Singing the Anthem

I’ve always thought that the Star Spangled Banner was a poor choice for our national song.  It is very militaristic for one thing.  For another, it is very difficult to sing.  I would much prefer America. But since I don’t think there will be a change in my lifetime, I have fun by watching the rendition before ball games and other events and seeing how it is done and whether the singer makes it all the way through it without an error.  Or adding horrible extra notes.  (And I don’t blame Beyoncé for lip-synching at the Inauguration.  She was singing outdoors with the band on a totally different level of the platform.  Besides, she totally nailed it live at the Super Bowl.)  But watching and listening is a spot in itself.

We went to the Brockton Rox opening game a few weeks ago.  (They play in a Futures League.)  An elementary school band played and were terrific.  But we’ve also seen some clinkers.  When it is a kid, you want to give them an “A” for trying.  An adult, not so much.  The New York Times had a recent story singing at ballparks.

It is a notoriously difficult song to sing, a musical high-wire act, with an octave-and-a-half range and a devilishly spaced melody. You usually sing it a cappella in a stadium where the echo hits your ear a half-beat behind the melody, and the lyrics are so familiar and fraught with meaning that every fan in the stands can hear the slightest mistake or botched note.

“It’s certainly nerve-racking,” said David Cook, the pop singer and “American Idol” winner who will sing the anthem on the Fourth of July in Kansas City, Mo., just before the Royals take on the Cleveland Indians. “For every person who wants to talk about Whitney Houston killing it years ago, 10 people want to talk about Roseanne Barr butchering it, so there is always that fear that ‘I better not forget the words to this song.’”

And most people like it done straight.  No Jimi Hendrix.   Me, I like his version.

Not all baseball anthems are done traditionally. Pop musicians who are ardent baseball fans often jump at the chance to do the honors. Kirk Hammett, the lead guitarist of the band Metallica, who grew up in San Francisco, and James Hetfield, the band’s lead singer, opened a game for the San Francisco Giants with a distorted guitar duet of the anthem in May this year. Steven Tyler and James Taylor have done the anthem in their own inimitable styles for their home team, the Red Sox, at Fenway Park in Boston.

Mr. Steinberg, a senior adviser to the Red Sox who has worked as an executive for the Dodgers and the Orioles, said it has become common for rock stars to try their hands at the anthem ever since Joan Jett had success singing it for her beloved Orioles in the late 1980s. Boston being the cradle of the Revolution, however, the Red Sox tend to go with a military theme on the Fourth of July, Mr. Steinberg said, so the team has asked Musician Second Class Nina Church, a vocalist with the Navy Band Northeast in Newport, R.I. to do the honors in her dress whites.

Petty Officer Church, 29, said that as a member of the Navy band, “you could call me a professional at singing the national anthem.” The key to pulling it off, she said, is to start on the right note. “The range of the piece is an octave plus a fifth,” she explained. “A lot of people start a little too high.”

But even Petty Officer Church stumbled a little, but recovered well.  I wonder if the Dropkick Murphy’s have done the Anthem at Fenway?  Don’t think so.  That might be interesting.  Or I read someplace that Justin Verlander, the pitcher for the Detroit Tigers can sing.  Maybe he can start a new trend:  Players who sing the Anthem.

Clockwise from top left: STEVEN TYLER at Fenway Park in 2002; CHAKA KHAN in 2008 at Dodger Stadium; JAMES HETFIELD in San Francisco in May; ROSEANNE BARR at a San Diego Padres game in 1990; MARC ANTHONY at Shea Stadium in 2001; and TAYLOR SWIFT at Dodger Stadium in 2007.

Clockwise from top left: STEVEN TYLER at Fenway Park in 2002; CHAKA KHAN in 2008 at Dodger Stadium; JAMES HETFIELD in San Francisco in May; ROSEANNE BARR at a San Diego Padres game in 1990; MARC ANTHONY at Shea Stadium in 2001; and TAYLOR SWIFT at Dodger Stadium in 2007.

Photographs: Clockwise from top left: Elise Amendola/AP; Stephen Dunn/Getty; Jason O. Watson/Getty; Andy Hayt/AP; Ray Stubblebine/Reuters; Kevork Djansezian/AP

Bill Spaceman Lee and Melvin Falu

Yesterday was a great day in my long baseball fandom:  I got to see a great game pitched by a guy who is 6 months older than me and I got an autographed baseball from one of my all time favorite Brockton Rox, first baseman Melvin Falu.  The only bad thing about the game was that Falu (Pronounced FAH-loo with lots of ooo’s when he comes up to bat) was injured and couldn’t play.

One of the great things about being in a small independent league ball park is that you are very close to the action.  The other is that fans are generally really friendly.  I had struck up a conversation with two young women sitting behind us.  They were clearly fans, and they commented on the game in both English and Spanish.  We talked a little about Bill Lee‘s appearance while Bob was off finding us a beer.  Then later in the game they started talking about Melvin Falu and how he couldn’t play.  I turned and asked them if he were hurt as I had wondered by he wasn’t playing.  The one of the woman answered that he hurt his knee and had had a cortisone shot, but would be OK.  I asked if he would be able to play in the the play-off and she said yes.  I said I hoped to see him in a play-off game as he was one of my favorite players.

A short time later, one of the women walked down the steps to the dugout and came back with an autographed  ball which she handed me.  Falu was standing up in the dugout waving at us.  It was a great moment.  Turns out she is a relative of his.  He plays hard and well, clearly for the love of the game.  He is one of the Can-Am league all-stars again this year.

So on to Bill Lee. The Spaceman.  Lee last pitched for the Red Sox in 1978 and pitched his last professional game in 1982 for the Montreal Expos.  According to NESN, the Rox had first asked him to throw out the first pitch and he agreed only if he could do more.  So he did for 5 1/3 innings getting the win.  Two runs, 5 hits, one strikeout and no walks.  Pretty good for almost 64.


The Rox beat the Worcester Tornado who just happen to be managed by another Red Sox alum, Rich Gedman.

They are part of the Boston Red Sox alumni club, one player from the 1970s and the other from the 1980s.

Bill Lee’s stay with the Red Sox ended in 1978 and Rich Gedman made his debut in Boston late in the 1980 season, so they just missed being teammates.

On Sunday afternoon, though, their paths crossed in a Can-Am League game at Campanelli Stadium with the 63-year-old Lee pitching for the Brockton Rox against the Worcester Tornadoes, managed by the soon-to-be 51-year-old Gedman.

For Lee, the game meant a chance to venture into new territory, starting a professional game for the first time since being released by the Montreal Expos in 1982.

For Gedman, the game meant a chance for his team to stay alive in the race for the final playoff spot with the regular season ending today. [Monday]

With his team’s playoff hopes damaged, Gedman could only shake his head in amazement.

“I didn’t know whether to clap or be angry with him,’’ said Gedman. “I’m happy for him. There’s not a lot of people who can do what he did. First of all, they don’t think they can do it. That’s the thing that he has.

“How many people could pull that off? That’s what is special. He did it because he believed he could do it. He loves to play. That’s a wonderful tribute to him. Despite all the other stuff that people talk about, baseball is special to him and it’s fun to watch him.’’

According to the Yahoo sports story

I lift wood and make bats for a living,” he told reporters. “This is fun for me. It doesn’t take anything out of you to pitch.”

Yes, the “Spaceman” was otherworldly. Lee, who in his day job makes bats for David Ortiz(notes), among other major leaguers, is thought to be the oldest pitcher to appear in a professional game, let alone win one.

Satchel Paige was 59 when he pitched three innings for the Kansas City Athletics in 1965. Another longtime Negro Leagues player, the legendary Buck O’Neal, batted twice in the Northern League All-Star Game in 2006 at age 94. He swung at one pitch and walked in both at-bats. Earlier that year, Jim Eriotes, 83, led off the game for the Sioux Falls Canaries and struck out. He did foul off a pitch.

His first pitch was an eephus, a slow blooper that the batter banged up the middle for a single. Was that all he had? The 6,126 in attendance had to wonder.

Then Lee got down to business. He got out of the first without giving up a run. Nick Salotti homered to lead off the second, but Lee allowed only three hits and a run the rest of the way. Perhaps after giving up the homer, he reminded himself of one his most famous quotes: “I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won’t matter if I get this guy out.”

The Spaceman was obviously having a great time and so were we.  And he’s added another great quote to his collection:

“It felt good out there. Everything was where I wanted to be,” the 14-year big-leaguer said, believed to be the oldest pitcher to earn a victory in a professional game. “I got pulled before I could use all of my pitches today,” Lee added. “I was hoping to be able to break out my Juan Marichal screwball.”

Thanks to the Spaceman and Melvin Falu for a great day.  For Lee, it is back to Vermont and making bats and for Falu and the Rox, it is play-off time.

Talkin’ Baseball: Rox and Sox

We went down to Brockton last night to see the independent Can-Am League Brockton Rox play a team from Northern New Jersey.  We’ve been taking in a couple of Rox games a summer for the last 4 or 5 years.  Great seats for not a lot a money, a nice little ballpark, no hassles getting in and out the park, and entertainment between innings.  (little kids running the bases and trying to beat mascot K-O the Kangaroo and stuff like that. ) What more could you ask for?  By my reckoning, the Rox have a winning record when we go.  To prove what fans we are, we have bobbleheads of Bill Murray (yes, that Bill Murray) and Saul Bustos.  I’m hoping that when slugger Melvin Falu retires, we can get his bobblehead to add to the collection.  Bill Murray is the Director of Fun for the team and, although no ones says, I assume a financial investor.  The Rox blew out Sussex Skyhawks last night winning 13-2.

Part of the fun is watching the little scoreboard where they post the Sox scores.  I looked at it at one point and it is  the 9th and the Sox are still down 4-2.  Then suddenly, the score is final and the Sox win 5-4.  People around me pulled out their phones to see how the Red Sox pulled it out.  (David Ortiz hit a walk off double with the bases loaded.)

And yesterday was the trade deadline.  While we were driving to Brockton, the new broke that we had picked up another catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  I remembered him from having the longest name on a major league jersey.  Saltalamacchia is going to Pawtucket to play some Triple A.  I believe he is the guy who developed some weird thing where he was unable to throw the ball back to the pitcher.  This is not a good thing for a catcher.  I assume Theo Epstein has some assurance that he is over that now.  Saltalamacchia is young and Veritek is about to retire so it may turn out to be a good move.

Bob Ryan writes in the Boston Globe today

There is no doubt massive disappointment among the Red Sox faithful. There were no blockbuster deals, only the acquisition of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, plus the addition-by-subtraction expunging of Jeremy Hermida and Ramon Ramirez, the former being designated for assignment, the latter sent to San Francisco. Instead of producing a familiar name belonging to a veteran, Sox management has settled for picking up a catcher who has failed to fulfill his promise and by promoting prized prospect Ryan Kalish from Pawtucket.

The Sox needed a veteran reliever, and they still need one. Theo Epstein was quite obviously unwilling to sacrifice a valued prospect, and you know what? Good for him. Sometimes you just have to accept that it’s just not shaping up as your year, and you simply focus more on the future.

So now we are waiting for Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Veritek, and Dustin Pedroia to get better and rejoin the Sox.  This has been a rough year and we have lots of games with Tampa Bay and the Yankees to win if the Sox are to make the play-offs this year.

Finally we have this nice story.

Perhaps Pawtucket Red Sox management was psychic.

In the nine years the team has held a bobblehead doll night promotion, never before had a former PawSox player appeared in a game that his bobblehead was given to fans at McCoy Stadium.

Jacoby Ellsbury put his name in Pawtucket’s “record book’’ last night when he played six innings in the first of two games against the Durham Bulls and went 2 for 4 with a run scored.

I think he is on his way back.  Maybe the Red Sox have a chance.