A week after the long drive and faulty singing for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, I was flying across the country to the West Coast.
Looking down from 30,000 feet above the plains of eastern Texas, I saw a landscape outlined by 90-degree man-made roads. These roads intersected around checkerboard squares, large swaths of wind farms, and crop circles of summer wheat, corn, and soybeans.
Interstate highways crisscrossed densely packed, well-organized residential communities. Puffy white clouds added sporadic blots of shade; the landscape looked peaceful, geometric, orderly.
But as I learned last week in Myrtle Beach, life on the ground is never orderly. Baseball games are never orderly; not for the players, the manager, and especially not for the National Anthem singer.
As I flew west to Las Vegas and a connecting flight northwest to Portland, I wondered about the next day’s National Anthem performance.
Will I have a momentary “black spot” like in Jackson? Will I sing the wrong words like in Myrtle Beach? Or will I steady my nerves, concentrate clearly on the lyrics and sing a powerful, patriotic rendition of the Star Spangled Banner like I’ve sung in the past?
Time would tell. First, I needed to get my head out of the clouds.
I landed in Portland, rented a car and drove the remaining 112 miles to Eugene, stopping only once for a salmon dinner in Salem.
I drove into Eugene and found my room at the Downtown Inn, a small, pleasant motel in this college town, home to the University of Oregon Ducks. Eugene is known as the Emerald City, and is where Nike had its beginnings.
Eugene also has a satellite location for Voodoo Doughnuts, the Portland-based doughnut shop known for it’s inventive and weird doughnut flavors. I stopped there the next morning on my way to the Pacific coast.
While I really wanted to simplify my activities before the game in order to better prepare mentally for my singing, I thought an hour-long drive through southern Oregon to the coast would be a good way to unwind.
It was a gorgeous drive through the timberland, stopping in Florence to eat breakfast at the Little Brown Hen Cafe.
From there is was just a short drive to the coast, where I climbed down the large rocks to the brown sandy beach and the Pacific Ocean. Unlike the previous weekend when I stood in the hot sun with my toes in the Atlantic, this weather was overcast, cool and misty. The shoreline was rocky, with majestic formations jutting out into the ocean.
The drive back to Eugene was pleasant and short, so I had a few hours to drop off brochures at two bookstores and walk around a fall festival in downtown Eugene.
After I returned to my hotel to rest, I decided to read more from Tom Verducci’s excellent book THE CUBS WAY – The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse.
I found the following excerpt from The Cubs Way, the team’s player development manual, specifically in the section titled “Mental Skills Program:” “Ultimately what [the phrase ‘That’s Cub’] means is that something was done that is right on point with what we are working to accomplish in this organization.”
The manual further explains that the phrase “That’s Cub” is an acronym in which the C stands for courage “to do the right thing,” even if it is scary or uncomfortable; U is for the urgency “to do the right thing right now;” and B is for the belief “that we can do it.”
This motivation of doing the right thing right now was exactly what I needed to read.
For every National Anthem appearance, I am officially invited by the team to perform on the field. I always wear my Cubs logo shirt when I sing and strive to do my very best. Therefore, it’s not much of a mental stretch to believe I am an unofficial member of the Cubs organization, chosen to represent the team with my singing.
This newly adopted connection to the Cubs was just the right kind of pep talk to get me fired up for the night’s performance.
I drove over to PK Park on the edge of the University of Oregon campus. I arrived in plenty of time and connected with my staff member. After learning what time we would be going down to the field, I hung around nearby, but off to myself, singing the lyrics continually as I always do.
As I was warming up, I started to feel the same anxiety about forgetting the lyrics. I purposely concentrated hard on the part I had messed up the week before.
But this time, in addition to “being part of the Cubs,” I also imagined that my audience was very small, that I was only singing to my family: Linda, our three children Kristin, Connor, and Tommy, Kristin’s husband Jeremy, and our granddaughter Kali. I immediately experienced a calm, wholesome feeling come over me, filling me up with a strong confidence that I could sing my best.
We made our way down to the field and I joined the other pregame folks: the people throwing out the first baseballs, the mascots, and the costumed crime fighters who were all part of Superhero Saturday at the ballpark.
I gave my iPhone to another staff member who would video my performance. Another led me over to the area behind home plate. Finally, after being introduced by the announcer, it was time to sing.
“This is our song, so please sing along,” I said, inviting the crowd to sing along. As you can see in the video, many did.
I started strong and concentrated on singing the first two lines correctly. After that, my confidence grew along with the quality of my singing. When I got to the “rockets’ red glare and the bombs bursting in air,” I knew I wanted to sing the crescendo again and hold out the part “our flag was still there.” I got a few cheers after that, which felt good.
I finished strong and receive a very nice applause afterwards. As you can see in the video, I calmly nodded in appreciation and handed the microphone back to my contact.
But inside, I was going “Whoopee! Yeehaw! That was awesome!” I was ecstatic that I had not only conquered the beast, unlike last week, but that I also sang a rendition that was in many ways better than other renditions.
As soon as I got back into the stands, I called home and told Linda how well it had gone. We didn’t talk long, as it was two hours later back home in Nashville. Still, it was great to talk to her and tell her what happened. I felt a huge sense of relief when it was all over.
One other bright spot to singing for the Emeralds: I got to see Ben Hecht pitch for the home team. Hecht is the nephew of my brother-in-law Mike Nuxoll, my sister Angela’s husband. The lanky right-hander pitched for the Teutopolis Wooden Shoes and was then signed by the Cubs.
During the game, I struck up a conversation with Dianne Fawbush, who takes lots of photographs of the players for the team. I told her about my connection to Hecht, so she said she would take me down to the clubhouse entrance after the game so I could meet Ben.
It was a great experience meeting Diane and her husband Fred. They were very kind to send me photos of Ben, which I sent off to Mike to share with his family. With those photos and the one with the Caped Crusader, it was the perfect ending to a great weekend!
I travelled the entire next day, driving back to Portland, flying first to Denver and then home to Nashville. Along the way, I reflected back on the lessons I learned about preparing to sing, believing in what I could do, and the way I did the right thing when I needed to do it.
I guess I can summarize the whole weekend in two words: That’s Cub!
Last stop: Mesa