Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Warming up: Game 23 in Round Rock

Like players who need stretching exercises before games or pitchers who gradually increase their speed from soft toss to hard throwing, singers also need to do vocal exercises before intoning their songs.  From my voice coach Mike Stevens, who is chair of the voice faculty at the Colburn School in Los Angeles and who sings with the Los Angeles Opera, I have learned multiple exercises and techniques for warming up my voice, especially ways to focus naso-pharynx resonance.  And like players and pitchers whose initial movements might not look graceful, so too the sounds that singers make in warming up are not intended to be pleasing to the ears.  Their purpose is to prepare facial and abdominal muscles for improving performance.

Pitch pipe and warm up exercise list.

At most ballparks a challenge has been finding a space where I can do these warm up exercises.  In most instances, finding a quiet place to warm up has been difficult since pre-game music blares over the P.A. system throughout the stadium.  Occasionally, when I have been able to find a family restroom, I have utilized its private, somewhat muted space to do my vocal exercises.  At other ballparks, I have sought far corners under the grandstands where I could discreetly warm up, sometimes using ear plugs to dull the distraction of the background music.  And at a few ballparks, I have resorted to the most remote men’s restroom where I have stretched and vocalized.  On those occasions, however, it has never failed that while I have been making ugly vocal sounds and making funny faces, someone has walked in and looked at me in a confused way, scrunching his eyebrows, raising his cheeks, and contorting his mouth while wondering whether I’m crazy or ill.
So it was a surprise and delight that Kathy Wall, a fan assistance coordinator for the Round Rock Express, warmly greeted me when I arrived at the Dell Diamond and immediately offered to provide a warm up room. 
The evening featured the largest crowd--exceeding 10,000--that I’ve seen at a minor league ballpark, in fact, one larger than the crowds at two of the Major League games where I have sung in recent years. 
Fans stand at attention during anthem.
Attendance received a boost, I am sure, from multiple promotions related to youth teams (their reward was getting to walk the outfield warning track before the game), student achievement associated with the Georgetown Partners in Education (their reward was getting to stand in centerfield with a banner before the player introductions), and the fireworks feted following the game. 
Little Leaguers parade along the warning track before the game.
Dell Diamond includes several imaginative design elements: Greeting fans at the entry to the concourse is a painted wooden bull labeled “The Express,” the name of the team and the nickname for Nolan Ryan, whose group owns the team and whose signature stands out on its side.
Bonnie pats the beefy greeter endorsed by Nolan Ryan.
The outfield stands feature a second deck that has some seats with partially obstructed views, like the historic ballparks in Boston and Chicago.  And like the advertizing spaces at some of the old ballparks, billboards protrude above the roofline.  A creative use of space is found at the foul poles, where an upright toothbrush image attracts attention for Carus, a family orthodontics practice in nearby Austin.

Families on the right-field berm adjacent to the Carus toothbrush foul pole.
At most of the ballparks the berms beyond the outfield fences are open spaces used as play areas by children, who seem to enjoy rolling down the slopes more than jumping in the bouncy rooms designed for them.  At Round Rock, the area was packed like the beach on a sunny, summer day, with couples and families on sitting on blankets and rooting for the Express.  In place of that customary play space, Round Rock the children’s “Fun Zone” beyond the centerfield fence appeared unequaled in its interactive structures.  A faux rock tower allows young climbers to practice belaying and rappelling while using fitted hand and foot holds.  A large trampoline also entices youngsters who are bungee-tied to bound and flip securely. 

Georgetown Education Partners get recognized pre-game while children climb the rock and jump on the trampoline behind them
Before the pre-game ceremonies began Reid Ryan, the founder and CEO of the team, stopped to chat with the participants. I enjoyed sharing with him the story of my having sung for his father’s final victory, Texas’ 4-2 win in Cleveland.  Inquiring about the anthem tour, he seemed pleased that I had sung in Frisco and Corpus Christi, teams also owned by the group connected to the Ryans.  While he winced at the loss that the Hooks had suffered in my previous game on a late-inning grand slam, he expressed hope that the Express would prevail.
They did, thanks to the offensive output of Omar Quintanilla and Chad Tracy, the Express’ designated hitter.  I was especially pleased to see Tracy do well since he had been on my fantasy league team when he had played the corner infield positions at Arizona.  In the sixth he hit a three-run homerun, and in the ninth he kept the game-winning rally alive with a single that moved the winning run to third.  The other hitting hero of the game was Quintanilla, the shortstop playing in his first game for Round Rock.  In the eighth inning he singled and scored in the rally that tied the game, and in the ninth with two outs he hit the game-winning single.

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