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From Infield to Pop Flyer : Buff’d Out: Coincidence has former Padre Tim Flannery playing again--this time in a trio named after the group’s patron saint, Jimmy Buffett.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On a warm afternoon three local musicians are rehearsing in the open garage of a home in Encinitas, surrounded by musical instruments, surfboards, and weight-lifting equipment. Looking on are two small children, a couple of adults, and a listless dog.

It is a youthful tableau with a time-honored place in American iconography--a scene that is played out in a thousand suburban neighborhoods every day. But this one has a couple of unusual components: the musicians are longer in tooth than most garage bands, and one of them is Tim Flannery, 34, formerly a popular utility infielder for the San Diego Padres.

The trio finishes playing a song, and the small audience claps its approval. Suddenly, Flannery becomes animated by the same kind of enthusiasm that characterized his heart-and-hustle ball playing.

“Yesterday, I was surfing north of Santa Barbara--I was just paddling out,” Flannery says to a visitor, “and who should I bump into out there but Jackson Browne.” He pauses, allowing the guest to appreciate the unlikelihood of coming face to face with the famous singer-songwriter on a surfboard.

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“We got to talking about music, and afterward he took me back to his place, where he’s been working on a new album,” Flannery continues. “I told him I had just started playing guitar in a band, and that we love to play music--that we really have a lot of fun. He said, ‘Well, that’s half the battle.’ Jackson’s one of my biggest musical influences, and meeting him was one of the real highlights of my life.”

Browne had perhaps unwittingly given his benediction to a current project that Flannery is attacking with his trademark zeal. Three years removed from baseball, Flannery remains in the public eye as the “Good News” reporter for KFMB-TV (Channel 8). Off-camera, he still indulges two of his long-time passions: surfing

and music.

Lately, however, the latter has taken precedence in his life. About three months ago, Flannery teamed with local musicians Shaaron Hancock (bass, vocals) and Gary Seiler (guitars, vocals, harmonica) to form this group--called Buff’d Out, in tribute to its patron saint, Jimmy Buffett. With a few low-key local gigs behind them, the three will make their official public debut Monday at the Del Mar Fair.

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Buff’d Out is a couple of verses into a rendition of Buffett’s easy-groove ballad, “Come Monday,” when Flannery throws in an ad lib. “Yes, it’s been quite a summer,” he sings in a clear, assured baritone, “rent-a-cars and Padres games. . .”

The reference draws laughs all around. Seiler sings lead on the next song, the Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown,” and Hancock follows with an uncanny re-creation of Janis Joplin’s vocal on “Me and Bobby McGee.” The instrumental interplay is tight and the three-part harmonies are remarkably smooth for a new band. When it’s Flannery’s turn again, he suggests they do the Bruce Cockburn song, “Movin’ On,” which he claims has special significance given his current undertaking.

“To me, the song expresses my beliefs about getting on with your life,” Flannery said. “People are always asking me, ‘Why do you surf? Why are you playing music? Why do you want to do this or that?’ And I tell ‘em, because I enjoy it!”

During his 10 years as a major leaguer, Flannery made no secret of his two non-baseball preoccupations. When problems stemming from an ankle injury forced an early retirement after the 1989 season, the Padres, in front of a massive crowd at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, presented an emotional Flannery with a personalized surfboard and an acoustic guitar custom-made by Taylor Guitars of El Cajon.

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The surfboard hangs at Trophy’s Restaurant, in Mission Valley. The guitar--with inlays of his name and a cresting wave on the fret board, and the Padres’ logo on the head--hangs around Flannery’s neck as he takes a break from rehearsal to talk about his avocation and the genesis of Buff’d Out.

“I’ve always loved music,” he said. “I played in bands in high school and college. Then, when I was playing in the minors, we’d only get five or six bucks a day for meal money, so when we’d get to a town like Midland, Tex., I’d go to a local club and play for beers during the band’s breaks.”

When he was with the Padres, Flannery would take his guitar on the road and play alone in his hotel room at night. He also was the deejay on the team’s chartered flights, a job that required some resourcefulness, considering that Flannery’s teammates didn’t share his enthusiasm for the likes of Buffett, Browne and Bonnie Raitt.

“I’d bring a CD player, an amplifier, and four big Bose speakers, and hook everything up in the back of the plane,” he recalled. “The guys would bring me their CDs, and I’d play them. I tried to get them to listen to (Raitt’s) ‘Nick of Time’ album, but they hated it. They wanted to listen to rap and funk and Latin music. So I had to be sneaky. I’d play two CDs of Carmelo’s (Martinez), then two of mine, then two of Tempy’s (Garry Templeton), then two more of mine. And I’d dedicate songs. I’d say, ‘This is for (over-priced flop) Keith Moreland,’ and I’d play Crosby and Nash’s ‘Take the Money and Run.’ ”

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After Flannery retired from baseball, music remained mostly a private passion. Then, he met Seiler--in a looney sort of way that somehow seems appropriate once you sense the trio’s chemistry.

“I was at a Buffett show three years ago,” related Seiler, a party deejay and part-time musician, who this summer will attend the reunion of the Helix High class of ’72. “It was the first night of a two-night stand, and I had a backstage pass. After a few Coronas, I snuck into Buffett’s dressing room and snagged his funky old baseball cap. When I got home, I pulled the hat out of my shirt, and it had this huge, solid gold pin in the shape of a marlin.”

Seiler knew he couldn’t keep the expensive item, so the next night he went backstage two hours before the show and sat in a bathroom stall and waited for a chance to return the hat, which he’d put in a paper bag with a note attached.

“Now, I’d never met Tim, but, over the years, I’d seen him sitting in the first row at Buffett shows, and I knew the two of them had a rapport,” Seiler continued. “So, when I saw Tim come backstage. . . .”

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“He attacked me!” Flannery interjects, laughing. “This crazy guy comes up to me and says, ‘You gotta do this, you gotta do this.’ So I give the bag to Buffett, and he’s real happy to see the hat, and he ends up thanking Gary from the stage. Well, two years go by, and Gary starts writing to me and calling me at work, asking me to come out to this place in La Mesa and play with his band. He kept bugging me until it became a joke around the office. You know, ‘Hey, has Mr. Entertainment called you yet this month?”’

Meanwhile, Hancock, who was playing in another band at the time, coaxed a friend of hers at Channel 8 into hearing Seiler, and that person mentioned it to Flannery.

“I thought, ‘Oh no, not that guy again!’ Flannery exclaimed. “But he said Gary was good, so I eventually got together with Gary, and although we didn’t click the first time, I woke up the next morning and knew that this was what I wanted to do.”

Hancock, who sang professionally on the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner at the age of 6, has played in local bands--including the all-girl ‘60s groups Penelope’s Children and Foxfire with recording artist and former San Diegan Rosie Flores--since she was 12. A few years ago, Hancock quit music long enough to earn a degree in social work. When she was added to the Buff’d Out mix, everything jelled.

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“These two are the real story,” Flannery says, gesturing toward his band mates. “Shaaron raises seven foster kids by day and does this in her spare time. They both have a love of music that is contagious; there’s an energy between us that’s unbelievable.”

For now, Flannery says, Buff’d Out has no ultimate goal beyond getting better and having fun.

“I’ve already been to the big leagues,” he said. “And I got there not by setting specific goals, but by loving every minute of what I was doing on the ball field. And it’s the same with this band. It just feels so good to sing and play with them. The other day, a friend told me this is the first time in three years he’s seen a smile on my face. That says it all.”

Buff’d Out will perform on the Pavilion Stage at the Del Mar Fair on Monday from noon to 2:30 p.m. Beginning July 11, the band will perform every Saturday night at Jake’s South Bay, 570 Marina Parkway, Chula Vista.

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