A Pirate with pitch: Inside the singing career of an MLB pitcher


PITTSBURGH — Steven Brault is waiting in the wings as a trio of Broadway veterans belt out the final notes of “Being Alive,” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company.

He has spent the last hour in his dressing room deep inside Heinz Hall, smacking his lips together in high-pitched trills and sticking his tongue behind his bottom row of teeth, making an “ah” sound to open his vocal cords to send the sounds up through his nasal passage.

He sipped on hot water and chatted with anyone who was around.

It’s the second night of his three-night stint as a special guest performer for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s “Blockbuster Broadway” show. He’s sung in front of crowds before, as a frontman with a handful of bands, as a music major in college and as an actor in musicals.

But until last night, he’d never performed with a full symphony.

His nerves are building as the women — Kelli Rabke, Kerry O’Malley and Jessica Hendy — exit. Finally, it’s his turn.

Wearing a gold tie and a black suit that obscures the sleeves of futuristic tattoos, the part-time musician and full-time Pittsburgh Pirates lefty pitcher strides onstage as he’s introduced to loud applause.

He takes his place beside the piano. The music swells, his nerves subside. Then Steven Brault begins to sing.

His voice soars as the “Phantom of the Opera” song “Music of the Night” builds, crescendoing from the gentle opening to a booming, powerful solo that envelops the hall with the full symphony behind him.

“It was just cool seeing him in his element, away from the baseball field,” says teammate Josh Bell, who was there for Brault’s debut performance on Feb. 7. “That’s where I see him the most. He definitely killed that show just as much as him destroying batters’ bats on the baseball mound.”

The emotions and pressure Brault feels walking onto the stage aren’t all that different from those he feels as he emerges from the bullpen at PNC Park, just a couple of blocks away, to take his place on the pitcher’s mound. Except here there’s a symphony behind him, a piano beside him and a vast audience obscured by the bright lights sitting in front of him.

There’s no batter in front of him, no catcher to signal his pitches. Just a conductor with a baton to guide him through the solo.

The pressure is on, and Brault, a high-energy person who thrives in the spotlight, wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s those qualities that make him succeed as a performer and an athlete.

“In baseball, you’re competing against the other guy,” Brault says. “In music, you’re competing against yourself. You can sing very well, and everybody will love it, but if you screw it up, there’s nobody to blame. In baseball, sometimes, you can throw a good pitch but that guy just hit it well.”

After he finishes the solo, he slips back into the hallway beside the stage and reappears next to the choir of high school students, taking his place beside a young female soloist. With the choir’s help, he belts out “Seasons of Love,” a classic anthem from “Rent.” He and the young woman trade featured verses, and Brault belts out high-energy riffs and improv vocalizations in the final chorus.

As a thunderous applause ushers Brault from the stage, his hands are shaking, coursing with the same adrenaline he feels on the mound, only this time there’s no throwing motion in which to channel that energy. So he comes off and talks to anyone he can find, excitedly reviewing his performance with others backstage during intermission.

“I think a lot of my life, a lot of the joyous moments in my life, came from being onstage or backstage,” Brault says.

In less than 24 hours, he’ll be on a flight to Bradenton, Florida, to begin his second life, the one that pays the bills now.

As a pitcher vying for a spot in the Pirates’ starting rotation, Brault is dedicated to his baseball career right now. But when that’s over? There’s a second career waiting as a professional musician — one he’s been training for as long as his current job.

Brault is part baseball player, part rock band frontman and part aspiring Broadway actor. He’s always been the center of attention, something his dad says comes from Brault’s years of jockeying for position as the youngest of four boys. And now that quality serves him well as a performer on the stage and on the baseball diamond.

BRAULT’S PIRATES TEAMMATES have always known of the pitcher’s passion for music.

Not only does he often sing Broadway songs around the clubhouse, he’s also a regular on the microphone on long bus trips from the airport to the hotels.

To pass the time, Pirates players stand up at the front of the bus and sing songs requested by the rest of the team. Brault takes his turn often.

“He’s a human jukebox, so we can ask him to sing whatever,” teammate Trevor Williams says. “He’ll bust it out.”

Williams remembers the day Brault played him a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do” — which now has more than 70,000 plays on SoundCloud — by his old band Street Gypsies. Williams admits he was a little skeptical at first.

“Whenever someone says, ‘Yeah, I can sing like Jimmy Page,’ it’s like, ‘No, you can’t,'” Williams says. “But then when you listen, you’re like, ‘Holy cow, you actually are amazing.'”

It wasn’t until Brault took the microphone at PNC Park before taking on the Brewers in June 2018 to sing the national anthem that the rest of his teammates grasped the depths of his talent.

“It kind of forced everybody all-in, like, ‘Oh, Steven is actually really legit,'” Williams says.

The clubhouse was antsy before Brault’s performance. As they listened to him warm up in the hallway, the butterflies grew.

“He was super nervous, but we were more nervous for him,” Williams says. “We were like parents almost.”

As Brault started to sing, his teammates held their breath. Once he nailed the opening 10 seconds, they exhaled, and then they started whispering incredulously to each other.

“We’re all turning around, making sure he’s actually singing and this isn’t an audio recording of some sort that he did,” Bell says. “But no, that was Steve in his element — another one of his elements.”

In addition to wowing his teammates, Brault’s anthem performance also served as the catalyst for his album. Producer Loren Harriet, who’s worked with other athletes like Nick Swisher and Bronson Arroyo on their musical endeavors, heard Brault’s anthem and approached his agent with an idea.

The two started talking about the direction of the project when Harriet presented Brault with his vision: a broadway album.

Brault agreed instantly.

“I think it’s opening more doors for me than if I were to be doing just a rock album,” he says. “It’s just kind of a more specific thing that shows an ability in a certain genre than when you go to rock and it’s like, what are you going to do? Play in a band somewhere?”

After all, Brault already had rock band experience, having played with a handful of groups since high school. Changing his focus to show tunes for the album allowed him to demonstrate his range and show off what he went to school to do.

As soon as the 2019 season ended, Brault began working on his passion project in earnest. While he let his body recover from the physical toll of the season, he worked out his vocal cords in the studio. He put in the bulk of the album work in the first two weeks of the offseason.

A few songs on the album are solos, like “Music of the Night,” but he had a little help on other tracks from friends like Bell.

Brault recruited Bell to do a spoken word section in a song from “Hadestown.”

“He has a great voice,” Brault says. “Low voice, very scratchy. Because of who I am and who he is, we have very different voices. It’s a cool, kind of very big difference in our two voices on the one song.”

To play up the deep, raspy quality of his voice, Bell smoked a cigar before he entered the booth.

“That was my idea of getting it just a little bit deeper and a little bit more raspy,” Bell says. “If you listen to the track, I think I encapsulated that idea of a dark, sinister lord pretty well, just with the help of some tobacco.”

Though the two weren’t in the studio together, Brault used FaceTime to help him through it. Even from a distance, he was a steadying presence to Bell through his first experience in a recording studio.

“In my mind, he’s the typical über-talented lefty that can do it all,” Bell says. “He can hit, he can pitch, he can play the outfield if you wanted him to, he can sing, he can act.”

BRAULT’S BEEN A major leaguer since 2016, when the Pirates called him up. In four years, he has amassed an 11-12 record with a 4.88 career ERA in 89 appearances, 35 of them starts.

But becoming a professional baseball player was never the plan.

Growing up, Brault split his time between the diamond and the stage in San Diego.

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