Friday, June 22, 2012

A Long Way from Home: Game 62 in New Hampshire

Perhaps Toad (our towed ’95 Saturn sedan) was homesick.  Having spent most of his odometer’s 75K miles in and around Whittier, the week in remote New England might have prompted his distress. 
While corkscrewing up mountain roads in Vermont where Arby could not venture, Toad had begun to fret about feeling feverish.  In an effort to cool him down, I had given him a dose of antifreeze and noticed that his fluid looked rusty.   At that time I hoped that our use of the air conditioner had really been the cause of his temporary high temperature.

Then with Toad in tow Arby descended from Brattleboro into Massachusetts, and headed east on the Mass Pike to Palmer, continuing on US 20 toward Brimfield where we turned south on state highway 19 to Wales.  A month earlier a series of tornadoes, a freakish storm cluster in the Northeast, had swept through the region, leveling homes in Brimfield and cutting a half-mile wide swath through the dense forests along the route to Wales.  (The Google Earth images still show the lush forests that stood before the storm scoured the landscape) 
Part of a house hangs from the remains of one of the few surviving trees.
Despite the destruction, one homeowner maintained a sense of humor.
Thankfully, the Oak Haven Campground in Wales had narrowly missed the destructive path of the whirlwinds, and we were able to nestle Arby among several RVs in a forested area.  We had planned to anchor Arby for several days in this relatively central location and to use Toad daily to tether out to ballparks a two- or three-hours’ drive away.
En route to the first game in Lowell, however, I began to suspect that Toad’s circulatory problem was more critical than I had perceived on Vermont’s steep slopes. And during the late-night, 90-mile return from Lowell to Arby, I found it necessary to stop twice for coffee and a break—to let the engine cool.
The next morning Toad rebuffed the chance to see Manchester, New Hampshire, our itinerary’s farthest point from Southern California.  So I dropped Toad off at the D&M Auto Repair on Highway 20 at the eastern edge of Palmer. Because the mechanics wouldn’t be able to complete a circulation diagnosis and radiator flush until the following morning, I faced a big problem: That very evening my one game scheduled in New Hampshire was about 125 miles away.  Understanding my predicament, the manager of the shop called a used-car rental operation on the other side of town. 

About 45 minutes later, the owner arrived with a wreck rental, which I was delighted to see even though it looked more decrepit than Toad and smelled like a high-school boys’ bathroom—scuzzy and smoky.  Yet I couldn’t beat its rental rate—$38.52 for the day—and its availability.  I was relieved that it easily ambled along the Mass Pike and the Interstate highways around Worcester, northward through Nashua, and on to Manchester to get me to the game ahead of schedule.  Later, of course, I was equally pleased that, battling inclement weather and running well past its normal curfew, the car had behaved respectably during our safe return to Wales.

Having rented the car to keep on schedule, I worried when we arrived in Manchester that the darkening sky might forebode thunderstorms.  As the pre-game ceremonies started, deafening approached from above, but they weren’t the reverberations of thunderclaps.  They were the engine roar of a flyover, not by an Air Force squadron or Navy fighter timed to coincide with the final strains of the anthem, but by a UPS transport altering its final approach into the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in order to circumvent the threatening thunderheads.
The storm approaches during final pre-game preparations.

Unlike other ballparks on the tour, the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, which was home to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, cordoned off an area for pre-game participants.  Was the rope there to prevent us from straying toward the field?     Was its purpose to keep us clustered together so that we could be efficiently sequenced for our respective turns to sing the anthem, toss out the first pitch, and say, “Play ball”?  
In the cordoned area, theTooth Fairy crouches to assist the girl awaiting her turn
Or, perhaps, its function was to discourage players from approaching the staff intern dressed as the tooth fairy. 
The players crown above the Tooth Fairy, who remains separated from them by the chain.

At some of the ballparks where fans occasionally remained seated during the national anthem, I could often see others continuing to talk while I sang.  But in Manchester, I enjoyed a different experience.  Beyond the warning track and wall in left-centerfield, a Hilton Hotel rose higher than the grandstands behind home plate.  In many respects, it resembled—at least in concept—the integration of the Renaissance Toronto Hotel into the design of the Blue Jays’ SkyDome, as that ballpark was initially known.  In Manchester, the Hilton Garden Inn’s terrace adjoined the fence, faced the ballpark, and featured table umbrellas to shield guests from the shriek of the sun more than the splash of rain, all the while enabling patrons to enjoy bleacher views of the ballgame.  As I began to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” I noticed that the Hilton’s guests stood at their tables and faced the flag waving beneath the left-field light standard.  

Diners on the Hilton's terrace stood for the game's national anthem.
Although the ballpark’s Chowdah House seemed more enticing than most ballpark concessions since New Orleans, I resisted the temptation to order its chowder or lobster roll, waiting instead to dine at Republic following several innings of the game.  Our opportunity to eat there, where local farms, dairies, and fish suppliers are featured, came sooner than expected. 

In the second inning, rain delayed the game for about an hour, during which I huddled on the first-base concourse with Brian Moynahan, a blogger for the Bus Leagues Baseball site.  He and two of his colleagues had contacted me about conducting an interview about the anthem tour.  Regrettably, I was not as clearly focused or articulate as I would like to have been, partly because of the distractions of the crowd crushing toward us during the rain delay and partly because of the loud entertainment that blared over the loudspeakers throughout our conversation.  Nonetheless, we completed the interview before watching the grounds crew remove the tarp from the field.
In the next inning, New Britain scored a run without a hit.  Its second batter reached base on a fielding error—a sloppy throw by the third baseman that allowed the hitter to reach first safely and advance to second.  (Did the wet infield cause the fielder to lose his grip on ball, permitting it to sail past the first baseman?)  Moments later, the pitcher also lost his grip, or perhaps his release point, and threw a wild pitch, allowing the runner to advance to third.  (Did the ball get wet and cause the Fisher Cats’ ace to lose control, or did the rain delay adversely affect his delivery?)  Whatever the case, when the downpour resumed in the middle of the third inning, play got halted (and eventually suspended), and Bonnie and I left for Republic and its delectable array.  

Although I had already experienced rain-delays on multiple occasions and although I had suffered a soggy cancellation at Potomac (as I would again two nights later in New Britain), this game—the farthest from home in Whittier—was the only one throughout the tour that got suspended: New Britain 1, New Hampshire 0, middle of the third inning.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Getting back on Track: Game 58 in Wilmington

Although I had missed my scheduled anthem performances for the Norfolk Tides and the Delmarva Shorebirds because of Arby’s engine failure near Farmville, Virginia, we got back on track en route to Wilmington, Delaware.  Having missed Norfolk meant that we no longer needed to head toward the Tidewater area.  Instead, when we left Farmville we took an isosceles cutoff on State Highway 307 at Rice.  Now a well marked and truck-traveled route through high rolling hills, it had been a little known shortcut forty years earlier.  Then spending the summer at my parents’ home in Richmond, I had learned about that timesaving way when I preached nearby at the small Baptist Church where my father had served as interim pastor.

Now in Arby, Bonnie and I angled on up to and through the capital of the Confederacy where  we turned due north on the East Coast aorta, Interstate 95.  Before reaching Fredericksburg, however, we veered acutely toward Bowling Green and its intersection with federal Highway 301, thereby hoping to circumvent Washington’s glut of traffic.  By taking this route toward Wilmington, we missed the anticipated adventure of crossing over and through the 27-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel from Norfolk to the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula; but we were able to cross two impressive bridges spanning the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. 
The Nice Bridge across the Potomac (photo copied from

From Dahlgren, Virginia, to Newberg, Maryland, we arched over the Potomac on the magnificent Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge; and an hour or so later as we left Annapolis, we transcended the Chesapeake on the spectacular, curving, double-span, four-mile bridge on U.S. 50.
Postcard photo of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (by R. C. Pulling)
Safely on the eastern shore of Maryland after traversing the river and the bay, we made our way on toward Wilmington, where we rejoined I-95 and passed the Blue Rocks’ ballpark on our way to the Tohickon Family Campground in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, an hour’s drive north of Philadelphia.   By docking there, we figured that we could easily tether in Toad back to Wilmington the following day and on to Trenton the day after. 

Arby stayed to the center through Sheard's Mill Bridge.
Making the final turn from the narrow rural roads toward the campground east of Quakertown, I knew that our travel woes must be over.  Our luck was changing.  The Sheard’s Mill Covered Bridge over Tohickon Creek, through which we must pass, showed clearance of 12’6”—almost a foot above the full reach of Arby.  Still, I eased through the portal, into the darkness of the tunnel and then the brilliance of sunlight at the other end.

Our luck also was changing in ways that I couldn’t yet determine.  While we had approached Philadelphia, Bonnie had called the Barnes Foundation to inquire about possibilities of securing tickets for the following morning to see the Barnes collection of French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, especially portions of its hundreds of works by Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, and Picasso.  The education institutional—a concept intentionally designed as an alternative to a “museum”—was founded by Albert C. Barnes, a pharmaceutical chemist who began collecting art after he had made a fortune developing an anti-gonorrheal drug.  Although Bonnie learned that admission had been sold out months earlier because of the impending year-long closure required to relocate the museum from its historic site in Lower Merion Township to downtown Philadelphia, she had left her number on the recording device, indicating that we’d be glad to change last minute plans if notified about ticket cancellation.  Perhaps, I thought, some ticket holder’s alternator might fail! 
Whatever the cause, Bonnie’s cell phone rang after breakfast the next morning with the Barnes’ representative offering early afternoon tickets.  Of course we claimed them.  Undoubtedly, Bonnie’s first love after her family is the group of French Impressionists.  And over the decades of our marriage, I have been comforted by a replica of Renoir’s portrait of a young girl with a watering can hanging in our bedroom at home, I have grown fond of paintings by Matisse and Monet, a I have increasingly resonated with works in multiple media by Picasso.
Shortly after Bonnie conveyed her excitement about getting to see “the Barnes” (which was on her bucket list), we dressed for the evening game in Wilmington and headed to suburban Philadelphia for the penultimate exhibition of works at the original Foundation location.

If there is a visual counterpoint to the narrative form of hagiography, the display of works in the rooms at the Barnes institution certainly would fit.  The audio tour directed viewers’ attention to Barnes’s perception of a work, its position in a room, and its relation to other pieces and artifacts nearby.  The purpose of the exhibition seemed to align the viewer’s perception with Barnes’ distinct appreciation rather than allowing a piece to engage the viewer on its own terms. And keeping with the directives of Barnes’s estate, the placement of the clusters of paintings and other artistic pieces will be retained at the new facility housing the collection.

The philosophical and educational design of these “wall ensembles” emphasizes the structure, power, and drama created through color, form, and light.  Rather than being able to focus on a single work or see the world through the eye of a particular painter, the viewer is presented with pieces displaying the collector’s ideas (and often his words) about “volumes of color.”  Memorable phrases from the audio about a room’s cluster of works included: “spatial intervals felt as color relations,” “color extends over contour” creating an “indissoluble entity,” and “color gives substance.”
While the dense displays throughout the building often seemed contrived, the works themselves have the power to evoke a depth of contentment, an expression of energy, and an invitation to contemplation that are incomparable.  Even so, a couple of hours after leaving the exhibition at the Barnes, I was delighted to engage the simplicity of Wilmington’s ballpark—its open spaces and its transparent celebrations of accomplishment. 
The openness of Wilmington's ballpark provided a counterpoint to the density of works at the Barnes.
Unlike many of the works at the Barnes, the realistic statue of Judy Johnson greeted fans and graced the pedestrian spaces between the parking lot and the ballpark’s main gate.  Johnson was a life-long Delaware resident and the Negro Leagues’ premier third baseman who batted over .400 in one season and who was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1975. 
Judy Johnson appears positioned for the play.
Banners identifying successful Blue Rocks’ players who had made it to “the Show” hung above the concession concourse. 
Throughout the concourse banners recognize Wilmington players who have made it to the Show.

And numerical tributes to Wilmington stars added a personal character to the splay of ads on the outfield fence.  Affixed to the light standard in right field, a baseball featuring Robin Roberts’s number 36 represents the first number retired by the Blue Rocks.  Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976, Roberts had won nine games for Wilmington in 1948, his only season with the team, before being called up to Phillies before mid-summer.
Roberts's number rises above the outfield ads.
Above the left field wall, two other numbers appear, one retired, the other marking an accomplishment.  A Sweeney jersey with number 33 honors former Blue Rocks’ All-Star Mike Sweeney.  A five time Major League All-Star with a career batting average of .297, Sweeney is widely respected for his community service and his vibrant faith, exemplified by his serving as president of Catholic Athletes for Christ. 

The microphone for McAdams and the jersey for Sweeney express appreciation for their contributions.
The other honorific number—871—appears with a microphone and John McAdams, the original public address announcer for the Blue Rocks who died in 2005.  The figure identifies the number of games that he announced during his tenure with the Blue Rocks.  Known for his smooth, booming voice, he took great pride in making sure that players’ names were pronounced correctly.
His successor in the booth provided me with a thorough introduction about the anthem tour that ended with the request, “Please welcome Joe Price, professor from Whittier College.”  And the fans did.  They applauded before I sang—and afterward, as well.

My warm reception in Wilmington had even begun months earlier in pleasant correspondence with the Blue Rocks’ General Manager Chris Kemple in setting up the date for my singing.  Chris personalized the coordination of the scheduling process by letting me know that he had Southern California roots: He had grown up in Whittier, attended high school nearby in Hacienda Heights, and then graduated from San Diego State University.  Recognized by Baseball America as Minor League Executive of the Year in 2004, Chris completed the gracious welcome by stopping in to greet me in the conference room where I was given a chance to warm up.

Several additional factors contributed to the delightful experience at the ballpark.  For starters, the team name was intriguing: the Blue Rocks.  I wondered whether that was the name of a species of shellfish native to the Chesapeake Bay.  But I learned that the name refers to blue granite that is found nearby in outcroppings along the Brandywine River.

The mascot’s name was similarly charming.  With a moniker of Rocky Bluewinkle, the mascot impersonated a blue moose whose name plays upon the popularity of the cartoon characters Rocky (a flying squirrel) and Bullwinkle (an anthropomorphic moose).  Like most of the friendly mascots at ballparks, Rocky lured kids for souvenir photographs and lighthearted greetings.
Laughing kids "high-five" a smiling Rocky Bluewinkle.
And the food was unusually fresh and flavorful, with carved meets available at a make-your-own sandwich station.  Even so, one young fan added to the flavor of his pizza after it tumbled from his plate beneath his seat.  Undeterred by dirt under his seat, the boy downed most of the pepperoni, smearing cheese and sauce across his face while sharing his hatful of popcorn with his sister.
There's only so much that a young fan can balance while reaching for a soda.
But grandstand dirt never hurt the taste of pepperoni!

Adding to the elements of the ballpark’s ambiance was the chance to see Wilmington’s highly touted starting pitcher, Jake Odorizzi.  A first-round draft selection out of high school by the Milwaukee Brewers three years earlier, Odorizzi had been the key acquisition by Kansas City in its trade of Cy Young Award Winner Zack Greinke to the Brewers during the previous winter.  On this night, however, Odorizzi  had given up five runs in six innings., with Wilmington losing to Salem 5-3. Summoned to the manager’s office after the game, Odorizzi was surprised by the manager’s message—that, despite his lackluster performance that evening, he was being promoted to Kansas City's Double A affiliate in Northwest Arkansas.

Still, the most significant factor in making the ballpark experience so enjoyable was that I could see several fans joining me in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  Among them was Ron, a staff member assigned to the entry to the VIP suites.  He told me that, as a tenor, he had harmonized with my rendition in such a low key, and he was pleased to let me know that he regularly sings the anthem for the Blue Rocks when scheduled singers don’t show up.

As I left the ballpark, Matt Robinson stopped to congratulate me.  “Thanks.  Good job,” he said. “Thanks for singing it the way it’s supposed to be.”  Before the game he had learned of my project from one of the interns who has been his student at the University of Delaware, where Matt is on the faculty in Sport Management.

After the disruptions in my schedule earlier in the week, it was certainly good to get back on track with baseball and an appreciated performance of the national anthem in Wilmington.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Arby’s Intermezzo: Not Quite Games 58 and 59

Ten days after Bonnie and I had left Southwestern Virginia for my swing through Northern Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and even New York, we returned to the Blue Ridge region for two more games, each exceedingly important in its own way.  The game at Pulaski would provide my only experience in the Appalachian (Short Season A) League, and Salem would offer the opportunity to explore the recognition of former major leaguer and major league manager Art Howe, a friend and former parishioner of my colleague Don Musser who had introduced me to Art following a Pirates' victory over the Cubs in 1977.  While Art had begun his professional career in Salem, I had connected with him in multiple major league parks--in Atlanta, Oakland, and Los Angeles--where I had sung the national anthem.  In addition, I was also encouraged by the chance to see a game columnist Dan Casey, a columnist for the Roanoke Times who, anticipating my appearance in the region, had written a Sunday feature about my anthem tour.    
Arby's view from the earlier RV park near Lynchburg.
During our earlier stay near Lynchburg, we had docked Arby in the most idyllic RV site that we had found.  Nestled between trees and overlooking a lake, Arby had relaxed for a couple of days—one a rare day when we neither had a game performance nor a drive of several hours to a new city.  So we took advantage of a chance to explore nearby Appomattox Courthouse where we toured the National Historical Park, the site of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to U.S. Grant.  The theme of the exhibits and presentations is neither the conquest by the Union forces nor the defeat of the Confederate army, but the reunion of the nation. 

The McLean house at Appomattox Courthouse where Lee surrendered to Grant.
For our return to Southwestern Virginia, Bonnie secured an unbeatable rate at the boutique Craddock Terry Hotel rather than trying to recapture the serenity of our earlier experience in the RV park.  Located within a right fielder’s throw from the James River, the hotel is an artsy conversion of a former shoe factory.  Our room retained distinct features of the architectural integrity of the building while enjoying stylish upgrades and furnishings: the ceiling seemed as tall as the Green Monster (Salem, of course, is the Red Sox’ A-level farm team), the drapes rivaled the size of some infield tarps, and a walk-in shower and bathroom almost as big as a home-team dugout.  Decorated with art and artifacts relating to its stylish history, the hotel delivered continental breakfast to our room in pristine shoeshine boxes.

After two restful nights for us in the hotel and two most peaceful, unoccupied nights for Arby at the curb, we reboarded Arby and headed east along highway 460 through Appomattox.  Then reversing the route of Lee’s retreat, we aimed toward Petersburg with the afternoon's goal of reaching Norfolk.  There I was scheduled for a five o'clock test of my anthem rendition on the Tides’ sound system, which had been described as suffering significant delay.   To make sure that we could arrive in the Tidewater area around mid-afternoon, Arby needed fuel.  Recalling which of the service stations in Appomattox offered the lowest price, we stopped for gas, pumping 59 gallons for under $200, barely--$197.43.  But shortly after pulling back onto the highway and nearing the little community of Evergreen, Arby began to complain.  The dashboard warning light flashed: SERVICE ENGINE SOON. 
OK, I thought.  We should be able to get the Chevy 454 engine serviced in about twenty-four hours in Salisbury, Maryland, if not in Norfolk later that afternoon during my rehearsal at the ballpark.  If all went well, we could get to the Tidewater area by two or three o'clock; and if no attention could be given to Arby then, we could call ahead to Salisbury, Maryland, where I would sing for the Delmarva Shorebirds in a late morning start the following day. To make the schedule work, we had calculated that we could leave the Norfolk game after the fifth inning, drive across and through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel to the Delmarva peninsula, and stop in Salisbury for the evening.

But the biggest problem with our tight plan was Arby’s distress, indicated by the persistent warning on the display panel even as we eased through the little community with the hopeful name of Prospect.  Watching the incessant omen refuse to fade, we pressed on toward Farmville and passed its exits.  Then belch, burp, spasm:  Arby clanked as though something had fallen off the front end near the engine, then trailed under the passenger’s side.  Immediately, I pulled over, got out, looked under the engine, and scanned our trail for metal debris.  No damage was apparent, but Arby heaved.  It was 11:02. I was due in Norfolk by 5. 

As members of Good Sam RV Club and AAA, Bonnie phoned both assistance services, and found that Good Sam could offer little more than information that we could access via the iPad.  By contrast, although the AAA dispatcher had trouble identifying our precise location, she was able to contact an approved automotive shop in Farmville, describe our plight, and learn that we could be serviced that afternoon.  I remained hopeful, even when I learned that the tow would not arrive until 1.  Meanwhile, I set out warning flares and orange triangles, turned on the generator to run the coach’s air conditioning, and telephoned the Tides about the difficulty while Bonnie retreated to the bed for a nap. 

Minutes later, my phone buzzed with a call from Lisa Bryant, one of the television reporters for WBOC in Salisbury, Maryland.  She wanted to set up an interview the next morning in conjunction with my singing for the Shorebirds.  Regretfully, I let her know about Arby’s incapacity and the probability of my cancellation for singing at the game.

Shortly after one o'clock, a heavy-duty tow truck crossed the overpass behind us on State Highway 696, turned down the entry ramp to Highway 460, and pulled forward to our position a few feet beyond the merge.   While we disconnected Toad and watched Arby getting hitched to the truck, I realized the likelihood I would be unable to make it to the Norfolk game.  Seeing Arby’s reversed position in relation to a tow, I began to agonize about the uncertainties of repair and delay, or, worse yet, of Arby’s possibly prolonged disablement.  Already on the tour, I had experienced the cancellation of two games: one in Northwest Arkansas because of duplicate scheduling, and almost two weeks earlier a rainout for the Potomac Nationals.  Obviously, I knew that I couldn’t bat 1.000 on the tour; still, I desperately wanted to capitalize on every singing opportunity to reach my goal of 100, a target that permitted less than a ten percent margin of error. 
Initially, the truck towed Arby away from Farmville for several miles before reaching a point where it could make a U-Turn, safely swinging the 29-foot RV back toward the East End Motor Company in Farmville.  When the tow truck driver dropped Arby in the lot, I went inside the shop to describe the problem, only to learn that the mechanics had left for lunch.  

Arby awaits diagnosis and surgery in Farmville.
With little to do, I left my cell phone number with the office manager, Bonnie checked Yelp’s reviews for nearby restaurants, and we hopped in Toad to hustle over for a late lunch at Charley’s Waterfront CafĂ© in a restored industrial area along the Appomattox River. 

I worried and wondered as we ordered.  Before our sandwiches arrived, my phone buzzed with good news from East End: Arby’s diagnosis was a bad alternator, an easy repair that could be completed quickly once the right part could be located.  Alas, at 4:30 he called back to report that none of the auto parts stores in Farmville had the correct alternator for Arby’s engine.  He ordered the appropriate alternator from a supply house in Richmond and mechanic anticipated its delivery at dawn the next day. Expecting to complete the replacement by mid-morning, he said that Arby should be ready for the road by noon.

Frustrated by the situation, I phoned the Tides, the Shorebirds, and WBOC-TV with the bad news about being stranded in Farmville.  So prevented from the anticipated games in Norfolk and Salisbury, and separated from Arby for the night, we checked into a Hampton Inn and enjoyed its comfort and security during violent, evening thunderstorms.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bowie Louie: Game 54 in Bowie

Richmond's Nutsy
Mascots at minor league ballparks appeal particularly to young fans who frequently hug or slap high-fives with the silly creatures while posing for photographs taken by their moms and dads.  Occasionally, the gargantuan critters appear as though the team’s icon has ingested bowls full of steroids instead of acorns, like Nutsy of the Richmond Flying Squirrels.   Yet frequently, the playful beasts bear no relation to the team’s name or an identifiable breed, like the one for Montgomery's Biscuits.  There the mascot isn't a buttered blob of dough but the mutt of multiple stuffed animals.  

Bowie Louie

Throughout games, mascots entertain the crowd, dancing atop the dugout, bazookaing T-shirts toward the press box, racing children around the bases between innings, and tossing buckets of confetti on box-seat fans.  Several ballparks feature an autograph inning when the mascot, always beating with the heart of a clown, sits at a table in a designated area.  So it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the game promotions for the Bowie Baysox featured the birthday bash for their mascot Bowie Louie.  Like other mascots, the name of Bowie’s creature relates to the identity of the team or the character of the region.  In this case,   Bowie Louie’s “handle” reveals his comic spirit by playing with the title of the rock hit “Louie Louie” that became a homerun in the 1960s after The Kingsmen recorded the Richard Berry tune. 

Like the twist of the song’s title to name the Baysox' mascot, the shape, color, and size of Bowie Louie also appear to be a mongrel of various kid-luring creatures: the fuzziness of Cookie Monster, the color of Oscar the Grouch, the dorky eyes of Snuffleupagus, the feet with sneakers too large for Shaq—all with an added pink, cranial tuft that must have come from DNA shared with My Pretty Pony.
Louie with his birthday partyers
Whatever the name, appearance, and character of Bowie Louie might have been, I was fortunate to sing on the night of his birthday party, which meant that several mascots from teams, universities, and corporations attended his party: “Sherman the Shorebird” from the Baysox’ Eastern League rival in Delmarva; the iconic and ironic buffoons from Bowie State (the Bulldog) and Towson State (the Tiger) universities; and among several corporate mascots, “Peeps,” the chick from the maker of the namesake marshmallow candy, and “Wally Goose,” from Wawa stores, a convenience store featuring several fresh foods. 

Also invited to the park that night were clowns, to lead the singing of “Happy Birthday” following the third inning, and several different animals, including an impressive iguana, whose exhibition required clearance by the county’s animal control officers.  Yet the animal agents weren’t the least bit concerned about the unusual breed of Louie, nor the animal versions of the clowns. 
The iguana and clowns prepare to serenade Louie.
When I inquired about Louie’s birth certificate and its accuracy (we were, of course, within a homerun call from the White House, where birth certification was still a topic for some who continued to challenge Obama’s presidential eligibility), I was assured that June 24 might as well be his birthday as any.  I then paused before asking whose progeny Louie might be.
As congenial a mascot as Louie was and as festive as the evening became with other mascots, clowns, and animals providing entertainment, I most appreciated the welcome to Prince George County Stadium (where parking was free for all!) by the sculpture of a man sharing baseball with a young girl: they modeled the transfer of baseball love and lore from parent and player to child, an inter-gender, inter-generation image.  Sporting his uniform, stepping with cleats, and squeezing a ball for a split-fingered pitch, the father leads her by her throwing hand.  Twisting her head slightly toward her father, the girl wears a smile almost bigger than the glove on her left hand, tilted expectantly.  Standing tall, they peer together toward possibilities of baseball.  They move together, together through baseball.
Father and daughter welcome fans to the ballpark.
Perhaps inspired the statue, a father teaches his daughter to hit.

While the entry to Bowie’s ballpark was distinct, its pregame activities and ceremonies corresponded to those at many other ballparks.  Music blared over the sound system during the teams’ warm-ups and the fans’ arrival, and children thronged to the field to perform particular exercises.  This evening, a group of Tae Kwan Do junior Olympian contestants practiced their martial arts behind home plate, and they were followed by dozens of Boy Scout troops who paraded through the outfield.  Amid such noisy clamor, I frequently found it challenging to maintain focus for the start of the anthem. 
The parade pauses to pose in the "scoutfield."
Another common challenge that I encountered when I would start the anthem was a delay, often significant, in the echo of the speakers from centerfield.  Few of the teams required or allowed rehearsal of the anthem on their audio system.  As common as the problems with the sound system were, I never grew accustomed to the delay.   Here, as sometimes happened, my descending triad at the start of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was muddled by the ongoing echo.  Nonetheless, I adjusted quickly to the detraction and finished strong at Bowie, the ballpark nearest Baltimore’s Ft. McHenry, whose defense inspired Frances Scott Key to pen the four stanzas of his poem almost two centuries ago.

Tonight proved no different regarding commotions and distractions, but it did provide a new accent in another respect.  While my name or image typically would appear on the scoreboard during my introduction, here for the first time game program included my name as the national anthem performer. 

Even as the game program presented this simple highlight, the game itself featured a once-in-a-career feat for the Binghamton Mets’ third baseman Josh Satin:  He hit for the cycle.  With two outs as he batted in the first inning, Satin fouled off several two-strike pitches before connecting with a curve ball for his ninth homerun of the season.  Two innings later when he came to the plate with a runner on first, he hit a one-hop shot wide of third.  Although the shortstop was able to make a diving stop of the ball deep in the hole, his throw to second was too late; and Satin was credited with an infield single.   In Satin’s next plate appearance in the fifth, he doubled to centerfield.
Not known for his speed, Satin is often teased by teammates about shrinking triples into doubles. 

So in the seventh inning he stepped into the batter’s box, he stood a triple shy of the cycle, an unlikely achievement since he is slow footed. Of his thirty extra-base hits in this season before this at-bat, only one had been a triple.  Although on several occasions in previous seasons he had encountered a similar situation of needing only a triple to complete a cycle, he had not been in this position in a ballpark where the ball often careens off the outfield fence at an oblique angle.   He lined a ball to the left-field corner and as the ball hit the wall, it caromed oddly past the Baysox fielder.   Immediately, Satin shifted into overdrive and legged the hit into a triple.  His cycle was complete, but not his night: In the ninth, Satin added to his perfect effort by coaxing a walk.  Altogether, his support propelled Binghamton to a 5-3 win.