When SSG. Ian Bowling was asked to sing the National Anthem at the Orioles game on May 9th against the Washington Nationals, I highly doubt I was even close to being his first choice as one of the people to accompany him onto the field. He knows a lot of people. He’s traveled far and wide. He’s a baritone in the United States Army Field Band.
Now, according to one NPR article, the baritones, in the Opera-house sense, are usually cast in a production as the bad guy or the father figure, but rarely the character who gets the woman in the end. This seems like a sad state of affairs; one cannot simply judge a man’s character or make assumptions because of his vocal range. It’s outrageous!
Thank God Ian abstains from those types of stereotypical roles and chooses to see the bigger picture. Luckily for me, Ian is dutifully fighting these clichés by dating my Fiancée’s younger sister, a position that all of us in the family could not be happier about. And that level of happiness skyrocketed when Ian told Lauren to choose someone to join her on the field with him while he sung the Star Spangled Banner and her choice was none other than yours truly.
Of course I agreed to such an undertaking and immediately set my brain loose, imagining all the ways I would be able to strike up a conversation with Adam Jones or Wayne Kirby, slip into the batting cages to take a few swings, or run a lap around Camden Yards, slapping hands with all the fans that had shown up early to see Ian’s rendition of our National Anthem. I was fully prepared to talk some confidence into Chris Davis, reprimand Bobby Dickerson that not every player is fast enough to make it home from second base, and sympathetically pat Hyun-Soo Kim on the shoulder while gently letting him know his playing time will increase eventually.
We arrived on the front steps of Camden Yards at 6:00pm, Ian wearing his Orioles’ tie and looking quite dapper, Lauren with her classic Mr. Boh “85” t-shirt, and me in my treasured authentic #23 Chris Hoiles jersey that my brother lovingly gave me for my birthday a few years back. We pushed our way through security, surrounded by official looking team staff members wearing headsets and press passes, all eyes on us as people quickly realized how important we were. Celebrity status!
Upon entering Camden Yards, we stood by the elevator for a few seconds before deciding to be health conscious and take the steps down to the field level underground tunnel that runs beneath the main concourse. When you’re on the fast track to stardom, like the three of us obviously were, sometimes it’s a humbling experience to have to walk down stairs as opposed to having the elevator take you. We reached the tunnel and signed ourselves in while the staff prepared guest passes for us. As I unsuccessfully attempted several times to adhere the sticky pass to my jersey, I came to the conclusion that this is where costs were being cut as a result of giving Chris Davis $164 million dollars. If that’s the case, I think I can live with it.
Rachael, our tour guide/lady in charge of making sure we didn’t run off into the clubhouse, showed us to the interview room where we would wait for a few minutes
until the raucous crowd had filed in and our grand appearance on the field would be legitimized by a deafening roar from the stands. As Ian warmed up in the corner, Lauren and I took turns playing the role of Buck Showalter in his postgame interviews, posing at his desk in front of the MASN/Orioles backdrop. It was surreal to realize that this was the exact desk Buck has rested his hands on while calmly answering whatever questions reporters throw at him. It’s the same microphone he has probably sprayed with sunflower seed flavored saliva. The same seat he has graced with dirt, sweat, and flatulence. It was all very exciting.
With Ian warmed up, Rachael asked if we would prefer to wait on the field. Seeing as it was only 6:35pm, and the Anthem was not scheduled to be sung until 7:01pm (according to Rachael, usually not even until 7:03pm), we debated on whether to spend more time creepily touching all the interview room things or go onto the field to get a good look at Camden Yards from the perspective of real-life baseball players. We chose the latter.
Single file, we walked down the tunnel. We shuffled past the Ernie Tyler Umpire Room and had the door held for us by the Ball Girls, in uniform and ready to go. And then, as if we were entering the pearly gates themselves, Rachael pushed open a big green double door and the blinding open sky filled the hallway. For a few seconds, we could see nothing but bright, heavenly light. But as we stepped out of the door and under the backstop screen, the entire experience became very crystal clear. This was Camden Yards in a way we had never seen before.
It was beautiful.
The stadium seats wrapped around us, the warning track crackled beneath our shoes, and the soothing sound of Ryan Wagner, the Voice of Oriole Park At Camden Yards,
resonated off the atmosphere-reaching upper deck. The grounds crew was finishing up watering the dirt and Nicole McFadyen, the Head Groundskeeper, who has won so many prestigious awards over the last several years, walked right past me; I’m almost positive, under her breath, she whispered “nice man bun”. The camera crews circled like hawks, positioning themselves for the perfect shot for whatever media outlet they represented. Wayne Kirby and Roger McDowell appeared in the dugout, wandering up and down it’s long trenches, and Trey Mancini and J.J. Hardy arrived to sign autographs for the kids who were anxiously waiting to meet the future face and the defensive-minded veteran. Bryce Harper sought out prime real estate in the visitors dugout and then took the field to go harass the battery units warming up in left-center.
As I stood there, taking in the crowd and evesdropping on the conversation taking place behind me about my Chris Hoiles jersey, I noticed Adam Jones and Jonathon Schoop tossing the ball back and forth. Being an avid Orioles game attendee, I’ve noticed this pregame ritual before, but was certain when I arrived on the field that they had already completed it and had moved on to bigger and better things, like the stash of Bazooka Bubblegum piled high in the corner of the dugout. So when they began to take steps back from one another, increasing the distance between the two of them and, in turn, causing Jonesy to get closer and closer to me, I fought off the trepidation that if he missed the ball, it would smash my skull in and probably kill me instantly, and relished the fact that here was the star center fielder for my beloved Baltimore Orioles, mere feet from me, playing catch as if this was a little league field. As he returned fire up the line to Schoop, life got even better as Manny Machado came to join Jonesy, and together they chatted, although I couldn’t hear their conversation above the thumping of my heart in my chest. Manny, who stood taller than I ever expected him to stand, laughed a little before moving on. But the damage had been done. I was hooked. This was the place for me.
A few details remained, including a photo shoot with the Orioles Bird and fixing the discovery that the microphone did not go quite high enough to comfortably reach Ian’s mouth. But there were no worries. After a suggestion of a phone book to be placed under the microphone stand, and a few interesting glances my way, the issue was brushed aside as a miniscule problem and quickly forgotten about. We had bigger fish to fry. It was just a few minutes shy of 7:01pm. The time had almost finally come.
After finding our family in the stands, placed in prime foul ball territory up the 1st base line, we turned our attention to the first pitch. Logan Verrett, who had just been called up that day to take the injured Zach Britton’s spot on the 25-man roster, pulled the duty of playing catcher. After scooping a solid throw that landed squarely in the middle of the right-handed hitters batters box, Verrett retreated to the dugout and we prepared ourselves to honor America. Ian Bowling stoically approached his microphone, sans phone book, and Ryan Wagner reminded us to remove our caps.
You know the words.
The resounding “O!” was as intense as I’ve ever experienced it. It echoed around Camden Yards, bouncing like a loose ball in basketball, off the upper tiers and the warehouse. It resonated long enough to drown out the next few words, “say does that star…”, words that Ian informed me that he had been instructed not to keep contained for a few seconds, despite knowing the reaction this part of the Anthem would get. The show must go on, it was explained, so refrain from giving time to let the “O!” dissipate before continuing. Power through.
But that didn’t stop him from holding the word “free” as he approached the end of the song. It was a drawn out, melodic, goosebump-inspiring note, finalized by a break during which much of the crowd erupted with impressed acclaim, before he dove into final line, six words, an exclamation to an arresting rendition that the fans in attendance quickly recognized. What an experience to be a part of!
Quickly after the National Anthem finished, Rachael ushered us off the field. There was a game to be played! I gave a wave to my new best friend, Adam Jones, and we made our way back down the umpires tunnel, into the interview room, and grabbed our things. The Orioles Bird followed us in with his helpers and we were given one more opportunity to get any pictures we wanted. After a very genuine thank you to everybody involved, we were on our way back up the steps (we don’t forget where we come from) and made our way to our seats.
I’d like to thank SSG. Ian Bowling for allowing me to join him. Thank you to my future Sister-In-Law, Lauren, for choosing me to share my high anxiety levels with hers. It was absolutely amazing. I never thought I’d have an opportunity to do something like this, and to be able to experience Camden Yards from the field itself was a wonderful dream come true. Thank you to the Orioles’ organization and specifically to all the people that were involved helping us make our way through the process and finally onto the field. Thank you to the Bird for being such a generous picture-poser, to Adam and Manny for allowing me to paparazzi your warm-up and conversation, to Rachael for being a kind and caring host, and to everyone that works so hard to put these productions together on a nightly basis.
Baseball is a tough job. It is relentless and unforgiving. The hours can be draining and the workload hard to bare. Much like the game itself, the production is intricate and specific, requiring the closest attention to details and organization. It’s success rides solely on the ability of every single person involved to bring their game face and do their job the right way each and every time. Thank you for allowing me to experience the payoff of just a few minutes of your hard work.