Mayor’s Stage: Anthem inspires as teams, bands take to fields

RICHARD L. "IKE" STAGE
City of Grove City

With the return of high school fall sports, I finally again hear the familiar Friday night tune of our nation’s anthem as it bellows from the high school stadium not far from our house.

After many months of silence from the playing field, it’s a welcome sound, signifying a cautious return to some level of normalcy. Though the situation seems to pale in comparison, I would imagine the feeling I have hearing it this year might be similar to how the crowd must have felt at the first game of the 1918 World Series.

Richard L. "Ike" Stage

The Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs were set to play during a difficult time. World War I raged on, more than 100,000 U.S. soldiers had died, an influenza pandemic was spreading rapidly, a bomb had recently exploded at the federal building in Chicago and the season was ending a month early so major league baseball players could contribute to the war effort.

I’ve read accounts of the game at Comiskey Park stadium, describing the first seven innings as non-eventful and somewhat somber as the circumstances weighed heavily on the players and fans. But during the seventh-inning stretch, the U.S. Navy Band played “The Star Spangled Banner” and spirits were lifted.

Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas was on leave from the Navy at the time and immediately snapped to salute the flag as the music played. And though it’s not likely all 19,000-plus fans could hear the small band playing, the crowd began to join together in song, with hats removed and hands over their hearts.

The New York Times later recapped the event stating, “First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day’s enthusiasm.”

They almost didn’t play the series that year. The decision to play, it is told, was because word reached the players that soldiers overseas were excited to learn who would win. The games were played for them. The song was sung for them. The applause was for them.

Although it wasn’t officially so for another 13 years, it can be argued “The Star-Spangled Banner” became the nation’s anthem that game day.

I’m grateful to be an American and proud to honor the brave men and women who served, are currently serving or lost their lives defending our country in the armed forces.

Just as I have since I was a young boy, I will stand with my fellow Americans and join in singing with my hand over my heart every time the national anthem is played, paying homage to those who give me the right to do so and as a salute to our great nation.

Richard L. “Ike” Stage is the mayor of Grove City.