Doug Slaten & Jimi Hendrix: Fellow Southpaws
When most people see Doug Slaten, they see the pitcher—a lefty specialist brought into the game to get a clutch out in relief. But what they don’t realize is that Slaten has picked up an interesting hobby that can be considered almost as difficult as pitching. He’s trying to learn how to play the guitar.
“I actually started this offseason. My dad’s played for a long time. I grew up in a musical household, but I never picked it up. So I went home this offseason and asked my dad to show me a few chords to start off with,” he said. “I started there and practiced this whole offseason.”
By the time Slaten got to Spring Training in Viera, Fla., he found his musical interests were shared by Nationals Minor Leaguer Josh Wilkie. Wilkie, who is currently pitching at Syracuse, also plays guitar and was able to teach Slaten a few things, but, as Slaten said, learning guitar is “a day-by-day process.”
Slaten, who is left-handed, said his first attempts on guitar were as a right-hander.
“I started off with a righty guitar, with my dad’s guitar upside-down. But that got too hard for me to figure out chords,” he said.
Slaten has another lefty as one of his guitar idols—Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix is famous for, among various other things, taking a right-handed guitar and re-stringing it for a lefty. Slaten said he considered attempting this at first, but resigned to purchasing a couple of standard left-handed guitars.
He now owns a Martin acoustic and a Schecter Tempest electric guitar. Schecter is more often than not associated with hard rock and metal music, but Slaten said the genres of music he tends to play don’t fall in line with that stereotype.
“I have a pretty eclectic taste in music,” Slaten said. “I grew up on a lot of old folk music and stuff like that, so I’m playing a lot of that. I’m playing a lot of folk and country-style stuff on the acoustic and more blues on the electric.”
But Slaten admitted that since starting to play, his tastes have begun to evolve.
“It’s changing a little bit. What I thought I’d play—the stuff I listened to and what I wanted to play—hasn’t really turned me on as much as other stuff,” Slaten said. “I do like Doc Watson, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and a lot of folk stuff.”
His current projects include learning “Little Wing” by Hendrix and “Shady Grove” by Doc Watson. But, as Slaten doesn’t read music or tablature, the process is a slow one.
“I’ve been trying to learn by ear a little bit,” Slaten said. “I’m getting better at hearing the notes and the chords. It’s also easy for me to just learn by watching someone else do it, so that I can just mimic that. I found a guy online and I signed up for his lessons, and that’s helped a lot.”
Slaten might not need lessons to do his day job well—but he still said it was far more difficult than his new hobby.
“I’m in the infancy stage of playing the guitar, but I would say that pitching so far is definitely harder,” he said. “I’ve been pitching for 26 years and it’s still hard.”
At 31, Slaten likely still has several years of pitching ahead of him. His future as a musician may have some prospects, though.
“I’ll go to California, out to Venice Beach, once I’m done playing ball, and squat down on the boardwalk with my guitar case to try and make some money,” he joked.
All rhetorical situations aside, Slaten said he’s not about to start a band, pack up a van and hit the road on tour. He’s not going to be seen in the local coffeehouse playing an acoustic folk set for patrons. For Slaten, it’s primarily a personal enjoyment—though his teammates may soon be entertained as well.
“I take it on the road. After the games at night, I come home and play for a little bit. One day I was going to bring it in here and play for a bit, but I’m trying to play a little better first before I have my first concert,” he said. “It’s mostly just for myself. It’s therapeutic.”