Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beating Derek Jeter: Game 59 in Trenton

By one game I beat Derek Jeter to Trenton and missed seeing him on his rehab assignment for the next two games.  As the Yankees AA affiliate in the Eastern League, Trenton is a frequent final stop for players recovering from injuries and preparing for return to New York’s active roster. 
Minor League ballpark troubadours Mike and Joe.
Although I didn’t get to sing for Jeter this time, I did get to meet and greet Mike Nolan, an affable Thunder usher who, after hearing my introduction and rendition, requested that I come to his section to talk for an inning or two.  For the past four years, Mike has been pursuing a goal of seeing a game in every professional ballpark in the country.  His current tally is 166, and he’ll add to that number in a few weeks when he makes a trip to the upper Midwest.    
Mike is examining the multiple attractions and passions that lure fans to baseball games.  He estimates that at minor league games about 10% of the fans are die-hard devotees to baseball.  So, he wonders, what prompts the majority of attendees to the ballgame and ballpark? 
Thus far, his favorite ballparks are classified by level.  In AAA he prefers Durham’s bullish image and Memphis’ urban landscape (as well as the wafting smells of barbecue from nearby Rendezvous Restaurant).  In AA he likes Altoona with its roller coaster backdrop and Jacksonville where he learned the ballpark’s ins-and-outs from the head groundskeeper.  And in Class A—well, before we got around to discussing his selections for that level, we were interrupted by fans needing to be seated in his section.  I’m sure that we’ll continue that conversation later this month when we meet up in Columbus and Indianapolis for two games when our project schedules converge.
Trenton's ballpark also deserves accolades on Mike's list.
While it was fun to make a new friend at the ballpark, it was so much more enjoyable to share the experience with long-time friends Jerry Fiddler and Missy Alden.  Twenty years ago we had met on an educational technology tour that Bonnie and I had made to the Soviet Union.   An odd thing on that trip:  we went to the USSR and came back from Russia.  Although we didn’t cause the Soviet coup and the dissolution of its republics, we arrived in Moscow at dawn, disembarking from the overnight train from St. Petersburg as tanks rolled into Red Square. 
While we bonded during the two weeks that we spent working with Russian physicists and educators, we have enriched our friendship in decades since.   We have visited in each other’s homes, we have convened at ed tech meetings, and we have sailed together in the San Juan Islands.  Missy and Jerry have also attended games in Oakland when I have sung there. And Jerry, who studied music composition before becoming a computer programmer and co-founder of Wind River Systems, has made two visionary presentations to Whittier College faculty and students about technologies’ impacts on—and possibilities for—liberal education, organizational structures, and economic and environmental sustainability.
Jerry captured me exercising.
When we had arrived at the ballpark, Jerry accompanied me to the green room where I could warm up.  And incredible though it now seems to me, I let him take photographs of me doing some of the odd facial exercises to loosen up before singing scales and a “vowels only” run through the anthem.   As wild and weird as my exercises might seem, a funny thing also happened to Jerry before we left for the field.  When Chad Heidel, my contact with the Thunder, came to get us, Jerry bumped the phone on the table, and it rang.  No one was calling—but the jostle of the Nortel phone had caused it to ring.  What was funny?  Jerry laughed: “I wrote the software for this phone.”  Then while he pressed other buttons and reset the receiver, he quipped that he must have left that sequence out of the program!
My anthem performance was among my best of the season, and I am sure that luxury of sharing a few days with good friends put me in an upbeat state of mind.  Natalie, one of the fans near our seats, observed, “I could see the joy of the anthem come through when you sang.”  She inquired about the tour, places where I’ve been, and destinations in the coming days.  As I turned back to my seat, she calmly and compassionately said, “Grace in your journey.”  While many have commented along the way about  the challenges of travel, she’s the first to speak with the intonation of a blessing.
Jerry frames my rendition with the flag.
Others also expressed appreciation for my singing enthusiastically, especially at the start of the patriotic holiday weekend.  Stephen, another fan, approached and asked if I had sung in the anthem in the key of G.  “Close,” I replied.  “Although I occasionally sing it in that key, tonight I sang it in F-sharp.”  Since he teaches orchestral strings, specializing in bass, he expressed particular appreciation for the lower register in the descending triads in the first few lines of the tune.  He said that as a baritone he was delighted to hear the rendition in a lower key.  At various times on the tour, I have been asked for my autograph.  Stephen was the first person to ask to be photographed with me along with his fiancée.
To say that it was a wild night at Trenton’s ballpark would be an understatement.  The ballpark’s tributes featured a wild disjunction of sorts— a memorial to a Red Sox All-Star seemed to hover over Yankees’ prospects.  Featured on the face of the press box directly behind home plate was the retired number 5—not for the parent Yankees’ Dimaggio but for the former Red Sox favorite Nomar Garciaparro, whose name also appeared there.  Garciaparro, who had grown up and played Little League ball in Whittier, had played for the Trenton team when they had been affiliated with the Red Sox.   
Lisa and her Havanese Elvis.
A temporary wildness of sorts also characterized the evening.  Dogs were everywhere.  They had been admitted on leash as a project to raise funds for a charity. For every dog that entered the park with its owner, a donation would be made.  Seeing all of the friendly dogs (except for one yappy Chihuahua mix), I realized how homesick I was for my dogs Winston (a three year-old Havanese) and Tucker (a year-old Cockapoo).   So when I saw Lisa and her ten-month-old Havanese named Elvis, I went wild taking photographs. 
And the outcome of the game was also largely determined by wild Thunder--at least their pitchers' lack of control.  Although the Curve hadn’t won in the dozen days since I had sung for their home game in Altoona, they didn’t act Thunder-struck this night, using six walks, three hit batters, and three wild pitches to supplement their hits en route to a 10-5 thumping of Trenton.

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