Pickin' Machine 

Meet Scott Hatteberg, A's phenom, amateur guitarist, and professional music obsessive.

The Oakland A's are hot now, but let's travel back in time to a Thursday afternoon in late April, when our heroes in green occupy the visitors' clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. They have lost their last five games, including their first two in a series against the hated Yanks. They'll fall again tonight, in fact, but when the clubhouse doors open to the media three and a half hours before the first pitch, the few players milling about inside are completely relaxed. Chevy Chase's Fletch plays on the big-screen TV. Tim Hudson, Bobby Kielty, and Eric Byrnes play Texas Hold 'Em with Yankees clubhouse attendants, using Bazooka gum as chips. And tonight's starter, Barry Zito, is curled in a corner chair, headphones on, watching videotape of Yankee hitters.

When the team bus arrives at 4:20, the youngest player on the A's roster, pitcher Rich Harden, moves like a college student entering his first dorm as he attempts to balance a backpack, a rolling suitcase and, most importantly, his guitar. On the guitar case handle is a white laminated tag with Harden's name, uniform number, and the Oakland A's logo: This is important. Rookies like to have their name on stuff. Also, the tag prevents confusion -- no fewer than five A's have been bitten by the amateur six-string bug. The high-profile Zito, 2002 Cy Young winner and occasional public musical performer, is obviously the most visible. Harden, fellow rookie Bobby Crosby, and Tim Hudson are more subdued beginners. And the fifth is first baseman Scott Hatteberg, who may just be the official music guru of the Oakland A's.

"I love music and I love playing guitar," Hatteberg says. "It's just a slippery slope, because I'm not real talented, but I've got a lot of passion for it. I've never taken lessons. I've picked from people that I've played with and what I can learn on my own. I'm not great but, you know, I'm slowly getting better."

The 34-year-old Oregon native has been playing for years -- his guitar heroes include Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Dave Matthews, Jimi Hendrix, and Robert Johnson. But unlike Zito, Hatteberg has little desire to perform in public, no compulsion to compose his own material. "There's constantly songs that you pull off the Internet that you want to learn," he says, "but I'm purely a copycat."

Still, Hatteberg has treated himself to more expensive instruments as his playing has improved. "I've upgraded and upgraded," he says. "Now I have a Martin HD-28, vintage model. I couldn't imagine a better guitar."

With five budding axemen, A's charter flights sometimes turn into impromptu jam sessions. "It's nice to play on the plane," Hatteberg says. "It's not like a commercial flight. It's all first-class seating, and Barry and I will sit by each other and play. He writes a lot of his own stuff, and he comes up with some pretty interesting chord progressions, so you try and learn it just to say you're interested."

The humble and self-effacing nature that overhangs the discussion of his guitar skills evaporates when the subject turns to musical taste. If Zito is the A's leader when it comes to musicianship, Hatteberg is the man when it comes to finding new bands to listen to -- he is known throughout the clubhouse for his extensive CD collection. "I put a lot of legwork into it," he says. "I take pride in knowing a lot."

Let's pause for a moment and list Scott's Top Five Desert Island Albums (as of that Yankee series):

  • O.A.R. -- In Between Now and Then
  • Miles Davis -- Kind of Blue
  • Rufus Wainwright -- Poses
  • J.J. Cale -- Anyway the Wind Blows: The Anthology
  • Dave Matthews Band -- The Central Park Concert
Of course, there are hundreds more loaded onto Hatteberg's iPod. Like Harden, catcher Adam Melhuse, and many other A's, Scott travels with an iPod and laptop, downloading new releases during those dead hotel hours, but he also is the player most likely to search out a local record store while on the road. "I just like to have the jacket and all that," he says. "Usually I don't download a whole lot of albums -- it's more just songs. If I really want to get an album, I usually go buy it."

Hatteberg estimates he averages about a CD purchase per week. His favorite road-trip record store is in Boston, his former in-season home. "I've been in the league for quite a while now, so I pretty much know where every place is that I need to get to," he says. "Newbury Comics is pretty cool. You know, they've got a lot of kind of independent stuff, and they're pretty knowledgeable. It's just kind of a funky place."

A's general manager (and noted punk rock aficionado) Billy Beane describes Hatteberg's taste as "cutting-edge," and the two will often swap music suggestions. But that isn't why Beane acquired him. After seven seasons with the Red Sox as a catcher, Hatteberg joined the A's in 2002 and made the switch to first base -- this acquisition and subsequent conversion takes up an entire chapter ("Scott Hatteberg, Pickin' Machine") in Michael Lewis' famous exposé of the A's front office, Moneyball. It also paid off: The week of June 7, Hatteberg hit .500 with two home runs, including his third career grand slam. By week's end he had a career-high fourteen-game hitting streak and was recognized, along with teammate Erubiel Durazo, as American League Co-Player of the Week.

Perhaps he celebrated by blaring some Rufus Wainwright; perhaps not. He and his wife Elizabeth have three little girls, and young progeny have a way of affecting what goes in the CD player. "They usually get first call," Hatteberg admits. "They know I have the iPod, and I have a little transmitter so I can play it through the car, and they like it. I've got kids' playlists and, you know, they're big fans of certain songs, from Ben Harper to Dropkick Murphys. It's kind of weird. Whatever comes on, they kind of pick the beat up and I put it on a playlist."

But is there a prevailing influence on Scott Hatteberg's personal playlist outside of his young daughters? What would happen if, God forbid, the iPod was lost at the beginning of a three-week road trip? What member of the Oakland A's would he turn to for musical help?

"Uh, nobody."

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