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Rays' Salem swings and sings

Injured outfield prospect released debut in November
February 9, 2012
From a baseball perspective, Emeel Salem's 2011 season could not have been any worse. In fact, it didn't even exist.

Salem, the Rays' sixth-round Draft pick in 2007, underwent knee surgery in February of 2011 and ended up missing the entire campaign. This period of prolonged inactivity significantly stalled his ascendant professional career, which was highlighted in 2010 by an All-Star selection in the Double-A Southern League as well as his first stint in Triple-A.

But as the cliché goes: when one door closes, another opens. Salem used his time away from the field to dive headfirst into his other passion in life -- writing and recording music.

"I think that anybody who knows me knows that I don't like to waste much time," said Salem, a Birmingham native. "So I decided to take advantage of what I had, and that was great. I mean, being injured was terrible. But I was able to take the music so much further, and so much more quickly, because of the simple reason that I had time."

The most significant result of this influx of free time can now be found on iTunes, where Salem has released his debut EP, a four-song effort simply titled "E. Salem". The EP's black and white cover, which features a close-up picture of Salem wearing a tie and sporting a significant five o'clock shadow, is in stark contrast with the smiling, clean-shaven fellow on his player page. But from a young age, Salem has always felt at home in both the music and baseball worlds.

"I started playing classical piano at [age] 7 and picked up a guitar and started singing after that," he said. "I can't explain it, really. Most kids get pushed into [playing music], but I just wanted to. It's something that has always been with me."

Salem, who began writing his own songs while attending college at the University of Alabama, characterizes his sound as one "that I hope is not easily defined. ... I'd call it pop music with an emphasis on blues, and that's partly because of the way my voice is. I don't sound like I'm in a choir -- it's a raspy, blues voice."

Salem's now trying to get the word out about his debut EP, promoting it largely through the use of social media (particularly Twitter). Though he doesn't want to be known as "the baseball guy who also does music," his approach is nonetheless a pragmatic one.

"If I can get friends who are more well-known than I am to throw some tweets out there, that really helps in terms of spreading the word and is much appreciated," he said.

Thus far he has received endorsements from Rays ace David Price and pitcher/best-selling author Dirk Hayhurst, as well as less likely individuals such as the WWE's Layla (whom he met while rehabbing from his knee injury). And, over on YouTube, a video of Salem playing a raucous piano medley of popular hits at the Rays' Spring Training talent show has racked up more than 6,500 views. ("Thumbs up if David Price sent you here," reads the post's top comment).

Salem appreciates the support he's received from the baseball community but acknowledges that positive sentiments haven't been universal.

"I'm doing something very different from what the norm is, and I can't apologize for that," he said. "For as many people there are that like it, I'm sure there several that think 'What is that guy doing?' ... But I try to take it all lightly."

As we hurtle at full-speed toward the 2012 season, Salem faces the task of keeping the momentum going in his music career while re-establishing himself as a viable Tampa Bay outfield prospect. He says he'll be writing constantly, whether "on the bus or in the locker room," all with an eye toward building a following for his original "blues-based pop" compositions.

"I can say I dream big. You either have that or you don't," said Salem, in regard to his simultaneous pursuit of baseball and music fame. "Chances are you fail at both, but I don't worry about that. ... To sing my own songs in front of thousands of people would be incredible, but it would also be incredible to play in the bigs.

"I can't see down the road, but I'd love to be able to do both."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog.