By Peter Schwartz
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For Mike DelGuidice, the path to playing at a big league ballpark began when he was a kid growing up on Long Island. Born and raised a Mets fan, DelGuidice played on an all-star team for North Shore Little League that won 17 straight games on their way to Williamsport, but fell shy of winning the Little League World Series, losing in a regional tournament.
From there, the ambidextrous DelGuidice was a righty pitcher for Miller Place High School and head coach Don Pranzo. He would then put on a lefty glove to play first base or outfield so that he could stay in the game, clear evidence of his love for baseball.
“I was a big baseball player in school back when I was a kid,” DelGuidice said. “I bounced around and played different positions.”
But the road to the show would come to a halt, or rather a detour. In ninth grade, DelGuidice could pitch a ball over 80 miles per hour. A year later, he suffered a torn rotator cuff, and his baseball career was over.
“My shoulder blew out, and it was at that point when I made the decision that music was going to be it,” DelGuidice said.
It would be music that would eventually give DelGuidice the opportunity to play at a major league stadium as part of Billy Joel’s band.
Joel has been keeping busy with his monthly residency at Madison Square Garden and will open the new Nassau Coliseum on April 5, but this summer “the Piano Man” will visit seven ballparks, including Wrigley Field, Dodger Stadium and Fenway Park.
“I love it,” said DelGuidice, who launched the highly successful Billy Joel cover band Big Shot in 2000. “It’s like multiplying the Garden by three times.”
DelGuidice is particularly looking forward to visiting Fenway for a fourth straight year. That’s the venue that takes DelGuidice back to his playing days as a kid and gets the juices flowing to take some swings– although the stage and seats tend to be an obstacle.
“Whenever we do Fenway, I seriously just wish that I could get there a day early and just take some batting practice,” he said. “I’m dying to hit one out of there. I know I can, and I’m dying to do it.”
DelGuidice has a 12-year-old son who plays baseball on fields with dimensions reaching 330 or 340 feet. Before games, he’ll grab his son’s bat and routinely hit the ball over the fence, which gives him the confidence that he could hit one over the Green Monster in Boston.
“I definitely could,” said DelGuidice. “I’m a lefty, so I would have to go opposite field.”
That’s ironic because it wasn’t that long ago that DelGuidice’s career went opposite field.
Like many other musicians, DelGuidice went through some frustrating times. Even though he eventually found his niche with Big Shot and was making a good living as a musician, there were problems.
“The band was playing for so long in bars that it was getting a little old,” DelGuidice recalled. “Everybody was getting on each other’s nerves.”
DelGuidice decided it was time to make some changes. Since his musical inspiration was on hiatus from touring, he hired Tommy Byrnes from Joel’s band to join Big Shot. When Joel toyed with the idea of a mini-tour in Europe, Byrnes asked DelGuidice if he was interested in helping the band rehearse as Joel’s “stunt double.”
Just a few days into rehearsals, DelGuidice was asked if he had a passport and was invited by Joel to join the band for the tour.
“I could never have seen it coming,” said DelGuidice, who is a vocalist and guitar player in Joel’s band.
The two worlds that DelGuidice lives in collided, in a good way, on Aug. 4, 2015, when Joel closed the old Nassau Coliseum. DelGuidice was asked to be the opening act, and then he stayed on stage to help Joel play the final concert and event at the old barn.
“That was a monumental career thing for me, so that’s one of my biggest memories,” DelGuidice said.
Comedian Kevin James was in the crowd that night and made an appearance on stage with Joel. He was preparing to start filming his new CBS sitcom “Kevin Can Wait” and needed a theme song. So DelGuidice suggested a song he had written called “Ordinary Guy.” James loved it and made it the theme song.
“It meant the world to me,” DelGuidice said. “Just to be validated as a writer and an artist myself, that’s been my career goal my whole life. It’s nice to be me once in a while.”
It was the Coliseum that provided the backdrop for DelGuidice’s affection for Joel’s music. In 1982, Joel’s concert there was taped for HBO and subsequently released on video. DelGuidice was inspired by the performance and watched it over and over and over again.
“That concert energized me,” DelGuidice recalled. “I remember just sitting home and rewinding each individual part. A lot of the vocal things that I do and improv things come from the early shows like that one.”
At the age of 45, DelGuidice is living a dream. He would have been happy to just continue with the success of Big Shot, but having the opportunity to be in Joel’s band and work for the man who he idolized has taken things to a whole new level. Just like David Letterman credits Johnny Carson for what he meant to his career, DelGuidice feels the same away about Joel.
“Beyond grateful,” DelGuidice said. “It was a long road up. So for me looking back, it’s still unfathomable to me that I’m doing this. I don’t think I’m going to really understand the full measure of it until it’s over and I look back on it.”
DelGuidice has a lot on his plate coming up. There’s another Big Shot performance Saturday at Mulcahy’s on Long Island and plenty of shows with Joel, including the ballpark tour this summer. He’s still hoping to crush a ball over the Green Monster, but if that never happens, he’ll still get to say that he played at Fenway as a musician.
“Fenway, to me, so far is my favorite,” said DelGuidice of the ballpark shows. “Fenway is one of those places that just screams nostalgia. It’s so classic.”
You could also say that the road that DelGuidice has followed is classic. From baseball player as a child, to performing music in bars, to covering his idol’s music, to being in Billy Joel’s band, DelGuidice has gone through a spectrum of emotions.
Now can someone with the Red Sox please let him take some BP?
Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @MikeDelguidice1.