The St. Louis-born rap star—his second album, Nellyville, is at No. 3 and has sold more than 2.3 million copies this year—went into music after a promising high school baseball career that earned him tryouts with the Braves and the Pirates.
SI: During the 2000 baseball playoffs the Cardinals played your hit Country Grammar in the clubhouse after wins. How does that feel?
Nelly: Beautiful, man. It's the illest. To have athletes support what you're doing, feel a part of your music like that, it's like you were a part of the celebration.
SI: You played shortstop at University City High in St. Louis. Is that how you became an Ozzie Smith fan?
Nelly: Oooh, love Ozzie Smith. You can't be a Cardinals fan and not love Ozzie, Terry Pendleton, Tommy Herr, Jose Oquendo. Then you get down to Jack Clark, Keith Hernandez....
SI: Why did you give up baseball?
Nelly: Baseball to me was a slow, grinding process, and I wanted the fast money and all that. So I kind of got out of the baseball thing and went back to the 'hood. It was like, To hell with baseball, I need to make some money!
SI: If you wanted money, maybe you should have stayed with baseball. Who makes more, you or A-Rod?
Nelly: Oh, A-Rod, of course—252? What? I'm definitely in the wrong business. But A-Rod is a freak of nature. I think me and Ozzie have more in common. I'd probably have a good .302, .305 batting average, maybe .270 on my down low. Just try to put together a string of Gold Gloves, that would be my tiling right there.
SI: How would you welcome Scott Rolen to St. Louis?