Anthony Castrovince

For Doby Jr., life and career to come full circle

Son of Indians legend to help turn Progressive Field into concert venue for Joel

For Doby Jr., life and career to come full circle

CLEVELAND -- Center field at the Indians' home park was once Larry Doby's domain, the place where the man who integrated the American League established himself as a seven-time All-Star and Hall of Famer.

But come July, it will be a different Doby out in center -- not breaking down a barrier, but setting up a stage.

Larry Doby Jr. has spent the last 23 years as a rigger on Billy Joel's road crew, which made Thursday's announcement that Joel will headline a concert at Progressive Field so meaningful for him. Joel will play the show on July 14, exactly 70 years and nine days after the elder Doby debuted with the Tribe.

"It's quite exciting to come here in a professional capacity," Doby said before the news conference announcing the Joel show. "I'm normally only here for something concerning my dad. To be in the city where they opened up their hearts to him and he made history, with my boss Billy Joel? It's kind of fun."

Had the bloodline come with guarantees -- and, more to the point, had curveballs not been so complex -- maybe the younger Doby would have followed further in his dad's baseball footsteps. Doby Jr. played baseball at Duke University and spent a few seasons in the White Sox farm system in the late 1970s and early '80s, but it ultimately wasn't meant to be.

And so Doby navigated into a different realm of entertainment altogether. He became a union stage hand working at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the Meadowlands Arena in his native New Jersey and Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island. Sometime in the 1990s, Joel's longtime production manager, Bob Thrasher, asked Doby Jr. if he'd like to be a part of the Piano Man's crew. And here we are, all these years, tours and banged piano keys later.

"I'm probably not even in the top 10 in terms of longevity working for Billy Joel," Doby Jr. said. "There's guys who have been with him when he was just doing colleges. So it speaks volumes about what kind of person he is. Nobody ever leaves him, because of how they're treated. It's a very lucky thing to be able to work with him."

Joel is also a big baseball fan -- the Yankees and Mets, specifically. He and Doby Jr. have talked about the game over the years, but it wasn't until Joel happened upon "Pride Against Prejudice: The Larry Doby Story" when it aired on Showtime in 2007 that the rocker gained a greater understanding of what his employee's father meant to the sport.

"He saw it on cable TV one night, and the next day he emailed me and said, 'That's the way a documentary should be,'" Doby Jr. recalled. "He was very complimentary on the things my father did and said I should be very proud."

Doby Jr. is proud to be associated with both famous men, and it is the association with his father that has brought him back to Cleveland many times over the years, most recently when the Indians unveiled the bronze statue of his dad in 2015.

This trip will be a little different, and setting up a stadium show -- as Joel's crew has done many times at Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and elsewhere -- is, in general, a challenging assignment.

"The parks are not necessarily multi-purposeful," Doby said. "These are baseball fields. It's not like in the '70s or '80s, where they made these cookie-cutter things where everything was accessible. You have to transfer the equipment and know what particular rules apply to the stadium and what they don't want you to touch or mess up. But we've got some good guys who have done this a long time, and we're able to scout it out and get it done."

In July, Doby Jr. will do his work not in the same exact spot that was once his dad's domain (old Municipal Stadium was, of course, torn down long ago), but close enough.

"It's still the city," he said. "There are people here that I've had relationships with from when my dad was alive. So it's always good to come here. It's as close to home as you can be."

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.