Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Where's the pitch? Game 3 in Bradenton

When I walked into the Bradenton Marauders ballpark I asked Fred, one of the box-seat ushers, if he could direct me to Charlie, the staff member whom I was to meet for anthem assistance. Before pointing me in the right direction, Fred looked at the anthem tour logo on my shirt and said, “Are you the guy who’s going to all the ballparks and singing the anthem?”  When I nodded “yes,” he continued. “I heard about you this afternoon.”
Enthusiastic about my performance and tour, Fred introduced me to a couple of his colleagues as I prepared for the pre-game ceremonies.  Here, they varied the routine from my previous performances.  Since there were no corporate sponsors for the game and no groups in attendance, there was no typical first pitch.   While I was reaching for my pitch pipe, the public address announcer introduced me sooner than I had expected.  With the wind blowing steadily, I started effectively on C#.  Following my performance, the public address announcer described the anthem tour, identifying Bradenton as the third ballpark.
When I returned to the stands, one of Fred’s friends expressed appreciation for the pace and clarity of my singing.  During Spring Training for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he said, several of the anthem performers had butchered the tune, changing keys, embellishing the melody, or screeching at the end.   By contrast, he liked the way that kept the focus on the words.
Among the fans who commented on my performance, Mike Murphy was fascinated by my scheduling challenge to find teams in the same area at home on consecutive days.  In a couple of weeks, he and his wife planned to fly to Iowa for the Drake Relays in Des Moines.  The promise of the meet lured him back to his alma mater where he had played football and run track. Recently retired from executive positions in the food industry, he had spent most of the last decade abroad.

During their stay in Iowa, Mike and his wife expected to attend several of the minor league games.  He expressed frustration by the fact that the Iowa Cubs would be “away” during the Relays; but he and his wife would be able to catch games in Cedar Rapids and Clinton. Somewhat like David Lamb who chronicles his re-immersion into Americana through minor league baseball in his engaging book Stolen Season, Mike enjoyed minor league baseball as a way of getting back in touch with the rhythms of America.     
Unlike my two previous Florida ballparks, Bradenton’s McKechnie Field is not positioned in open space with acres of grassy parking.  Instead, one of its outer walls abuts a street, giving it a neighborhood immediacy much like Wrigley Field.  It also features spired garrets like Churchill Downs, and pillars that partially obstruct the view of a few seats in the higher grandstands.
After hearing the 702 fans swoon their way through “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” I left the game with the Marauders holding a three-run lead.  They maintained that margin for their victory, although both teams combined for six more runs in their final at-bats.

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