Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Egg hunting, sheep herding, and anthem singing: Game 15 in Jacksonville

On my way to the Will Call window at Jacksonville's ticket booth, I stopped to talk with the chief of stadium security.  When he learned that I’d be singing the anthem, he quipped: “Do you know the last two words of the national anthem?”  Of course, I said: “the brave.”  Since the Jacksonville Suns are affiliated with the Florida Marlins and not Atlanta, I knew that his response would not be “the Braves.”  Instead, he countered: “Play ball.” 
He asked about the history of the national anthem and its performance at sporting events.  Because ballgames are the only place where he hears the anthem sung or played, he seriously wondered whether it had been written for baseball.
Since I have made a couple of conference presentations about the performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events, I was primed to respond.  I noted that the first verifiable performance of the song at a Major League game occurred in game three of the 1918 World Series, thirteen years before it would be officially adopted as the national anthem.  Even so, the routine performance of the anthem at ballgames did not become a practice until the 1942 season when Major League Baseball sought to bolster patriotism during the initial months of U.S. participation in World War II.

At Jacksonville, two promotions took place on Easter afternoon.  One of the lures to afternoon game was the annual Easter egg hunt on the outfield. 

Eggs dot left field as 4-7 year-olds prepare to dash.

Divided into sectors for three age groups, the outfield was covered with colored eggs, some of which were plastic and contained gift certificates.  In each of the three sectors, a single golden egg was hidden.  Along the left field foul line, Brandon, age 4, carried an appropriate baseball-shaped basket for his eggs.  Perhaps that was the good-luck charm that he needed: He discovered the prized golden egg under an artificial grass rug beneath the bullpen bench. For his effort, he won a huge Easter basket filled with treats and Suns’ paraphernalia.

Brandon proudly displays his basket and the golden egg.
The other promotion was “Whiplash, the Cowboy Monkey,” who performed before and after the game.  A couple of weeks before my singing for the Suns, Tug Haines, the “casual fan” who is blogging about his trip to minor league parks east of the Mississippi River, had alerted me to this phenomenal act.  Unlike Max Patkin’s classic antics as “The Clown Prince of Baseball,” Whiplash’s act is not intrinsically related to baseball.  It is a wild circus act or rodeo interlude that that happens to be staged on a baseball diamond.  Whiplash is a capuchin monkey who rides a border collie that wrangles sheep into a pen near the visitors’ dugout.  
Whiplash herds the sheep around first base after the final out.
Whiplash’s act is uncommon; my traditional performance of the anthem seems ordinary.  Still, the Suns promoted my anthem project in two wayss that no other team had done.  For one, they featured my singing on their website along with the other promotions for the day.  And in the introduction, not only did the P.A. announcer provide a brief description of the tour, he also invited fans to check out the website.  Prompted by this publicity, several fans inquired about my venture and my work: How had I set up the tour?  How could I take so much time off work?  How would my voice hold up?  Where had I been last week?  Where will I sing tomorrow?  While I emphasized the fun of the travel and the singing, I also let them know that the project really is work, merely a reassigned sort of work during my sabbatical from teaching at Whittier College.

Greeting many of the fans as they had moved from one parking lot toward the turnstyles is a sculpture of a potent batter filled with baseballs.  From another approach, others had passed the original structure of the Old St. Andrews Church (erected circa 1888), which now houses the Jacksonville Historical Society.  The juxtaposition of the former sanctuary with the ballpark elicits a sense of reverence like that which prompted Philip Lowry to call his photographic enriched study of ballparks Green Cathedrals.  He recognized that the architecture and ethos of ballparks evoke a sense of awe and wonder, providing a “mystical appeal” for millions of fans to access “the soul of the game of baseball.” 

Despite the chaos of the children cavorting in the outfield after eggs before the game or Whiplash wrangling sheep across the basepaths after the final out, I sensed the delicious, deep order that orients baseball's play on this Easter afternoon.
The Suns on their sunny field adjacent to Old St. Andrews' spire.

1 comment:

  1. Joe, a beautiful presentation of blending of culture and religion. How American and how Christian.

    Will you lose this mix after you leave the South?