believe he has a good chance of playing in the tournament, as long as he stays healthy.

"I'm going to just to try to soak everything in," Williams said. "For the first time after two years, it could be overwhelming. I'm taking everything in stride as it comes. Hopefully it will be a good experience."

Williams appeared on Friday for the "Neighbors Helping Neighbors" benefit dinner at the Greentree Country Club in New Rochelle, N.Y., supporting Hillside Food Outreach, which benefits underprivileged families in Westchester and Putnam counties.

It is the seventh consecutive year that Williams has hosted the event, which featured Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano as a special guest. Announcer John Sterling and WFAN radio reporter Sweeny Murti served as masters of ceremonies, presiding over a charity auction and the dinner program.

Williams agreed to play a 45-minute jam session on stage, and his guitar should be right in tune by now. His second CD, "Moving Forward," has been completed and will be released by Reform Records on April 14; Williams is also scheduled to play a concert at the Nokia Theatre in New York's Times Square on April 18.

"It feels great," Williams said. "It was a lot of work -- we flew everywhere to record. We got some great musicians and it's such a great learning experience for me. I certainly feel a lot of admiration for the people who actually do it for a living and have done it for a number of years. It's a lot harder than it looks."

Williams was forced into full-fledged pursuit of his musical career after the 2006 season, when the Yankees were not willing to tender him a guaranteed contract. Unwilling to report to camp as a non-roster player and fight for a job, Williams kept his distance, though he never officially retired.

The Classic could help Williams answer some of his lingering questions. Though he suffered a setback in winter ball with a strained right quadriceps, Williams says it has healed and he is ready to compete for a roster spot and represent Puerto Rico -- something he has wanted to do since he ran track as a boy.

"It was great," Williams said. "I was seeing the ball well and it was great to play in front of my hometown crowd. I didn't realize how popular I still was down there. Not being able to play the game for two years and coming back, that whole experience was great.

"Now it's just a matter of working toward getting more in baseball shape. After that, who knows?"

He does not know if he can fully commit to both baseball and a musical career, which may make some upcoming decisions more difficult.

"As a performing artist, you have to do dates and promotions and try to promote your music albums," Williams said. "That is not really going to be very conducive to being 100 percent out there playing baseball as well.

"There's got to be a compromise at some point, but we haven't really gotten to that point yet. I anticipate that if I want to do it the same way I do baseball, it's going to be very difficult to do it at the same time."

The situation makes for a fascinating choice. Should he approach the same skills that made him an indispensable part of the Yankees' four most recent World Series titles, Williams might consider continuing his baseball career. But it is too early to tell.

"After I make the team hopefully and play, I think it will be a good indication of how I feel about playing," Williams said. "The physical skills have to be there, the mentality has to be there, the motivation and competition. I think it will put me in a good position for my decision making."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.