For more than an hour during late afternoon on Good Friday, I sat stranded in the car in the parking lot adjacent to the Charleston River Dogs’ ballpark. Raging thunderstorms were pounding the area. I had no umbrella to use to enter the River Dogs’ offices, and I kept hoping that the storms would subside so that the game might proceed. I really wanted to feature the River Dogs in my writing since team president Mike Veeck had been instrumental in lining up my singing for them. He also had played a formative role in the setting up the first occasion for my singing the anthem for a ballgame.
|Friday's afternoon deluge in Charleston.|
On a Friday in late July last year, I received a phone message from Mike in response to my email proposal to sing for Charleston. 33 years earlier on a July Friday evening in Chicago, Bonnie and I were tending to our newborn son in our two bedroom apartment. When the phone rang, I answered it. The caller identified himself as Mike Veeck, a staff member in the front office of the White Sox. He asked for me and then invited me to sing the National Anthem on Fan Appreciation Day at Comiskey Park a few weeks later.
A month earlier I had sent a letter to Bill Veeck, the owner of the White Sox and Mike’s father. In the letter I had expressed hope that Bill could help me fulfill a dream of singing at a Major League game. In those days before audio cassettes, I had no recording of my anthem performance. In my appeal I simply listed my singing credits in the Chicago area and offered to audition at any time during the summer.
“When do you want me to audition?" I immediately responded to Mike. In those pre-Roseanne Barr days, he replied succinctly, “You’re fool enough to ask. We’re fool enough to let you do it.”
When Mike called me again last summer to offer me support by River Dogs’ staff in scheduling a date, he also indicated that I’d be welcome to sing for the Fort Myers Miracle and the Hudson Valley Renegade, other teams owned by the Goldklang group with whom he is associated. As we talked, I expressed appreciation for his role in getting me started, and he replied that he was glad that “good things persist” and that I was still loving baseball and enjoying singing the anthem.
These formative conversations played through my mind while the rain continued to pound the roof of my car. Meanwhile, the bus bringing the Greenville Drive players to the park pulled into the lot and opened its door. But no one disembarked. After a few minutes the door closed and off the team drove—or floated. As the puddles deepened into mini-ponds, my single ray of hope was sustained by the fact that the lights of the ballpark remained on. I figured that if and when the game would be cancelled, the lights would be turned out.
After 90 minutes, the deluge subsided and I went to look at the field—or wading pool. By comparison, the wet field in the playful scene when Crash Davis created a “rain out” in Bull Durham was merely a puddle.
|The grounds crew creating a wake behind home on Good Friday.|
|South Carolina's left-field lowlands.|
When the manager of the visiting Drive saw the expanse of the water, he looked like he was disoriented in some of South Carolina's rice paddies. Nonetheless, he directed his team to dress and prepare for play.
For two hours I watched the grounds crew shovel water into 5 gallon buckets, empty the containers into 50 gallon trash cans, and transport them on the maintenance cart beyond the outfield fence where they dumped can after can.
|River Dogs' grounds crew shoveling left field.|
|Adding a new Ashley River beyond the trees.|
While I photographed their efforts, one of the guys hollered up to me, "I hope we're on Sports Center tonight!" All told, Mike Williams, the heads groundskeeper, and his staff shoveled more than 2000 gallons of water off the left-field corner alone. Their incredible effort enabled the game to begin merely a half-hour later than scheduled.
|While Drive teammates watch the crew shovel water in the left field corner, other crew members ironically wet the infield!|
In keeping with the season-long custom of honoring American service men and women at their Friday evening games, the River Dogs introduced two naval and marine enlistees and described their tours of duty as part of the pre-game ceremony. For only the second time on the tour, I faced the flag in the outfield rather than the fans in the stands behind home plate. While walking back up to the concourse, I was greeted by Tony “The Peanut Man.” “Man, that was good!” he exclaimed. “That’s the first time I understood every word.” Having worked at the park since it opened in the mid-90s, Tony has heard hundreds and hundreds of renditions.
Despite the rain a few hours earlier, the crowd in Charleston was the largest that I had seen since opening night. While they enjoyed the River Dogs' win and the post-game fireworks show, I appreciated the efforts of two Mikes who had made it possible for me to sing in soggy Charleston.