Extraordinary Stories

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

The "Oh Say Can You See!!" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Sitting with my two sons at Kunkle Field in Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania preparing to watch Lancaster Newspaper's Jr. Midget baseball finals.  The newspaper has been sponsoring an end-of-the year baseball tournament for the best teams in three different age categories in Lancaster County.  The tournament began in 1944.  Players in the Midget-Midget category (ages 9-12 yrs. old), Junior-Midget category (ages 13-14) and Midget category (ages 15-16) battle it out to see which team is the best in the county.  Tonight's game pits the Manheim Township Streaks (a team I coached years ago) against the Mountville Angels.  My oldest son coaches in Mountville, PA and my grandson plays on my son's team, but my son also played for the Manheim Township team when he was growing up, so its tough watching the game and not knowing which team to cheer for.  I taught in the Manheim Township school district for years, but I went to all my grandson's games this year so I too am having a tough time deciding who to cheer for.  But, none of that matters to this story, since this story deals with something totally different.  Just before the game began, a young man, acting as the announcer for the game and sitting a few rows behind us in the bleachers, asked everyone to stand and remove their ball caps as a young woman sang our National Anthem.  And ... everyone stood and removed their caps as she sang.  I too sang along, since I have been doing that for years.  Not loud, but just loud enough so that I could hear it.  For you see, the anthem that we sing, or listen to, is the story of a flag that continued to wave throughout one of the most famous battles in American history.  
1918 World Series game and the
National Anthem is being sung.
On that day many years ago Francis Scott Key, who was better at writing lyrics than music, put his description of the battle of Fort McHenry to an old English tune that had a lot less to do with patriotism than it did with booze and women.  Its been almost 100 years since our National Anthem was first played at a sporting event that really meant anything.  Yes, the anthem had been played as far back as 1862 at a game or two, but didn't seem to mean as much as it did in the first game of 1918 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs when the song was played.  The date was September 5 and the newspapers were dominated with news from WWI.  The Cubs were hosting Babe Ruth and the Red Sox in Comiskey Park rather than newly opened Weegham Park (later called Wrigley Park) since Comiskey could hold more people.  Ruth was pitching a 1-0 shutout when in the 7th inning a band from the nearby Navy training station began to play "The Star-Spangled Banner."  This time something happened that was far different than any other time when the "Star Spangled Banner" was played.  Players took off their caps, as a 12-piece band played, and faced the flag in right field.  That was all the players except Red Sox infielder Fred Thomas.  He happened to be in the Navy at the time, but was given an exception to play in the World Series.  Fred didn't remove his cap, but gave a military salute to the flag instead.  A few fans began to sing along and by the time the song came to it's climax, the stadium was awash with patriotism.  The stadium exploded with thunderous applause.  The navy band leader at the time was John Philip Sousa, but he wasn't at the stadium that day.  He had recently arranged the version that the band played that day as well as the same tune that the young woman sang tonight at Kunkle Field.  It wasn't until 1931 that the song was officially designated our National Anthem by Congress and President Herbert Hoover.  When the series returned to Boston that year, it was played at their stadium also.  The Sox owner was so impressed with the way the song quieted the rowdy fans that the next season it was played at the opening game.  From then on it was played at all opening day games as well as the World Series games.  Then during WWII major league teams began to play it at all games.  Still sends a chill down my spine and I keep telling myself that I have to volunteer to sing it at a local baseball game before its too late.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. 

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