In a distinct way, singing for the Tampa Yankees echoed my experience of singing for Major League teams. Unlike the previous minor league ballparks where I have sung, including three on this tour, the Yankees scheduled a sound check for me before the stadium opened. The early arrival gave me an opportunity to watch players work out and take batting practice.
As the visiting Manatees finished their swings in the batting cages and walked back toward the visitors’ clubhouse, I saw #17, Josh Prince, the Manatees shortstop. A few days earlier he had patted me on the back following my Opening Night rendition in Brevard County. I congratulated him on his solid fielding, including his splendid play on a shot up the middle, and he inquired about what had brought me to the bowels of the ballpark. When I identified myself as a professor undertaking the anthem tour, he brightened and asked if the Zephyrs were on my schedule. Indeed. He had gone to Tulane, and he joshed that he’d like to ride along on my tour to return to his friends and haunts in New Orleans.
After practicing the anthem with the sound system, I saw one of the younger Yankees prospects in the dugout and remarked to him that, on the two occasions when I had sung for the parent Yankees, they had won. He was unresponsive to my comment although he had smiled broadly while I had been singing. A staff member let me know that he had recently arrived from the Dominican Republic and speaks very little English. His situation is not uncommon, and it shows the complex challenges that many of the minor leaguers face. Not only must they learn to adjust to the rigors of bus-league travel while they try to advance through their organization's system; they simultaneously must learn to swim in an alien culture.
Following my performance for the game, I was greeted warmly by Myra and Ed Kryscnski from New Jersey. The public address announcer had briefly identified my anthem project and tour; and the Kryscnskis were curious about my itinerary. Devout fans of the minor leagues, they have partial season tickets to the Trenton Thunder's games where, they hoped, I would sing later this summer. "July 1," I replied. I've worked so often and long with the schedule that it is now mired in memory. Myra said that although that date is not on their package of games, they’ll add that one to their schedule. As we talked she also identified the chance for them to join me for the IronPigs’ game in Lehigh Valley.
During the game, I also chatted for several innings with Mike Lortz, a blogger for www.busleaguesbaseball.com. He let me know that a few days earlier he had met Tug Haines, a cranberry farmer and free-lance writer from New Jersey. Like me, Tug is trekking through minor league ballparks this summer, trying to see more than a hundred games in the ballparks east of the Mississippi River.
|Manatees' ace Kyle Heckathorn challenges the Yankee batter.|
Needing to drive back to DeLand that evening, I left the game following the seventh-inning stretch, during which the public address system played a recording of Robert Merrill singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Could I have more fun during the singing of baseball's song than to blend my voice with the rich baritone of Mr. Merrill? Although the crowd had dwindled far below the gate report of 840, I lustily sang the great, traditional melody, modulating along with Merrill.
Although I had claimed a perfect record for the Yankees before the game, the these mini-Yankees lost 4-2 that evening to Brevard County, who won their first game of the season, breaking their own five-game skid.