Assuming I can get an invitation to sing at each of the ballparks (and there’s no certainty of that – I only have three confirmed stops on my map), the biggest question is how will I get to those ballparks? Drive? Fly?
Singing for the Tennessee Smokies was easy enough; it was just a 3.5 hour drive from our home in southwest Nashville. Singing in the other cities will take more planning, a little luck and a lot of Southwest Airlines points.
Still, as I scheduled my flight to sing the National Anthem for the Boise Hawks, the Class A – Short Season team for the Cubs, one nagging thought rattled around in my head: what happens if I fly all that way and the game is rained out? It’s not like I can wait around a week and sing the next weekend.
Fortunately, my friend and Boise resident Megan assured me that the weather is very dry. I googled the stats and discovered that the city only gets an average of 12 inches of rain a year. That’s one measly inch a month. Geez! Tennessee has more moisture floating around in our humid summer air than Boise has in its airport rain collector. Boise gets so little rain that houses use normal downspouts off the gutters. Many houses just hang a long linked chain from a hole in the gutter so the few drops can trickle down to the rock garden.
Relieved, I set my plan to fly out of Nashville Friday morning, spend a short layover at Chicago’s Midway, catch the connecting flight to Boise, enjoy a relaxing evening, explore the city and surrounding area the next day, sing just the National Anthem at the game Saturday night, and fly home Sunday afternoon.
All set, ready to go. [cue dramatic music].
The morning I was scheduled to fly to Chicago, I got a text stating that my departing flight would be delayed. Turns out that the crew was late getting into Panama City the night before so it pushed back all their flights. By the time we got to Chicago, I had missed my direct connection to Boise. No worries. Even though I would now have to fly first to Denver and then to Boise and arrive six hours later than expected, my singing engagement would not affected, as I would not be singing until the following evening.
So I settled in for lunch at Harry Caray’s restaurant on the Midway concourse. For those of you who appreciate the finer points of an Italian beef sandwich, I enjoyed a delicious wet one with green peppers and hot giardiniera.
I boarded the afternoon flight to Denver, hung around that airport for about 90 minutes, and then boarded the last flight for the day. After finally arriving in Boise, I woke the next day to a beautiful morning and a rain-free forecast.
Megan and I rode bikes from her home in Garden City (The GC) into downtown Boise. There are great bike and hiking paths by the river where residents are kayaking and fly fishing. We enjoyed brunch at an outdoor cafe, sampled delicacies at the farmer’s market (best blue cheese dressing ever!), toured the cool Egyptian Theater and the elegant state Capitol. We also drove out to Lucky Peak and Arrowrock Dam.
[By the way, I was schooled by Boise residents on the correct pronunciation of their city name. Use an S and an accent on the first syllable. That’s BOY-see, not boy-ZEE. Got it?]
After a Saturday afternoon nap and a shower, I was ready to go to the Park and sing the Anthem.
Memorial Stadium, the home of the Boise Hawks, has a county fair feel to it. There’s a large set of metal stands down the third base side and again the first base side, with a smaller set of stands right behind home plate. The concessions areas are on either side and behind the home plate stands.
We waited a short while by the first base gate when we got the cue to step onto the field. As I was habitually repeated the first few lines of the Anthem to myself, I felt pretty relaxed. It had only been six days since I sang for the Smokies, so my confidence was solid as I waited on the grass behind home plate. The announcer called out the lineups and invited everyone to stand for the National Anthem. “Performing the Star Spangled Banner tonight is Chris Fenoglio.” He pronounced my name correctly – I thought “that’s a good sign.” I was handed the microphone and started to sing “Oh, say can you…”
Suddenly, I stopped singing.
There was a malfunction with the microphone. There was no connection between the mic and the sound system. I flipped the power button on the mic. It was on but no sound was coming out.
Someone in the press box thought I wasn’t going to sing, so they started the Jimmy Hendrix guitar solo version of the National Anthem. The assistant tried to get them to cut that off.
After 20 seconds of dead, uncomfortable silence, I handed the mic back and started singing again. This time, I used my big voice that was developed in the church loft, often singing with no microphones from the back of the church. “Everyone, sing with me!”
I started again. “Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light.” And not only did I sing, but I raised my arm like I was leading the songs in church, trying to invite the crowd to sing along with me.
Now I normally try to stay calm while I sing, concentrating on the lyrics and thinking ahead to the next phrase. This night saw none of that. Once I started singing with the crowd, it was all adrenaline and instincts. I looked left and right, up and down while I sang, directing the crowd with my arms as I continued to belt out the song.
By the end, I had a good majority of the 3,500 fans singing along with me. I got a rousing ovation from the crowd.
As I walked off the field past the dugout, Gary Van Tol, manager of the Boise Hawks, reached out and shook my hand. He said something like “Way to step up and make something good happen in a bad situation.”
I made it up to our seats behind home plate, near the press box, receiving many compliments from the folks along the way. The adrenaline was still pumping and it took a few minutes to relax. Whew!
An inning or two later, one of the employees found me, apologized again and asked if I’d like to sing “God Bless America” in the middle of the sixth inning. “We’ll make sure the mic works this time,” she said smiling. “Sure,” I said. It’s always fun to sing at a ballpark and here was one more opportunity.
After a couple of hot dogs and a cold beer, I sat back and enjoyed the game. An inning later, the same employee came to where I was sitting. “I’m sorry, but it won’t work out for you to sing in the sixth. This was not a scheduled event, so all changes to the activities between innings have to be approved by both managers. Our manager immediately approved it, but the manager of the Salem-Kaiser Volcanoes did not.”
While we all commented on why someone would veto “God Bless America,” I told her I understood. She then said “We always have the kids come down onto the field to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the 7th Inning Stretch, but why don’t you come down too and lead them.” “Sure!” I said. So, on a night when I thought I’d only sing one song and be done, it was turning into being a memorable evening.
Todd Rahr, the general manager of the Hawks, escorted me through the clubhouse and dugout area to get to the field. He was glad I was going to sing along during the Stretch.
As I walked through the dugout, I tried to soak it all in: what it must feel like to begin your professional baseball career here in Boise. The dugout was kind of rather short with green painted cinder block walls. But among the players there was a buzz that I attributed to a close game between two evenly-matched teams.
I walked out to the field and was introduced by the on-field announcer. He handed me the mic and even though I didn’t have my Harry Caray glasses with me, I started the song with Harry’s traditional “All right, let me hear ya, a 1, a 2, a 3…” There were lots of kids, we all sang along and it was a good time.
After we finished and I walked back out through the dugout, Todd the GM said “Hey, come up to press box and I’ll put you on air with our radio announcer. He can interview you between pitches and you can talk about your campaign to sing for all the Cubs’ teams.” “Okay,” I said, “sounds like fun.” Read more about my radio interview here.
What a night!
We saw a great game. Jesse Hodges for the Hawks had 3 hits, including a homer, and his teammates contributed 13 more hits as they beat the Volcanoes 12-9 at a sold out Memorial Stadium. I met some great people like scoreboard operator Nate Wilder and his parents. It was a good, full day.
Good bye beautiful Boise, I hope to return some day soon.
After Megan dropped me off at the Boise Airport, I checked in at security. The agent handed me my boarding passes stamped with TSA Pre-Clearance. This meant an easier trip back home without waiting in long lines for security.
Excellent – just like I planned. 😉
Note: On September 19, the Chicago Cubs announced that they are moving their A – Short Season affiliate from Boise to Eugene, Oregon, signing a new player development contract with the Eugene Emeralds. Boise will now be an A-Short Season affiliate in the Colorado Rockies organization.
I’m looking forward to singing for the Emeralds!