Monday, March 14, 2011


Great Sports Traditions

From the time that games began, several centuries ago, sport traditions have become an important part of life. Consider soccer without its cheers, and songs, and yes, its hooligans. Cricket goers always assemble on the lawn during a break to consume their cucumber sandwiches. And football without tailgating? That just won’t work.

There are a few great songs related to hockey, none more important than “The good old hockey game”, warbled from rink to rink by Prince Edward Islander Stompin’ Tom Connors. Baseball also has its great traditional songs. The prime example? “Take me out to the ball game!” It is sung at nearly every baseball park from coast to coast, usually during the seventh inning stretch-another fine baseball given.

A great tradition at Wrigley Field in Chicago is to have a celebrity sing “Take me out to the ball game”. It is someone’s responsibility to make sure that the singer knows some of the words, and is relatively sober when asked to step before the microphone. Naturally, that has not always been the case. Stars of stage and screen have been honoured with the task. One of racing’s Bush brothers, Kurt, (I think), sang the song for the Cubs’ faithful when I attended their game several years ago. He did a credible job, politely applauded.

Several years ago, another fine song hit the streets entitled, “Talkin’ Baseball”. It stirred the blood with references to the greats of the game. The Toronto Blue Jays adopted the tune, “O K, Blue Jays, Let’s play ball!” I am not exactly certain when that became a staple. Fans are encouraged to stand, sing the song, and wave their arms according to the gestures from on-field kids who know what they are doing. I am always a bar or two behind in the gesturing business.

For many years, the grounds crew in Detroit stopped at second base while grooming the field between innings. They then performed the traditional arm movements to the music of the Village Peoples’ “YMCA”, blaring from the sound system. Most of the grounds crew tip the scale near the 300 pound mark, adding a little extra to the exercise.

Another baseball tradition developed after the 9/11 tragedy in New York. Fans in American baseball parks rise and sing the most patriotic song, “God Bless America,”many with their hands on their hearts. The song was also used during the playoff runs of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1980s. It was a stirring rendition by Kate Reid, often achieving the desired effect of raising the spirit of the fans to an absolute frenzy.

And what would Yankee Stadium be without the strains of “New York, New York” after every game from Frank Sinatra?

Kevin Millar recently retired as a major league baseball player. They have not yet cast his plaque for Cooperstown, and that is not likely to happen in the near future. But he was well respected as a player, and as a character. Fans loved him. He was not shy about cutting up a little to ease the tension. There are snippets on You Tube of Kevin performing “Born in the USA” a la Bruce Springsteen.

Apparently, Kevin also belted out “Sweet Caroline” occasionally to entertain his teammates. Duly recorded, it became a hit on the big screen at Fenway. The Red Sox Nation loved it. It became tradition. Nowadays, at every Boston game, they play Neil Diamond’s version of the hit, and the fans sing along. Last year, on or about July Fourth, Diamond snuck out of the Red Sox dugout to lead the fans in the singing of his song. It was well received, needless to say.

Even in Spring Training, traditions are maintained. Neil Caldeira is a Bostonian who winters in Fort Myers, and works as an usher for the Red Sox. He appeared in front of the bleachers and led us in a stirring rendition of “Sweet Caroline”, in fine voice. He may be ready for La Scala in Milan. The fans loved his enthusiasm, and his charm.

Yet another tradition from the great game of baseball.

James Hurst March 14, 2011

Duly noted. The change has been done. Thanks.
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