I had a great experience in Chicago last week. In fact, I had several, including my first-ever visit to Wrigley Field.
Somehow, this avid baseball fan had never made it to the historic ballpark. When a very dear friend found out that seeing a game at Wrigley was one of the top goals on my bucket list, she got me tickets to two games between the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs as a birthday present.
What incredible seats they were! On Wednesday night, we were in the second row behind the Braves dugout; and for Thursday afternoon’s game, we were even closer. The game takes on a whole new dimension when you’re close enough to the players to see sweat pouring and hear banter as they take to the field.
The entire experience was absolutely delightful… except for one minor blemish. At the opening of Wednesday night’s game, the young lady who was chosen to sing our national anthem turned what should have been a joyful occasion into a travesty.
First, she got the words wrong. If you’re selected to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in front of several thousand people, shouldn’t you take a few minutes to make sure you know the lyrics? If you have even the slightest doubt that you can remember them all, print them out and take them with you! I, for one, would be impressed that you took the extra step to make sure you didn’t make a mistake.
My second complaint is that the same young lady decided to improve on the tune. Granted, the music isn’t the easiest to sing or the most beautiful melody I’ve ever heard. But is that any excuse for treating it the way so many drivers do speed limits, as if it’s a suggestion you’re free to ignore?
Frankly, I’m sick and tired of all the over-promoted pop stars who think singing our national anthem is more about them than the song or what it represents. We witnessed a classic example of this earlier this year, when Christina Aguilera botched the lyrics at the start of the Super Bowl.
That was bad, but not nearly as bad as Roseanne Barr’s legendary performance at a San Diego Padres baseball game several years ago. Time magazine dubbed that one “quite possibly the worst rendition of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ ever.” And to make sure you got the point, they repeated the word “ever” and put it in italics.
By the way, that article in Time was actually called the “Top 10 Worst National-Anthem Renditions.”
Barr occupied the top spot. Christina Aguilera was at No. 9. And to my surprise, Hillary Clinton was No. 10.
While Clinton was never invited to sing the anthem at a ballgame (or anywhere else, as far as I know), apparently our Secretary of State was caught on tape singing along during a presidential campaign stop. Time described her efforts as “earnest” and suggested, “Just mouth the words next time, Madame Secretary.”
Now, that’s just downright mean. The lady never volunteered to sing in public. And at least she was honoring our national anthem, unlike many politicos (and ballplayers, for that matter) who continue yakking with their neighbors while some of us are trying to honor our country.
And isn’t that what “The Star-Spangled Banner” is all about? It’s not great poetry or even beautiful music. It’s important because it represents our country and our flag. It’s a musical tribute to the price so many Americans have paid to secure and defend our freedom.
As one commentator put it,
[“The Star-Spangled Banner”] is a song about the courage and devotion shown by a group of Americans who in the course of a raging British naval bombardment refused to let the Stars and Stripes fall, no matter the cost to life and limb. And it became a song about the kind of nation we have been and still are, through war and peace, boom and bust.
It is about the never-say-die, never-give-in, never yield attitude that has been the hallmark of our national character and our military’s steadfast defense of freedom from Valley Forge to Fort McHenry to St. Lo to Inchon to Baghdad and Kandahar.
It’s about firemen and policemen running into the World Trade Center on 9/11. It’s about that flag flying proudly and defiantly over the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Yes, it’s all of that… and more. So I’m delighted to report that at the next day’s game, the handsome young man who was chosen to sign the national anthem did a wonderful job. No fancy flourishes, no singing around, above or under the melody. Just a straightforward rendition, hitting every note and singing every word. It was an example I wish more musical superstars would follow.
Before I sign off, let me say a few words about the games themselves. The Braves went down to defeat on Wednesday, even though Chipper Jones obliged my wife’s request to “hit a home run for Chip’s birthday.” (She swears he heard her.)
The next day, a rookie pitcher named Brandon Beachy was on the mound for the Braves. He was cheered on by 20 or so family members who had traveled from all across the country to the game. I know, because they had four seats directly behind me. And every couple of innings, they swapped seats with other family members who weren’t so fortunate.
My pleasure was enhanced by their joy, as their young relative did a stellar job and earned the victory. He was aided in large part by my grandson’s No. 1 hero on the team, Brian McCann, who hit two home runs.
This is how baseball is meant to be: in a beautiful ballpark on a sunny summer afternoon. It was such a beautiful day that even the Cubs fans didn’t seem to be upset about their loss.
So thank you, Janie, for a wonderful birthday present. By the way, did I ever mention that visiting the Taj Mahal is also on my bucket list?
Until next time, keep some powder dry.