It took Tim Flannery 25 years in the big leagues, as a player and coach, to get his first World Series ring.
A ring of that kind makes it difficult to play guitar. Still, the first time Flannery performed in Santa Cruz as a singer/songwriter almost two years ago, the man known to local baseball fans as the bald and intense third-base coach for the two-time champion San Francisco Giants brought his ring along anyway.
He was on stage at the Crepe Place when he abruptly decided that merely showing the ring to the crowd wasn't going to satisfy anyone. So he passed it around the crowd.
"Yeah, I let everybody wear the World Series ring," said Flannery, who will receive his second ring shortly after the 2013 season begins. "From the stage, about five songs into the set, I had to say, 'OK, which cocktail waitress has my World Series ring? I kinda need it.'"
Giants fans might be forgiven for thinking of Flannery's music as a sideline from his high-profile baseball job. But fans of Americana music who aren't necessarily sports fans might take the opposite view, that baseball is something that occupies Flannery between albums.
In fact, Flannery is an accomplished musician, having released 10 albums including his most recent effort "The Restless Kind." And he has played dates all around the country and overseas for 15 years, especially in Southern California where he is a regular on the folk/rock circuit.
The Kuumbwa date is, in fact, the last of four dates in a mini Bay Area tour of shows to raise money for Stow and his family. Flannery has already donated more than $70,000 to the Stows through concert ticket and DVD sales.
"Some people say, 'You're a big baseball player. Why don't you just write a check?' Well, guess what. I played 10 years in the big leagues from 1979 to 1989. There was no money involved, and I hit nine home runs."
Flannery's efforts to keep Stow in the forefront of Giants fans' minds even landed him a nomination for the 2012 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. He was nominated by a couple of fellows named Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, two of the primary surviving members of the Grateful Dead, both of whom have become friends with Flannery in the last couple of years.
"I just thought it was a great opportunity to almost go full circle," said Flannery of visiting Santa Cruz. "A lot of people were coming from Santa Cruz to Napa to see me, and I just thought, 'Why don't we do this right there in Bryan's hometown?' It will be healing for everyone, including me, because I've really been inspired by the family. And it will be the last show of my music season before I turn around and go back to my baseball life."
As a reserve infielder for the San Diego Padres for 10 years, a coach for the Padres and later the Giants, an avid surfer and a friend of the Grateful Dead, Flannery is often thought of the embodiment of a California dude. But his music tells a different story.
Flannery is originally from the Appalachian mountain region of Kentucky, having grown up in a musical family that had originally emigrated from Ireland when Kentucky was still considered the western frontier. His grandmother played banjo. His younger brother is a music teacher who sings opera. His sister was a touring pianist. His father's family still lives in the mountains of Kentucky.
"When we go play the Cincinnati Reds, I usually come back there not only hoping to take two out of three or sweep them, but we usually get a gallon of the moonshine my family has brought from down the mountain and put it in the coaches' room."
His songs are deeply rooted in the folk/bluegrass tradition of the Kentucky hills. But also reflect his contemporary life as a big leaguer constantly on the road.
"The funny thing is, a lot of these songs are baseball songs, even though they're not about bats and balls. They're just songs I've written on the road. This will be my 27th year in the major leagues. I've done a lot of traveling and if you look at my records, they reflect that. They're called 'Travelin' Shoes,' 'Wayward Wind,' 'Restless Kind.' What else do you write about when you're out there?"
Flannery has a burgeoning musical career going in Southern California but until the Stow incident, many in Northern California was unaware of his musical background. The impulse to help the Stow family pushed him to perform in and around the Bay Area for the first time.
"When I first came to coach with the Giants seven years ago, I wasn't really going to let anybody in on (the music career). Y'know, I just came to coach. And you don't want to open your heart and get hurt. You don't know how long you're going to be there. So, I went there saying to myself that I'm just going to hide this part of my life from everybody and just do my job and coach third base."
Then came the day when Bryan Stow, a big Giants fan, was attacked after a game between the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, suffering severe brain injuries in the process. Flannery played a show at Yoshi's in San Francisco to help raise money for Stow. The Grateful Dead's Weir gave him support and joined him on a later show.
Flannery said that he was not only inspired by Stow family's commitment, he identified with it. His father, a former Christian minister, died in a straightjacket of Alzheimer's Disease. Flannery was his everyday caretaker.
"I got beat up pretty good, physically and emotionally by that experience," he said. "So I know what it's like to be a 24/7 caregiver. Seeing them come together inspired me to continue."
The Stow story, said Flannery, has resonated with him, as well as the community of Giants fans throughout the Bay Area.
"When someone gets hurt badly or dies, everyone is there for you in that first moment. But it's easier to eventually go the other way because everybody has their own lives and responsibilities and life goes on. But for me, it's been a real honor to watch the strength of the circle of love around Bryan. What happened to him is a hate crime basically. And the only way to beat hate is to love harder. There's no other way."
½ sunday 7 p.m.; Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz; $25 advance, $28 at the door; www.kuumbwajazz.org. ¾ ------ (c)2013 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) Visit the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) at www.santacruzsentinel.com