My introduction to singing for professional baseball came with the Nashville Sounds, our minor league team with a long history of AA and AAA affiliations. At present they are the AAA Brewers holding down 1st place in the American Southern division of the Pacific Coast League.
In recent years the Sounds have held a one-day tryout for everyone interested in singing at a ball game. When I called the front office in mid-season in the late 1990s, they invited me to come out to Greer Stadium one afternoon to audition. Linda and I drove to the park early in the week. It was a day off for the team, so there were very few people around. I stood in the stands behind home plate, held a cordless mic, blew a D on my pitch pipe and sang.
At that time in Greer Stadium’s history, the park had only one set of speakers. Rising above the centerfield wall, six loud speakers pointing in different angles roughly towards the infield were affixed to a forty-foot pole nearly 400 feet away.
As I sang the Anthem in the audition, the speaker volume seemed about right for an empty stadium. There might have been a slight delay from what I sang into the mic and what I heard from the speakers, but it didn’t seem too bad.
The Sounds liked my audition and asked me to sing at a home game in about three weeks. I said great and we went home.
Two days later, the Sounds called and said they had a cancellation for this Saturday night’s game versus the Albuquerque Isotopes. Could I possibly fill in? “Sure!” I said enthusiastically. We made our family plans for the game.
We arrived at the park about 45 minutes before game time and I made sure the Anthem coordinator knew I was in the park. “Meet me at that gate by the dugout at 6:45,” he said as he pointed at the third base side of the field. We all took our seats and I watched the clock as thousands of fans poured into the stadium.
I was nervous sitting there, waiting for performance time. I could write that “Butterflies were floating in my stomach,” but that’s a rather polite and genteel way to state that “the anxiety I felt was churning up gastric acids in my intestines” and I hoped I would not be sick. I got up from my seat and told Linda I was going to warm up on the concourse, which I did, but it was also easier to walk around than sitting and waiting.
When it was time, I walked through the gate to a spot behind home plate. We waited as the umpires met with the two managers and received their lineups. The coordinator handed me the cordless mic, already turned on. The Public Address announcer then invited everyone to “please stand, remove your caps and join Chris Fenoglio in the singing of our National Anthem.”
I had been humming my starting note for a minute, so I raised the microphone, looked towards the American flag in centerfield and started singing. Then I heard “Oh Oh say say, can can you you see see…”
The subtle delay I heard at the audition in the empty park was now magnified tremendously. With more than 12,000 fans packed into the Stadium on a Saturday night, the Sounds had turned up the speaker volume A LOT! All I could hear was my own voice, singing the words I had sung a second ago! It was quite disorienting.
So, I slowed down. I sang carefully as I concentrated on what words I was currently singing (all from memory, there were no sing-along lyrics on the scoreboard). I even cupped my left hand over my ear so that the sound from my mouth would echo there and help me block out the loud sounds from centerfield.
By the middle of the song, I had gotten my bearings and started to put more meaning into the lyrics. To me, the most important phrase of the song is “gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” I always try to emphasize those words, for the image of a tattered, battle-weary flag still standing illustrates the courageous spirit of Americans, even in difficult times.
I got to the end and held out “land of the free” for a few seconds, letting the echo meld with my voice for a strong, rising note, before finishing the Anthem with a solid ending.
As I walked back to the third base gate, a couple of the Sounds players held up their hands for a fist-bump (or were they high-fives back then? I forget). Anyway, what a relief it was to get through the song despite the sound delay.
Linda noted how slow it was at the beginning and I explained what I was hearing. “Well, it sounded good,” she said. I smiled and waved for the beer man.
2014 is the last year for Greer Stadium and its sound system, though the centerfield speakers were later replaced with speakers around home plate. A new ballpark is under construction at Sulpher Dell near downtown Nashville.