In the outfield, Emeel Salem's speed enables him to play moderately shallow; he can retreat toward the fence on balls hit far and he can run in when necessary to prevent bloop singles from falling.
Off the baseball diamond, Salem plays deep.
"I'm a deep person, I love to write and music is just the thing that I'm just passionate about and always have been," he said. "I'm constantly trying to understand things I probably have no business understanding."
Salem, 27, missed the entire 2011 season after he injured his right knee. In the prior season, the outfielder played 128 games, hit .262 and stole 23 bases for the Montgomery Biscuits in Double-A. He then made his Triple-A debut with the Durham Bulls.
"That's the time and the levels where you don't want to get hurt," he said when he described how the injury effected his development as a professional baseball player.
Salem, who has started 2012 with the Biscuits, took to music and songwriting while he rehabbed his injury all of last year. Having taken classical piano lessons at the age of 7, he was no stranger setting his thoughts to tunes.
"Music is something that I've wanted to do for a really long time," said the Mountain Brook, Ala., native who starred at the University of Alabama. "I really just never got the right opportunity to put time into it."
With ample time away from baseball, Salem recorded a self-titled four-song EP that features the tracks: "What You Need," "Don't Stop," "All About You" and "Down to Love." They are available to download on iTunes for 99 cents each.
Salem received some notoriety after the Tampa Bay Rays' spring talent show last year. Fox Sports filmed the event where Salem played the piano medley and sang some random pop songs. He then agreed to do a special on his musical talents with Fox.
"Sure enough they [Fox Sports] helped connect me to a studio in Tampa and then from there I just got really into the project and wanted to finish it," Salem said.
Through his music, Salem shares personal anecdotes of his life, mostly involving love and relationships.
"In baseball numbers tell your story. In music, there's nothing that really quantifies good and bad," Salem said. "Not everybody that hears me is going to like it but that's another sacrifice you make in terms of going after something farfetched."
With his CD recorded and his knee full healthy, Salem's focus is back on baseball. He said he aims to play within his role this season. In other words; get on base, steal bases and play good defense.
After all the missed time because of the damaged cartilage in his knee, the rehabbing and setbacks, Salem feels strongly that he can get back to the level of play where he was previously at."I'm definitely confident that everything will come together," he said. "Baseball is not something where you can sit out a year and then roll out of bed and hit .300 immediately. I feel better every single time I step into the box. I have to be patient. I was patient for a year with the rehab and right now I have to be patient with my performance."
Despite leaving Salem off the opening day lineup card, Biscuits manager Billy Gardner is grateful to have the now-healthy outfielder on his roster.
"He was here in 2010 with me and had a good year and was an add-on to the all-star team," Gardner said. "He looks to be ready to go. He's running as good as I've ever seen him run and that's obviously a big part of his game."
When Salem, who also missed a great deal of time in 2008 because of an elbow injury, enters the batter's box for the first time this season, he said he will feel a few different emotions, much like what he strives to evoke from others through his music.
He will be nervous, confident and ready — but not distracted. He has heard his fair share of critics, but said he is more than capable of separating the "two worlds," — music and baseball — when he needs to.
"Doing what I'm doing and being in professional sports, that's going to happen 100 percent of the time," he said of people questioning if he would be distracted and appreciate what he is doing. "You know that going into it, but if you do anything and you step out on a limb in life and do something big that's risky, you have to be willing to take every opinion."
Salem describes his musical style as a combination of pop and blues. With edgy, raspy vocals accompanied by genuine lyrics, Salem describes his song writing as "very personal and real." His lyrics reflect past emotions and relationships. Salem, who uses hip-hop primarily as his introduction before getting into the batter's box, left the door open when he was asked if he would ever consider using one of his own tracks as his walk-up song.
"I would love to be able to connect those two avenues of my life," he said. "You can love two things in life, as I've come to realize it. I missed it a lot last year. I missed the ups and downs and the rollercoaster of emotions. I missed all of that."
Will Sammon is the Montgomery Biscuits beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @WillSammon.
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