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Brach's underdog story an inspiration to girlfriend

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Wedged between Layla's Bluegrass Inn and Tootsie's World Famous Orchid Lounge, The Second Fiddle keeps its front door open, even on cool December nights, where patrons can escape winter's chill for a heaping helping of cheap beer and the promise of a good time.

For hours on end, bands will climb atop the stage, mere feet from the door, their backs nearly pressed up against the front window. The coveted time slot at The Second Fiddle, not unlike other bars that dot Honky Tonk Row, probably begins after your bed time.

From late Tuesday into the wee hours of Wednesday morning, this is where you can find Jenae Cherry and her band, belting out everything from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Carrie Underwood to even Katy Perry. It's an exhausting and diverse set list that offers plenty of energy but little in the way of bathroom breaks.

This is the quintessential Nashville experience; live music in a bar on Broadway, far from the bright lights and hallowed halls of the nearby Grand Ole Opry. These are young and hungry musicians, searching for a break, playing for peanuts and tips because music has chosen them or they've chosen it.

"There are fiddles on the wall and photos of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, too," said Cherry of The Second Fiddle. "And for downtown, I would say it's one of the cleaner places to play."

Here you'll also find Cherry's boyfriend, positioned on a bar stool toward the back of the bar. Padres reliever Brad Brach doesn't look out of place mostly because if Cherry is playing here or elsewhere -- an acoustic show or a nearly four-hour set with her band -- he'll be there.

The beer might flow freely at The Second Fiddle, but Brach is twirling a half-empty water bottle in his hands.

"I'm in training," he said, smiling.

That the 22-year-old Cherry and the 26-year-old Brach have found each other isn't necessarily surprising -- he was in Nashville with Triple-A Tucson in August 2011 when he saw her playing. He asked her out to lunch the next day. They've essentially been together since. Pretty simple stuff, really.

"I don't normally do that sort of thing," he said, sheepishly.

Today, Brach and Cherry live together in a house he purchased in Nashville, which allows him to remain close to Vanderbilt University and his offseason workouts, a daily regimen that doesn't include hauling around Cherry's guitar case -- her pink guitar case, no less -- to and from all the establishments she frequents for shows.

"He's very supportive," Cherry said. "He understands how important it is to have someone supportive."

Brach, Cherry and their dog, 3 1/2-year-old Belle, a Dachshund and Labrador mix, are spending their second holiday season together, the first with their own tree -- the tree is hot pink, if you must know -- and with a blow-up Santa in the front yard that has seen better days.

"Brad loves Christmas," Cherry said. "He's like a little kid. I wish I could send you the video I have of him singing 'Holly Jolly Christmas.' It's great to see him in a different light outside of baseball."

Really, it almost makes perfect sense that Brach and Cherry found each other. He's the underdog, a 41st-round Draft pick from Monmouth University. There were 1,274 players selected before him during the 2008 First-Year Player Draft before the Padres took him. His signing bonus amounted to about $660 after taxes.

Despite long odds, he reached the Major Leagues briefly two years ago before becoming an important cog in the Padres' bullpen last season, posting a 3.78 ERA in 67 games.

Really, Brach's path and the one Cherry is currently traveling aren't all that different.

"There are so many similarities," Cherry said. "I wasn't around for him as a 41st-round Draft pick. I didn't get to see those underdog moments. But [I went] back and read old articles about him and how that it is so unheard of for [a 41st-round pick] to make it."

Cherry, who is from Wonder Lake, Ill., is an aspiring singer-songwriter with big league dreams of her own.

Cherry thought she wanted to be a nurse, but chemistry classes "weren't my thing," she admits. She was always much better at playing the guitar and writing songs, doing both for hours on end in her Northern Illinois dorm room. Finally, with her parents' blessing, she left school and headed to Nashville.

"Watching her play, it's kind of like she's going through the Minor League thing now," Brach said. "I give her all the credit in the world because it's tough at times. It's definitely inspiring to watch. I mean, she's doing what she loves. The pay isn't the best, but she's going for it. She has a dream and she's going after it."

Three years after leaving school, and following a stint as a waitress, Cherry's full attention is on music -- songwriting and singing. She even has her own version of the doubleheader, playing twice on Tuesday and Saturday -- an acoustic show early by herself, then a break for food and to unwind before she goes back out to yet another venue for a nearly four-hour set with her band.

This still seems like such an odd existence for Brach, who usually gets no more than three outs to prove himself, and that's only on the days he pitches. He can't fathom how Cherry does this every night.

"I think the thing that impresses me the most is that she and her band can play for as long as they do," Brach said. "It's difficult to be that into it. When we're alone, she can be herself, but when she is up on stage, she has to be 'on.' In addition to performing, she talks to the crowd and she'll ask them where they're from. It means a lot to her that they're there.

"I know for me, I'd be so exhausted by then. I couldn't imagine having the adrenaline going that long. I know sports and singing are different, but it's still about being on top of your game."

All told, Cherry plays five days a week, resting only on Sunday and Monday. About the only night Cherry won't take off is Saturday. There's just something about Saturday on Broadway in Nashville. The energy is palpable, the vibe genuine. Tips are better, too.

"That slot [10 p.m. to 2 a.m.] is where you want to be to make money," Cherry said. "That's when all the crazies are out."

On this particular night in December, The Second Fiddle has a steady stream of traffic coming and going. Baseball's Winter Meetings are just outside downtown, so there's some members of the industry at the bar, including Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who does a hot lap before moving on.

Cherry's band, called, well, the Jenae Cherry Band, is a four-piece set. The set list varies and it's mostly covers -- very well-done covers, nearly all fronted by Cherry. There's a few original songs that she'll mix in and the band generally follows a loose script on how to entertain.

"The first three or four songs are rock and country songs. Then we go into rock and roll," Cherry said.

If the crowd responds well, Cherry and her band mix in some goodies, songs you might not hear at the other bars in town, those who prescribe heavily to a country music theme.

"We'll even play some Paula Abdul," Cherry said.

Cherry takes few breaks but plenty of requests. Occasionally, when she's not singing lead, she will head out into the crowd with an odd-looking tip jar -- a tin bucket adorned with hot pink construction paper that's cut into the shape of a heart.

On it, a simple message: I Heart Tips.

"Most people think it's a corsage," she said.

Shortly after 2 a.m., the show is over and what's left of the crowd makes for the exit. Brach is the one of the last to leave, trading his now-empty water bottle for something more substantial; the unmistakable pink guitar case. The perfect night for the perfect pair -- girl sings, boy listens, boy carries equipment.

"Brad lives and breathes baseball," Cherry said. "He walks around with a baseball in his hand even at home. I think he's super inspiring. I mean, he was mowing the lawn the last day of the Draft because he didn't think he was going to be picked. We talk about this constantly. When I get frustrated and say I should be more realistic and go back to school, he says, 'No.'

"We both are following our dreams ... our crazy dreams."

San Diego Padres, Brad Brach