Nelly Raps St. Louis Cardinals, Mark McGwire

Nelly is currently riding atop the "Billboard" album chart with his debut LP, "Country Grammar," but if things had worked out differently for the St. Louis-based rapper, he might have been riding fastballs out of Busch Stadium instead.

As a teenager coming out of high school, Nelly (born Cornell Haynes Jr.) considered a career in baseball after playing in an amateur summer league in St. Louis, as well as in various minor league camps for teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Atlanta Braves.

Nelly eventually opted to follow the rap route, although he still considers himself a huge Cardinals fan and usually decks himself out in the team's jerseys and uniforms for photo shoots and public appearances.

So far, this has been a good season to be a Cardinals fan. The club currently owns a commanding 8 1/2-game lead over the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central Division and blasted the Eastern Division leading Atlanta Braves during

a weekend series.

Nelly told MTV Radio that he still closely follows the Cardinals, and that he even used to model himself after a certain fleet-footed, back-flipping shortstop.

"The Cardinals, we're just loving them right now," he said. "They're number one, so why not? [Laughs] I grew up watching the Cardinals and [I was] a big Ozzie Smith fan as far as playing shortstop. I tried to mimic his whole little thing when I was coming up. I had the back flip [down], and I wore the number one on my jersey [like he did].

"I'm just a real big Cardinals fan in that aspect," he added, "so I'm just representing [when I wear the clothes], whether it's throwback, or 2000, or the futuristic jerseys. I'm trying to work on getting one of them now... 'cause I think [the Cardinals are] trying to come out with some

new uniforms.

"It just feels good to represent for the Lou', and not everybody knows what [the jersey] is. Everybody knows what it is when I put it on, so that's a big part of it, and that makes me feel special, too. A lot of times, if I get caught without it, people will ask me, 'Where's your jersey? Where's your Cardinals jersey at, dirty?' And I'll go, 'Well, it's back at the pad.' I got to rep, though, for sure." [RealAudio]

With an eye toward the playoffs in October, Nelly said he is confident the Cardinals will be able to make a strong run at the National League crown, even if first baseman and home run king Mark McGwire is unable to return to the team because of a knee injury.

"Everybody's hoping that Big Mac comes back and does his thing," Nelly said, "'cause

he's definitely a big part of the team, and he gives us that threat right there. He actually helps the other batters to see better pitches than what they would usually see with him out of the lineup. So with him in the lineup, it definitely plays a big part, whether he does well or not, just influencing the psyche of the other team, too."

"But we've got [first baseman] Will Clark now," he continued, "and he's been picking up a lot of the slack. So we haven't been missing a lot as far as Big Mac being out, except just him being Big Mac. We've got a good shot at doing our thing this year, so we're just running with it." [RealAudio]

In addition to scoreboard watching, Nelly is getting ready to drop a new single, "E.I.," the planned follow-up to his "Country Grammar" single and video.

For a full-length

interview with Nelly, check out the MTV News Online feature "Nelly: Country By Storm."