Photo by Sports Illustrated.

The playing of the National Anthem has been possibly my favorite part of any baseball game I have ever been associated with. From the earliest days in Little League when the local school band would do their special rendition on opening day to my current position with my summer collegiate baseball players, the Anthem has been synonymous with baseball to me. In fact, I seem to be able to remember feelings before games from moments in my baseball life – Asheville, NC, San Antonio, TX, Des Moines, IA. I remember certain nights – not every night, but some – and how great it was to be out there as a pro ballplayer listening to the National Anthem. It was living like all of the pros I saw on TV as a kid. Maybe it’s weird, maybe not, but it was a part of sports to me as much as timeouts, post game celebrations or team road trips.

In the politically turbulent 70’s I was a member of the UConn basketball team and we were playing a non-conference game at Columbia University. The University refused to play the National Anthem for their own political reasons at that time. Although a “mature” college man all of 18 years old I had no real idea about the motivation of their actions. Forty years is enough to cloud anyone’s recollections but I clearly remembered being blown away that someplace in America refused to play the Anthem before a game that night in New York City. Like most young people I got past it in about two minutes and continued being a college kid.

As a minor league ballplayer in the less turbulent but still radical 1980’s two of my AA teammates and I drove from spring training in Plant City, FL to our AA assignment in Tulsa, OK. With me was a Stanford graduate, African-American, who is now a prominently successful sports agent in San Francisco. My other teammate was a quiet, unassuming power hitting first baseman from Puerto Rico. Two of the nicest guys I ever had the chance to play with. We took a brief pit stop in the middle of Mississippi to use the rest room.

The gas station owner blindsided me with the following comment, “You can use the bathroom but your friends can’t.

Notice I said blindsided me. They both smiled, shook their heads, as if they had heard this type of thing before (they had) and we left. I felt embarrassed, upset, and awakened to the world – more than any Civics or U.S. History class I ever took. Sure it was the 80’s – but not the 1880’s!

I was a high school head coach for two years, we didn’t win much but we were the only team that played the anthem in our league before home games. It was a nuisance to many but we hooked up the recording to the PA and did it. It was important for our players to have something to honor everyday and to be thankful for the chance to play.

Flash forward 30 or so years where I am the GM and Pitching Coach of the Mystic Schooners of the New England Collegiate Baseball League. A few years back we hosted the U.S. Military All-Stars to Mystic for an exhibition game. The National Anthem and game time flag presentation ceremony was one of the most patriotically powerful moments I can remember. All at the game were proud of our country that night and the active duty military personnel/ballplayers were immensely grateful for the support our fans showed each of them. They went into the crowd to talk to veterans who were in attendance and had them stand and be recognized for their service.

So what if it was in a constant rain and so what if we had a fraction of our anticipated game crowd. The soldiers and sailors were gentleman and truly great Americans. We were all better for meeting them. I remember the way they loved playing that night, it was their chance to still do what they love as they served the country they love. Just a bunch of good guys put in harm’s way. We are thankful for their dedication to our country.

We live in a “Melting Pot”, that much I did learn from History class. With our many cultures comes an equal number of perspectives. If the track record from my athletic experience is any indication we will see many more years of people’s perspectives which other people won’t agree with.

It is important for us to do good things even when we are disagreeable, the world does not stop so we need to stay true to doing good.