Rock music meets baseball 

DiNizio’s baseball odyssey

Steroids in baseball is an old, familiar story, but this one has a twist. It’s about how steroids led Smithereens singer/guitarist/songwriter Pat DiNizio to create 7th Inning Stretch (10 p.m. July 12, ESPN2), a special in which he searches for the heart of baseball.

A couple of years ago, DiNizio came down with a nervous disorder that gave him a life-threatening case of hives. He spent the better part of a year in and out of hospitals. Doctors put him on a steroid — prednisone — that caused his weight to balloon to 340 and made him nearly immobile.

“I couldn’t move,” he says in a phone interview. “I couldn’t lift my arms higher than my waist, couldn’t grip anymore. I realized I had to take my life back somehow. I was watching baseball on TV and I said I’d give anything to feel like a kid again and be able to do the things I used to do, to hit a hardball — to make good, solid contact with a wood bat on a baseball.”

DiNizio weaned himself off medication, began working out and ultimately lost 90 pounds. As he was doing that, he also started working on the TV show.

During the hour, you’ll see him talking baseball with a stellar cast of rock ’n’ rollers — Bruce Springsteen, Gene Simmons, Joan Jett, George Thorogood, B.B. King, They Might Be Giants and more — who talk about what baseball means to them. DiNizio also gets instruction from an even greater group of ballplayers, including Yogi Berra, Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn and Nomar Garciaparra, who help in his quest to try out for a minor-league team.

So you’ll see him play catch with Springsteen — “There’s a great section with Bruce and I having a catch and me trying to make him miss the ball” — and hit against David Wells at Fenway Park. “I manage to get hold of one and you’ll see it in the show,” DiNizio says.

DiNizio, 50, also talks with New York Mets’ first baseman Julio Franco, age 47, about longevity, turning back the clock and pursuing your dreams at any age.

“It’s a very interesting show,” he says. “It shows the parallel between the baseball life and the rock ’n’ roll life.”
Speaking of rock ’n’ roll, DiNizio hasn’t given that up. The Smithereens are still active, DiNizio has a new CD (This is Pat DiNizio, featuring DiNizio performing pop songs accompanied only by piano) and a 7th Inning Stretch soundtrack is due out next Tuesday.

DiNizio would like to see his special become a series. But even if it doesn’t, “I hope,” he says, “that the show will reintroduce the Smithereens to the world again.”

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