I enjoy the multiple meanings that some teams’ names connote. The Hunstville Stars are such an organization since its roster includes current players named to the Southern League’s All-Star team and since former players like Jose Canseco achieved league MVP honors in 1985 and Major League star status a few years later. Still, the Stars’ name refers to more than baseball players’ excellent skills and performances; it also reflects the primary industry in Huntsville by recognizing NASA, the starry-eyed space agency whose headquarters are nearby.
The Huntsville team also treated me like a star. General Manager Buck Rogers, with whom I had originally corresponded about my anthem project almost a year ago, took the College’s press release about my endeavor and forwarded its information and the date of my Huntsville appearance to the Stars’ subscribers. During the game, several fans initiated conversations with me based on their familiarity with the profile that Buck had provided. In addition, Jill Cacic, the Stars’ director of media relations, set up a live, pregame interview with sportscaster Ronnie Duncan on WAAY, the ABC affiliate in Huntsville. The conversation was so much fun that Ronnie returned for a taping of my anthem rendition, which was later featured on the evening sports report. Picking up on the project, FOX also sent a videographer to the game and featured my rendition and tour in its newscast.
Jill indicated that the two television stations work closely with the team, with Ronnie often doing the five o’clock sports report live from the ballpark when the Stars are in town. And both WAAY, channel 31, and FOX -54 have been featured on promotional nights when general admission tickets cost 31 cents or 54 cents. The box office probably handled more pennies on those nights than the rest of the season combined!
For the third game in row, the anthem performance at a ballpark had a corporate sponsor. This time, it was the Musicology School in Huntsville. Hearing my introduction as a professor, several fans and Stars’ hitting coach John Curtis assumed that I was on the music faculty at the sponsoring school. Having played in Yankee Stadium, Curtis associated my rendition with Robert Merrill, whom he considered the classic performer. I assured him that, although I am certainly not in Merrill’s Met league, I model my performance after him.
When Curtis learned that my field is religious studies, he posed several leading questions about possible connections between religion and sport. Specifically, he asked, “How are you going to integrate your anthem tour into your teaching?” First, I identified the idea about how the anthem functions as a consecrating hymn in the rituals of civil religion. Wherever “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played or sung, protocol requires solemn gestures of devotion. At ballparks, fans remove their caps, stand at attention (often placing their hands over their hearts), and face the flag. The ritual action and response resemble the acts and orientation associated with the consecration of the host in Christian celebrations of the Eucharist or that of the opening of the ark and the removal of the Torah in Jewish services. At the ballpark, the anthem ceremony immediately precedes the announcement, “Play ball,” and the lead-off hitter stepping into the batter’s box, thus signifying a kind of transition in time from the ordinary time of day to the special time of games that is measured in innings, not hours.
“It will be easy to incorporate examples and impressions from my tour into my teaching,” I added. “Each year, I offer a course on ‘Sport and Religion’ that includes a several sessions on sport as American civil religion.” He seemed fascinated by the ideas, and I’d have loved to spend more time talking with him about baseball and religion. But the time for my anthem performance interrupted our discussion.
A few of the fans who had received “the email from Buck,” as they put it, or had seen the clip on the five o’clock news with Ronnie Duncan also pursued conversations related to the project, its relation to religious to religious studies, and their own experiences attending baseball games in Huntington, New York, and Milwaukee, with whom the Stars are affiliated.
|Admiring father Brian looks over shoulder of Katie Beth.|
“Good job with the anthem and good luck on your quest,” a fan said as I walked off the field. Brian Allen caught my attention not only with his comment but because his young daughter Katie Beth was so charming. Wearing a Brewers’ cheerleading dress that her god-parents had brought her from their visit to the ballpark in Milwaukee, Katie Beth joyfully attends a number of the Stars’ games each year with her mother and father. Brian indicated that he had learned of my project on the newscast a couple of hours earlier.
Thanks to Buck’s email, another fan, Steve Foley, was aware of my effort. He and his daughter Ciera frequently attend the Stars’ games as well as those in Major League cities when they travel each summer. With a good bit of excitement, he shared their recent experiences of having been in Yankee Stadium on the night that Alex Rodriguez hit his 600th homerun. While he doesn’t expect most of the Stars’ games to be so memorable, he finds that an evening at the ballpark gives them a chance “to chill” together after a long day at work or school.
|Don Ross and Bonnie before the game.|
After a blistering day of heat, Bonnie and I also enjoyed chilling at the game with our new friend and Huntington host Don Ross. Anticipating our arrival in the area, Don had graciously offered us the chance to dock Arby adjacent to his motor-home hook-ups at their farm nearby. When the early summer heat wave intensified, however, he and his wife Myrna invited us into their beautiful home, which overlooks a bend in the Flint River in one direction and a Monet-worthy field of haystacks from another.
|The view of the Flint River from the Rosses' deck.|
|The haystacks on the Rosses' farm.|
Although Huntsville took an early lead in the game, the Tennessee Smokies came back and held on for as 3-2 win. Although Hunstville’s Stars were eclipsed by Smokies, the clear sky in the cooling evening sparkled with them. The baseball diamond was covered with them. And our reception by the Buck and Jill and the Rosses made us feel like stars.