Rock-and-rollers who strike it big are commonly expected to indulge desires for drugs, groupies, adulation, money and possessions. But when George Thorogood and the Destroyers became stars, their leader had a different vision to pursue.
He wanted to play baseball.
To do it, he formed his own team and built his own ball park.
Music and baseball had been Thorogood's twin passions when he was growing up in Wilmington, Del., but he was blessed with ability in only one of them. "I don't play on any teams," he said before a concert in Miami recently, "because I wasn't very good. I'd play in pickup games anywhere and I was usually embarrassed.But I was a fan. I could watch teams of 75-year-old women play, and I'd love it."
In music, too, Thorogood saw himself principally as a fan, but it proved a productive kind of fanship. His band's fresh, exciting versions of old blues and rock-and-roll songs made their first album a hit. As it was moving up the charts in 1978, Thorogood announced that he wasn't going to go on tour during the summer. He was going to play ball.
He assembled a team the Destroyers, that competed in the semipro Roberto Clemente League in Wilmington. Here he was no celebrity; he was merely the second baseman who batted ninth. Not many of the players on opposing teams were aware of who he was; one of the few who knew he was a rock star was only interested to the extent that he wanted to know, "Do you know Frankie Valli?"
After Thorogood's second album, "Move It On Over," became a gold record, he was ready for another summer of baseball, but he regretted that there weren't more opportunities to play. In Newark (Del.), softball was the big game; it wasn't easy to find even a pickup game of hardball. But Thorogood corrected this deficiency in a logical-enough fashion.
He bought an expensive tract of land, built a baseball park and started a league.
Thorogood speaks with unconcealable pride and affection of Doubleday Park: "We have a regular, real grass infield. We have a nice parking lot, and stands going up." The musician helped form the Netwark Amateur League to play in this new facility, with the Destroyers one of its member teams. Youth leagues began to use Doubleday Park, too, and Thorogood said, "I'm working hard at promoting the baseball scene; the best thing I can do is back the whole thing financially and spiritually."
Even though he owned the ball and bat, Thorogood still batted ninth most of the time. And even though he came from a world in which the stars are supposed to have colossal egos, he had to take a self-sacrificing, self-effacing role on his team. "The Destroyers won the pennant and the championship series in the Clemente League," he said. "I know I'm never going to knock down too many fences or steal home, but I was third on the team in walks and I had the third-highest on-base percentage."
That may not be quite so dramatic as having thousands of screaming teenyboppers clutching at your clothes, but to Thorogood it seemed just as satisfying.