As summer comes to a close, teachers and students alike are beginning to think about the upcoming school year. For me, that means preparing for another year of teaching four schools’ worth of fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students about the joys of band and music. Yes, I am an elementary school band teacher by day and a Rockies writer in my spare time.
Both as a kid and as an adult, I’ve often wondered about famous people who played instruments like me. You hear about people like Halle Berry (flute), Jennifer Garner (alto sax), Neil Armstrong (baritone horn), Albert Einstein (violin), or even Rainn Wilson (bassoon), but it seems harder to come by athletes who have played instruments. This seems to be the case because at some point they unfortunately had to choose between sports and music and they chose sports, whereas I chose music.
That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been athletes who have been involved in music. Former New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi plays the saxophone (and has played with the Boston Pops orchestra). Current Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce also plays the saxophone and Arizona Diamondbacks utility man Chris Owings was an honor band saxophonist in middle school. As a non-saxophonist, Chicago White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito was first chair French horn in his high school’s symphonic orchestra.
But how about for our own Colorado Rockies? Were there any who played instruments in school? After asking almost every guy in the clubhouse, the answer is yes—there are a few Rockies who played instruments in school. Who they are and what they played, however, might surprise you! Here are their stories:
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Jon Gray, Bass
“Yeah, I played a little guitar in high school,” chuckled Gray, as he recalled some of his school memories. “A couple of my good friends in high school were really good. They started early and so they tried to teach me and they gave up after a while. They said I was so bad they made me play bass. But I mean, I gave it a try!”
Gray has even tried to get some of his teammates involved in a clubhouse band.
“I actually just brought [my bass] in today [June 20, 2018], because I know a couple of guys play on the team so I was like ‘Hey you guys, I’m putting my guitar in here and the amp in there. This is a jam room now, so if you guys are wanting to jam, go jam!’”
Gray also told me that if he was in school now, he’d definitely want to learn to play a band instrument, but school got in the way at the time. He said he plans to pick his bass back up soon and start learning some new music.
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Yency Almonte, Percussion
As soon as I asked Yency Almonte about his musical experiences, his face lit up.
“Drums. I played snare drum,” Almonte said with a toothy grin plastered across his face. “I only did it in middle school during my seventh grade year, just for fun.”
He said that he enjoyed playing and making beats, but he wasn’t able to continue past seventh grade.
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Garrett Hampson, Trumpet
I spoke to Garrett on his second day in the big leagues, July 22, 2018, after a stellar performance the night before against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He had been swarmed by reporters for the last two nights, but he was happy to talk about his experience. He told me that he wasn’t much of a band kid, but he did play trumpet in middle school for “just one [year]. We had to take a class and pick an instrument. It was required in middle school. That’s the only experience I have with playing an instrument.”
Despite his short experience with music in middle school, Hampson still hopes he can get back into it.
“Honestly, I wish I had maybe one day to start up guitar or something,” Hampson said. “That’d be pretty cool. My dad’s got a guitar and I’ve just messed around with it, but maybe one day I’ll try to learn how to play.”
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Bud Black, Trumpet
Manager Bud Black even got in on the joy of music when he was younger, just not for long. While I didn’t formally interview him, he made sure to tell me about his musical endeavors.
“(I played) trumpet for about three days before having to quit because I didn’t have the lung capacity,” Black told me in the dugout before the game on June 8, and he made sure I wrote it down.
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Kyle Freeland, Trumpet and Percussion
“When I was in middle school, I started out on drums and I played trumpet,” Freeland said. “But if you gave me one today, I would not know what to do with it.”
He recalled that “[my] dad played trumpet when he was in middle school and high school. He probably still knows how to play. But it’s kinda something that I just followed him, with his footsteps with it a little bit and when I was done with it in middle school, I just never picked it up again.”
He said he was mostly involved with baseball and wasn’t able to do much else.
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Nolan Arenado, Clarinet
The most intriguing—and surprising—interview that I had was with Nolan Arenado.
“I played the clarinet in elementary school,” Arenado said. “It was like fourth and fifth grade, and then that was about it.” He said he didn’t continue because “it just got kinda hard and I was always outside wanting to play sports and basketball. That’s kinda what I wanted to do.”
That comment made me laugh a little bit because I teach many young students now who have similar thinking—they play instruments, but many of them miss being outside because my class meets when they have their other specials areas (general music, media, art, and especially PE).
Like many of his teammates, he looked back and wished he could have picked up a different instrument.
“I actually wish that I had played guitar or drums or something like that, or piano,” Arenado said. “Those are instruments that I love and it’s pretty fascinating to see how good people are on those. I think everyone has different talents and it’s kinda cool to hear people who have talents like that.”
Despite saying he may not pick up an instrument anytime soon, he wouldn’t rule out trying something new down the road.
“I probably won’t, but you never know.” Arenado said. “It could grab my attention. There are certain things that grab my attention and I’m willing to go for it, but I just don’t know. Maybe in the future.”
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I wrote this article because I wanted to take this opportunity to humanize these players in a different light than most people would think of. In the middle of a roller coaster season where every single game is as emotionally charged and matters as much as it does, it’s nice to remember that these men are humans too.
In another light, I also wrote this article because I was curious as to which of these gentlemen played instruments like me and to bring attention to athletes as musicians. Research shows that music helps with brain development, particularly in areas of math and language. Even though none of them played band instruments for very long, I thought it was interesting to see which guys played and their appreciation for music.
Lastly, for all of you kids out there who are worried about playing an instrument and playing sports, you can do both! If Kyle Freeland and Nolan Arenado were able to be in band and play baseball (even for a short time), you absolutely can too!