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Michael Seander: Baseball's New Stud

Michael Seander: Baseball's New Stud

DURHAM, N.C.—Michael Seander isn’t sweaty for someone who just played a pick-up basketball game. He isn’t weary for someone in the midst of a two-month concert tour. He isn’t fazed by the cameramen and camerawomen with their lenses honed in on him. If he’s hungover, he doesn’t show it.

He’s cool. He’s chill. He’s at home.

Mike Seander stands on Coach K Court at Cameron Indoor Stadium like he’s Mike Krzyzewski. Like he owns it. Like he’s been here before—and he has. He’s wearing crisp white-and-black Air Jordans with a little dash of blue, dark athletic pants, a FRSH F-logo cap and a white T-shirt with “These Days” on the breast and an album track list on the back. Those are his tracks, and that’s his album—just released on iTunes a couple of weeks before, where it shot to the top of the rap charts.

Athletic and muscular, Seander, 27, has piercing blue eyes, a dimpled chin and a lightly stubbled square jaw that belies his youth. He’s like Buzz Lightyear without the spacesuit—the same manly build and galactic confidence. But not cockiness. Greet him and he gives you the kind of smile that makes you think you’ve met him before, even if you’re quite sure you haven’t. Then again, maybe you have? He says he’s thankful for the coverage, that he especially loves when sports outlets reach out to him, and there’s a reason for that. Look closely at his right elbow, and you’ll see a surgical scar—a permanent reminder of what almost was. That’s the reason.

OK, let’s move.

It’s a frigid, gray January day in Durham. Seander and his entourage of managers, promoters, producers and cameramen funnel out of Cameron—after their quick pick-up game—and spill onto Duke’s campus. Chaos, sure, but it settles neatly into orbit around Seander, like electrons to a nucleus. Seander’s employees, his posse, are also his pals—guys around his age who’ve been with him for years, guys with beards and hoodies and suave haircuts who don’t look terribly out of place on a college campus.

The cameras capture every step, every word, every F-bomb that will need to be censored later. As Seander and his crew walk on the sidewalk outside of Cameron, they talk about their plans for the night. They’ve got a day to themselves sandwiched between shows in Charleston, S.C., the night before and Charlotte, N.C, the next night. Shooters Saloon, a nightclub usually bursting at the seams with Duke students and athletes, isn’t open on Thursday nights. Seander suggests He’s Not Here instead, a bar in neighboring Chapel Hill, where Seander used to see the likes of current big leaguers and former Tar Heels Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley and more.

This all feels familiar.

“It’s very nostalgic,” Seander says of being back at Duke, his alma mater. “I just remember I spent so much of young adulthood trying to figure out who I was here.

“I feel like anyone who goes through a lot of experiences—especially dramatic experiences, life-changing experiences—at one place. You always remember that place, and when you come back you always have a certain feeling.”

Seander and company take a turn into Duke’s basketball museum and athletics hall of fame. They walk past basketball trophy case after trophy case, past hanging jerseys and banners until they find a royal blue wall tucked away in the corner honoring the Duke baseball program.

Seander pulls out his phone, ready to snap a picture as he scans the list of All-Americans on the wall—a list of 11 names dating back to 1951.

He sees the second-to-last name is “Michael Seander, 2007.” And he can’t help but laugh.

“Right above Marcus,” he says, smiling as he gestures toward the last name on the list. It’s Marcus Stroman, 2012, his former teammate and one of his closest friends.

Stroman is now a righthander in the Blue Jays rotation, their Opening Day starter and one of Major League Baseball’s young budding stars.

And Seander? He’s one of baseball’s budding stars, too—but in a much, much different way. He doesn’t go by the name “Michael Seander” anymore.

These days, they call him Mike Stud.

Hollywood Life
"Yo, you want to clear up anything from yesterday, maybe?" says an off-screen TMZ cameraman as the 19-year-old, blonde model Josie Canseco struts onto a Hollywood street from a nightclub.

She knows right away what he’s talking about.

"Um, Justin’s a friend," she says of pop singer Justin Bieber, whom she was spotted hanging out with the night before.

Smiling, she then turns to the man in the black hoodie walking behind her.

"And this is my boyfriend," she says, looking back at him. As the two work their way toward the back seat of a large, black SUV, Canseco grabs her boyfriend’s square, stubbled chin with her right hand, turns his face toward her and kisses him.

"This is what happens when you date a girl who’s cooler than you, man," Mike Stud says into the camera, laughing, as he follows Canseco into the SUV. That’s when the video, posted in November 2015, ends.

Mike and Josie had met months before at another bar in Hollywood. "Randomly," Stud said, “for lack of a better word.” At that point, Josie had no idea that Stud was a baseball player-turned-rapper, and Stud had no idea that Josie was a model or, more pertinently, that she was the daughter of former slugger Jose Canseco. “Which just feels like it’s meant to be,” Stud said. Stud liked that Josie didn’t know who he was. He found that very attractive. He also liked that she understood the business, understood that his “Playboy-ish persona” was part of his brand.

The attraction was mutual. They’ve now dated for about a year—the longest relationship Stud has ever been in, by far. She’s featured in the music video for Stud’s 2016 song “Anyone Else,” dancing provocatively, lying in a bubble bath, eating pizza. The song includes the line, “There’s no way Jose . . . can say no.”

Stud has since met Jose. He hasn’t said no.

“(Josie is) somebody who I just got very close with very quickly,” Stud said, “and somebody who supports me, somebody who’s doing a lot of cool (stuff) on her own and isn’t so worried about every little thing I’m doing and has enough confidence to let me go out and be on the road and do me—but still be together and supportive.

“She’s been amazing.”

She isn’t Stud’s only link to Hollywood, nor is her father his only tie to professional sports. His star has grown tremendously since he put out his first mixtape in 2011, when he was still pitching after transferring to Georgetown. He has his own TV show now, called “This Is Mike Stud” on the Esquire Network, which, in its first season, chronicled the making of his January-released “These Days” album and the subsequent two-month tour. The series pulls the curtain back on Stud and his crew’s boisterous lifestyle—the parties, the after-parties, the drinking and smoking, the scantily clad women. Stud’s visit to Duke, his pick-up basketball game in Cameron and his show in Charlotte comprise episode No. 5.

In the past year especially, grainy online pictures and videos have shown Stud partying with some of the bigger names in sports. Just a week before his trip to Duke, Stud was seen in Dallas with quarterback Johnny Manziel, Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons and Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin at one of his concerts.

His link to baseball, understandably, is the firmest. Stroman is Stud’s most vocal supporter in the major league game (and occasional rap partner on stage), but David Price has hopped on that train. Mike Napoli and Will Middlebrooks are good friends with Stud. Stud’s gotten to know Mike Trout, too, among others. And the network continues to grow.

“I’m Mike Trout ‘cause I don’t strike out,” Stud raps in the first track on “These Days.” “I switched up; now I’m pitching hits.”

There’s no shortage of baseball references in his songs—to specific players like Trout and Ken Griffey Jr. and to his own playing days at Duke.

Look at his album titles alone and you can piece together the narrative of his career.

In 2014: “Closer.”

In 2013: “Relief.”

In 2011, his first mixtape: “A Toast To Tommy.”

Stud was a closer—and a very good one—for Duke his freshman year in 2007. He excelled in late relief, tallying nine saves and a 1.61 ERA in 28 appearances. The “Tommy” he’s toasting in his mixtape is Tommy John, which is the surgery that effectively ended his pitching career.

From Cranston, R.I., Stud turned down Harvard to go to Duke because he wanted to pitch in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound righthander went undrafted out of high school, but he added a tick or two to his two-seam fastball once he joined the Blue Devils, sitting in the low 90s and touching 94 mph with sink. His slider was his weapon of choice, a wipeout pitch that he used to retire several future big leaguers.

“I punched (Buster) Posey out twice in one game,” Stud remembered. “Got (Matt) Wieters one time. Played against Pedro Alvarez—got him.”

Stud was thinking big leagues after a strong summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League following his freshman year. But then elbow tightness forced him to sit out his entire sophomore season, and when he tried getting back on a mound in the Cape Cod League the next summer, he heard the much-dreaded “pop” in his throwing elbow. He needed surgery.

“It turned into almost f----- 30 months,” Stud said. “I want to say a full two years of non-competitive, just waiting and doing the rehab. And man, it sucked.”

At one point, Stud went to Dr. James Andrews for a second procedure, in order to clean up a buildup of scar tissue. When he finally got back on a mound his senior year in 2010, his stuff just wasn’t the same. He was mid- to high-80s, and his slider lost its devastating bite. After graduating from Duke, he went to Georgetown for a fifth athletic year, but his former explosiveness was gone.

Stud felt like a watered-down version of his old self. The game wasn’t fun anymore.

So he found another way to occupy his time.
The Stro Show
It’s just like pitching, right? Just like toeing the rubber in front of 50,000 seats? Just like 3-2, bases loaded, ninth inning, two outs? That energy? Those endorphins?

“It’s different, man—being on stage, rapping,” says Blue Jays righthander Marcus Stroman as he dresses in the visiting locker room at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. He’s recently experienced it for himself.

“I try to tell people this: It’s a different nerve. It’s a different excitement than you get when you’re running out for a game. And I love it. I love that I can have that different sense of excitement in that completely different element rather than my profession.”

It’s April 20. The night before, Stroman held the Orioles to three runs in seven innings for his fourth win of the season. A few weeks before that, Stroman threw eight strong innings on Opening Day. A few weeks before that, Stroman was on a concert stage in Toronto, rapping with his best friend Mike Stud. A few weeks before that, Stroman made his concert debut with Stud in Tampa.

Stroman, like Stud, isn’t short on swagger. He’s running around the Blue Jays clubhouse, shirtless, with a clear bounce in his step, as a teammate jokes that Stroman stopped talking to reporters weeks ago. Muscularly defined and heavily tatted, the 5-foot-8 pitcher has “Height Doesn’t Measure Heart” permanently inked on his chest—his credo, HDMH for short. In all-caps, “BREAKING STEREOTYPES” covers most of his left forearm. He’s got the Odell Beckham haircut—with the shaggy blonde highlights on top.

In some ways, Stroman is to baseball what Stud is to music. At one point the friends dreamed the same major league dreams, but then their paths veered in vastly different directions. Even still, the two remain intertwined.

“I love Mike, man,” the 25-year-old Stroman says. “Mike’s been my brother from the very, very beginning. And he’s been a huge fan of myself and he’s always thought that I was going to make it, and I’ve been his No. 1 fan since Day One.

“You can ask him. I was the first person who told him he could do some of this music.”

Stroman met Stud—then a junior—on his first official visit to Duke, and they connected instantly. When Stroman, a Medford, N.Y., native, got to campus the summer before his freshman year in 2010, Stud all but adopted him as his little brother. He showed him the ropes from a baseball standpoint but also took him around campus, introduced him to the cool crowd, to the Triangle nightlife, snuck him into bars.

“And probably some things I can’t say on here,” Stroman says, laughing.

Eventually, Stroman and Stud discovered their mutual love for rap music, and they started freestyling, along with a couple of their teammates. And then they took a MacBook and a makeshift microphone into Stud’s apartment closet (“We’d go in there for sound quality,” Stroman says) and started recording songs. More than anything, it was a way for Stud to pass the time while he rehabbed from Tommy John.

“Really—that’s how we started,” Stud said. “The story almost sounds fake. I never thought I would have had a career in music. I remember when I was making those songs with Marcus, it couldn’t have been any more of a joke.”

Joke songs or not, Stroman noticed early on that Stud seemed to have a natural feel for rhyming. He had flow.

“As soon as he started freestyling, I was like, ‘Dude, you’re legit,’” Stroman said. “I always said to him, just jokingly, ‘Hey, if baseball doesn’t work out, you could always rap.’ And we always played it off like, nah man, it’s just for fun.”

It was just for fun—until it went viral. Stud wrote a song his last year at Duke, called “College Humor,” that he’d play for his friends at baseball parties. When he went to Georgetown the next year, the bars in the area started playing it, too. Stud’s friend, Paddy Quinn, offered to shoot a music video. That video, filmed at various bars and hangout spots around Georgetown, now has more than 2 million views on YouTube.

The song itself is satirical, rapped over a simple beat, opening with the line, “Man, I love college. I never wanna leave this place,” and including sports references such as, “Like Derek Jeter, I just need to be signed. And if you don’t like the track, then you need to rewind.”

It was a start. More songs came, and more videos. Then came the fans—the random people writing on Stud’s Facebook wall. Then the phone calls from agents, “Hey, can we get you on this tour?” Then the mixtapes (“College Humor” is track No. 6 on a “Toast To Tommy”), then the albums (three and counting). Now, the TV show. All the while, Stud’s crew started to assemble around him: Paddy Q, the director; Gerry Corcoran, the tour manager; Jon Kilmer, the filmer; D.J. Fader, the D.J.; Ben Foley, the creative director; Matt “Blue” Ouellet, the lifelong best friend.

Stud never signed with a label. Those guys are all he’s needed.

“With the same old crew that I started with,” Stud raps on his latest album, “. . . I’m talkin’ way back from the start of it. That’s the come-up starter kit. Yeah, you gotta get it who you want it with.”

While Stud’s music career blossomed, so did Stroman’s baseball career. He came to Duke as a two-way player—an infielder and a pitcher—but by his junior year, he established himself as the hard-throwing ace of the Blue Devils weekend rotation. The Blue Jays took him with the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 draft—the first first-round pick in Duke program history. Stroman made his big league debut two years later on May 4, 2014 as a 23-year-old.

As Stroman came up through the minors and Stud through the music industry, Stud would send his former teammate every track he worked on, and Stroman would keep telling him “Yo, let me get on a song! Let me get on a song!”

That collaboration finally happened on “These Days,” with Stroman getting his own verse on the title track. “Allegedly there's some stereotypes I don't like about my height,” Stroman raps on the song. “Trademark HDMH for life. Yeah, that's right. So I copyright. Prove 'em wrong, prove myself right.”

In the music video, Stroman pretends to be Stud, rapping Stud’s verses in Stud’s Los Angeles home. Meanwhile, the scene occasionally cuts to the home field of the Pawtucket Red Sox, where Stud himself is standing near the mound in a Duke baseball jersey and a Blue Jays hat.

That role reversal is intentional.

“That was kind of the crossover between rapper-athlete and athlete-rapper,” Stroman said, “in the sense that we started this both playing baseball, and I would love to be in his position, and he would love to be in my position.”

Stroman and Stud have been living vicariously through each other ever since they left Duke, trying to connect the two very different worlds they belong to—two worlds that, traditionally, have rarely intersected.

Stroman has told teammates about Stud as he’s gone through his various stops in professional baseball, building Stud’s name and turning him on to new fans in the game. Stud has tried to do the same for Stroman in Hollywood.

“He’s just one of the most charismatic people I’ve been around; he deserves to be in pop culture,” Stud said. “He deserves to be someone that everyone knows.

“I think he’s a top candidate for being the face of what Major League Baseball wants—an African-American, well-educated, positive-minded and hard-working and successful. And that’s a guy that everyone should rally around, especially the league.

“I’m really just trying to bring him along my ride through pop culture.”

But Stroman isn’t the only one along for the ride. The rest of the sport seems to be hopping on, too.
A New Voice
The fans in their baseball caps and baseball shirts and Stroman jerseys—lots of Stroman jerseys—begin filing in. Many of them head straight to the concession stand to grab a cold beer; others wade over to other merchandise, to take a peek at the inventory, maybe buy a T-shirt or two. There’s palpable electricity—frenzied anticipation—as the start draws near.

This isn’t Toronto.

This isn’t a baseball stadium.

“It feels good to be back in North Carolina, though,” says Mike Stud from the stage at Amos’ Southend in Charlotte. It’s January 29. The crowd is there to see him.

“I went to school in North Carolina. I know we’re about to turn up tonight.”

Stud’s shows have developed the reputation of being like parties—rowdy parties that lead to rowdier after-parties. This one lives up to it. Stud’s wearing a black T-shirt, a backwards cap and dark jeans. He has his whole crew with him, interspersed on stage, and they drink throughout the set, taking momentary breaks to take shots of liquor together—Stud included. Throughout the show, Stud asks the crowd questions like, “How many people are baseball players or were baseball players?” or “How many people are in college or college age?” Both times, nearly every hand in the building shoots up. This is Stud’s clientele, and he knows it.

As he performs, the TV cameras roll. Every fan who entered signed a release waiver outside the venue—in case footage from the concert appeared on the Esquire Network show.

“Charlotte’s gonna be an episode,” Stud declares on stage at one point. “We were touring Duke yesterday.”

During that Duke tour, when Stud finally worked his way to Jack Coombs Field, his old stomping grounds, current head coach Chris Pollard came up to him and thanked him for how often he mentions the Blue Devils on Twitter, in interviews and in his songs. It helps Duke with recruiting, Pollard told him. The kids all know who he is. Perhaps some of them were in the crowd in Charlotte.

“So many young kids follow him on Twitter, and he’s carved out a niche with this crossover between hip-hop and athletics,” Pollard said. “And I think the fact that he was a standout player—he’s not just rapping about athletics. He’s lived it. And he was a very gifted player, and I think that really resonates with those guys.”

The Stud phenomenon isn’t limited to Duke. Young players around the country tweet about him, go to his shows and walk up to his songs. Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson—the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft and one of the top prospects in the game—walked up to Stud’s 2014 song “Out Here” his junior season at Vanderbilt. He’s talked openly about how big a fan he is; he tweeted about going to Stud’s Nashville show in February.

And this year’s No. 1 overall pick? Is he a Stud believer?

“Yeah, of course,” said Phillies first-rounder Mickey Moniak. “He’s the man.”

What does all of this mean for baseball? The recent narrative has been that the sport is losing ground to football and basketball, that it’s losing its coolness factor among kids. Even one of the game’s youngest, brightest stars, Bryce Harper, said in a March ESPN The Magazine piece that baseball is “a tired sport.” He lamented its lack of flair.

Hip-hop has flair. Hip-hop is cool. More than that, hip-hop defines what is cool. But hip-hop and baseball haven’t usually gone hand-in-hand. Can someone like a Mike Stud help bridge that gap? Could he possibly help baseball shake off that “tired sport” label?

Stroman thinks it’s already happening.

“What you see going on with the older guys getting upset with the newer ways of baseball—it’s just the times are changing,” Stroman said. “It’s just a younger crop of talent coming up, and the game’s slowly starting to become more exciting, younger, and it’s kind of something where you just have to adapt with the times. And in saying so, I think that hip-hop is an element that’s kind of young, you know what I mean? “I know I’m cool with a lot of the young guys coming up in the game. I’m cool with (Carlos) Correa, I’m cool with Harper, I’m cool with Trout, and they all love Mike. They all love his music. They all love hip-hop, so I think there is room for it to grow in that sense.”

Stud by no means shies away from that love. He embraces it—heck, he’s built his brand off of it. He wants to establish those connections and to tie together what have been the two greatest passions of his life. It’s a personal mission.

“Hip-hop and baseball are very different cultures, but all these baseball players love hip-hop,” Stud said. “I really think it’s kind of become a thing where I’m almost like the voice of the baseball guys. I think I talk a lot about the stuff that they at least can relate to.

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