With most college baseball coaches, one suspects their musical interest doesn't go much beyond chin music.
Chris Campbell marches to a very different riff.
In his "day job," the youthful-looking Campbell, 34, is in his sixth season as the head coach at his alma mater, Transylvania University.
Yet on some nights — most often after the college baseball season is over — you might find Campbell in Lexington clubs such as Cheapside Bar & Grill and Parlay Social performing as the front man for The Chris Campbell Band, a four-person, folk-rock act.
The coach who became Transy's head man at the tender age of 28 and has compiled a 138-83 career record so far (not including Wednesday night's Transylvania contest against Berea) is also a self-taught guitar player, a singer and songwriter.
Campbell estimates he has penned 60-70 original songs and his band has self-produced a couple of albums.
On Thursday night, Campbell's two passions will merge. The Lexington Legends, prodded by Director of Ticket Operations Adam English, a former Transylvania baseball player, have tabbed The Chris Campbell Band to perform as part of opening night festivities with the Kannapolis Intimidators at the Whitaker Bank Ballpark. Gates open at 5 p.m. with the first pitch at 7:05 p.m. Campbell's band will perform before and after the game.
"The two things I was around the most growing up were always music and baseball," said Campbell, a 1996 Lafayette High School graduate. "That was what occupied my time."
They still do. As an adult, finding a way to let both of his interests flourish has not been easy. Once Campbell decided to make a career out of coaching, he almost let baseball make the music die.
'Pushing away from music'
Like many parents, William and Diane Campbell wanted their son, Chris, to be exposed to the educational benefits of music.
"They made me take piano lessons," Chris said of his parents, both University of Kentucky professors (his father is now retired). "I hated it. I was like 'Maybe I would like the guitar.' They bought me a guitar when I was 17 for Christmas."
While a freshman in college, Chris took that guitar and taught himself to play.
"I had a good ear for music," Campbell said. "I would listen to CDs and be able to try to match up what (the songs) sounded like. And I had a 'teach yourself the guitar' video that, I think, taught me my first four chords. It was all downhill from there."
While he was studying business at Transy and playing the outfield, first base, designated hitter and doing some pitching for the Pioneers baseball team, Campbell and a fraternity brother started singing and playing guitar in talent shows.
After he graduated from Transylvania in 2000, Campbell took a job as a building supervisor for a construction firm.
His music had developed to the point that he started playing some gigs in Lexington clubs. The first was in 2001 on the patio at the downtown Lexington venue then known as A1A.
"You play baseball your whole life," Campbell said. "But the first time you get up in front of people to play music, it is a little more intimidating."
Eventually, Campbell realized his heart was not in the construction industry. He set out to find a profession he could love. Soon, Campbell went back to Transy and asked the school's then-baseball coach, Shayne Stock, if he could volunteer as an assistant. He did that for a year, then spent two more years working as a paid assistant.
When Stock's replacement as Transy head coach, Jan Weisberg, took another job in August before the 2006-07 school year, Transylvania gave the 28-year-old Campbell its head coaching job on an interim basis.
"He was very young," Transy Athletics Director Jack Ebel said. "But our hands were kind of tied because it was in August. There just wasn't time to do much of a search. But we also talked to our athletes, and they really wanted Chris in the job."
In that 2007 season, Transylvania went 29-12 and won the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference title. That made it pretty easy to take the "interim" off Campbell's title.
Once he was a college head baseball coach, Campbell felt he needed to "push away" from his music.
"Nobody said 'You can't do this.' It was me being like 'Well, I need to focus all my time on baseball,'" he said.
Early in the 2011 baseball season, Campbell got a phone call that, eventually, changed his thinking on music and baseball. The Cheapside Bar & Grill in downtown Lexington wanted to book his band to play on a March Saturday night.
By this point, The Chris Campbell Band was down to playing "one or two gigs a year," the coach said. "And I never played during the baseball season. I just didn't do it."
For a variety of reasons, this time he said yes. He immediately regretted it. That weekend, Transy dropped two out of three in a tough conference series with Manchester.
"I was frustrated and I did not want to go play music," Campbell said. "But when we got there and started playing, it was like all of that disappeared. ... I thought, 'This is not only fun, it's a good escape.'"
So now Campbell and his band — Jason England on electric guitar; Chris Jeffy on bass; and Justin Fisher on drums — have rekindled.
The coach is still reluctant to do many gigs during the college baseball season, but they have already booked four dates for May, once the season ends, and four more for June.
The baseball coach does have some musical chops.
"He's a gutty song writer, he's willing to write honestly about things from his real life," England said of Campbell. "The other thing, he plays his own music, he's not just doing covers. In Lexington, that's hard to do."
Of songs he's written that he considers notable, Campbell mentions two: Set It Free is about feeling positive over what has been learned in a relationship that ultimately did not last. Single Girls and Double Plays captures the feeling of young baseball players coming back to their hometown after their first year away at college.
Twice the thrill
Since most of the clubs in which his band plays are over-21 venues, Campbell said he doesn't see his college-aged players in bars very often.
"If you see me out, that's fine," Campbell said of his stance with his players. "But we're not going to be buddy-buddy, hanging out. So I don't tell the players, 'Hey, come to my gigs.'"
Still, there are times when Chris Campbell's two lives intersect.
The phone skills that are required to recruit baseball players come in pretty handy when negotiating with club managers over performance dates. Said Campbell: "I'm easy to talk to on the phone. I realize people's time is important. People who book gigs are impressed with that."
Conversely, a few years back, Campbell was recruiting a third baseman from Louisville. Evan Rhea had a visit to Transy booked, then changed his mind to attend a Citizen Cope concert.
"He called me to see why I hadn't made my visit and I told him," Rhea said. "He was like, 'Wow, I listen to them. I really like their songs.'"
Campbell and Rhea found they had shared affinities for Wilco, Counting Crows and David Gray. It created a bond. The Trinity High product turned down Centre to pick Transy.
He and his band mates are all turning 34 this year, and Campbell wonders whether it's too late to break into the music scene, even regionally, outside of Lexington. The Transy coach and his fiancée, Bethany Van Rooy, are planning to get married in October.
Campbell does let himself dream that some day, the right person will hear one of his songs, be impressed and well ...
What would be sweeter: Winning an NCAA Division III baseball national championship as a coach or writing a song that went to No. 1 on a major Billboard chart?
"I think the level of satisfaction would be equal," Campbell said. "Personally, if I wrote a No. 1 song, it would sort of be my boy. But to win a national championship, it would involve so many other people, it would be a thrill in a community way."
For Chris Campbell, baseball and music again form his own personal double play.