Originally published in the October 5, 2015 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
The Oak Ridge Boys’ Richard Sterban steps up to the plate to share his passion for the National Pastime during the first part of our four-part series on the Oaks.
The Oak Ridge Boys—Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban—represent four distinct personalities who have managed to blend together as one unified quartet for more than 40 years. Perhaps one reason for their longevity is that all four enjoy their own personal hobby that keeps them occupied and fulfilled when they’re not on the road or making music in the studio.
As The Oaks prepare to enter the Country Music Hall of Fame on Oct. 25, Nash Country Weekly will profile each member and his own unique hobby for a special four-part series. Appropriately, Richard Sterban, possibly the most recognized bass voice in country music, takes the leadoff spot to talk about his passion for the great American game of baseball.
Richard can often be seen sporting the jersey of the Nashville Sounds, the Triple-A minor league affiliate of the Oakland A’s. He was an early investor and part owner of the Sounds until an outside group bought the club after the 2008 season. You can still spot him at Sounds home games at the city’s spanking-new First Tennessee Park as well as the home contests of the Vanderbilt Commodores SEC college squad, which took the national championship in 2014.
Richard’s love affair with baseball began, not surprisingly, as a youngster growing up in Collingswood, N.J., in the shadow of Philadelphia. He rooted for the often-hapless Philadelphia Phillies, whose diamond successes were generally overlapped by their far more frequent failures. For historical perspective, it took the franchise 77 years to win its first World Series title.
“I had an uncle who took me to my first major league game when I was 3 years old,” Richard begins, smiling at the still-vivid memory. “We went to see the Phillies against the Chicago Cubs at the old Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. I probably can’t tell you much about the game itself, but I do remember the experience.” The sights, the buzz of the crowd and even the smells captivated the young kid.
“I remember walking into the ballpark,” he continues, after a brief wistful gaze upward. “You look at the green grass and those white base lines and it almost takes your breath away. Even this morning,” Richard adds, “when we pulled up to First Tennessee Park for this story, I was like a little kid again. There is just a certain feel to a ballpark.”
Dissecting and analyzing the game became part of Richard’s seasonal routine. He checked daily box scores and statistics with an accountant’s penchant for detail. Playing the game, however, proved another matter. By his own grinning admission, he struck out in terms of major league potential.
“I was not very good,” Richard laughs. “I did play a little bit when I was in junior high. I was a catcher, and I was all right behind the plate. But I could not hit. The head coach tried to be kind to me by making me first base coach. I think he saw my enthusiasm for the game and wanted to keep me on.”
That youthful enthusiasm continues to the present day. Richard attends games when his busy schedule allows, but he keeps up with all the action via cable television’s myriad offerings and various cellphone apps. “We have all the channels on the bus, the MLB Network and the Extra Innings package,” he notes. “I have the MiLB package on my computer, which allows me to follow minor league baseball wherever I am.”
On occasion, you might even hear Richard’s well-modulated, deep bass voice behind the microphone at Nashville Sounds or Vanderbilt home games. He has helped out with play-by-play on local broadcasts when opportunities arise, and it’s the closest thing to a dream gig for the baseball buff. “I have probably done it more for Vanderbilt,” Richard says. “But I always enjoy it. You really get close to the game.”
And even though Richard no longer serves as a Nashville Sounds owner, he remains involved with the club. “I was there from the very beginning, when they first announced that Nashville would be getting a team in the late ’70s,” Richard says. “The Oak Ridge Boys had our first big hit and I finally had a few bucks where I could invest. I loved all our teams but I was really close to the guys when we were associated with the Milwaukee Brewers for about the last 10 years. I would watch them at batting practice and hang out with them before a game.”
Richard’s years of support have not gone unnoticed by the Sounds’ management. “They have made me an official team ambassador,” Richard says, smiling. “And I guess I’m performing one of my duties today. Anything they want me to do, I will gladly be on board.” Or, perhaps more precisely, step up to the plate. NCW
SIDEBAR: Favorite Phils
Ask Philadelphia Phillies fanatic Richard Sterban about his top all-time Phillies players, and you’ll get no balks from the deep-voiced Oak Ridge Boys singer. “The two players I first became familiar with were Robin Roberts (the pitcher, not the Good Morning America co-host) and [outfielder] Richie Ashburn, in the 1950s,” Richard recalls. “All the kids in the neighborhood wanted to be one or the other. I loved Ashburn because he played so hard all the time.”
The Phillies have won the World Series twice, in 1980 and again in 2008. But Richard’s all-time favorite team was the 1950 squad known as the ‘Whiz Kids” for their youth and give-it-all-you-got fervor. The “Whiz Kids” made it to the World Series that year, but were swept by the New York Yankees, four games to none. ‘I was pretty young then,” says Richard, now 73. “But I still remember how they played and they were great. It broke my heart when they lost the World Series.”