In honor of summer...

During the legendary 1918 Red Sox vs. Cubs World Series, The Star-Spangled Banner played during the seventh-inning stretch of one of the Chicago games, for the first time associating the tune with the National Pastime. It quickly became part of baseball tradition long before ascending to the status of U.S. National Anthem in 1931. To this day many baseball fans believe that the last two words of the anthem are, "Play ball!"

When fans hear the rousing bars that make them instinctively stand to attention, they remove their caps and gaze upon the Stars and Stripes. But only some attempt to sing along with the honored vocalist. In spite of hearing the song performed hundreds of times, few can recall the words. Cumbersome verse and a tune that's not catchy are typically blamed, but others claim that the lyrics simply don't speak to modern American sensibilities. The words say nothing of justice, equality, or the splendor of the land. They don't move us, so we don't remember them.

Some have suggested, therefore, that we should change the National Anthem. Doing so, though, would disqualify us from an important distinction among nations. Review anthem lyrics from other lands and you'll see some proclaim the beauty of the homeland, others call citizens to arms, and still others extol the justice of the nation's cause. But the United States Anthem merely poses a question. Essentially it asks, "Has anyone seen our flag? It was right over there just yesterday."

I submit that, for all of the Anthem's alleged failings, this lyrical quirk is actually desirable. The reason relates to the way in which our nation resembles the game of baseball.

Baseball is a game that never actually ends. The nine-inning rule is not only arbitrary, it's conditional. It only applies when one team has scored more runs than the other after nine innings have expired. Even if the game is allowed to stop after nine, it's a temporary reprieve. With 162 games in regular season play, rivals face each other so often that the battle never seems to cease. And baseball statistics stretch back almost to the nascent game, ensuring that every pitch shares a continuity with the very first one hurled.

Baseball is, at its heart, a series of unanswered questions. A floating probability never resolved by certainty. The Eternal Question is, "Who is the best?" The answer is always relative. And so it is also for the United States.

The Constitution was written as a proposition, a hope. Sadly, for most of the history of the United States, the government has not lived up to it. Not before the Civil War when slavery thrived. Not before 1920 during women's suffrage. Not before the Civil Rights Movement when Jim Crow Laws infected the South. Not before 1980 when the U.S. Supreme Court had yet to rule that the U.S. unjustly seized the Black Hills from the Sioux 103 years earlier.

The Great Experiment that is the United States is never, and can never be, truly finished. The flag we sing of symbolizes freedom even if those who worship it do not fully understand the concept. When our nation countenances ignorance and injustice, freedom is not truly its banner. So it makes sense for us to constantly ask, "Is the flag still there? Is the banner of freedom truly flying today?" And every time we take an honest look at ourselves and answer confidently, "Not yet," we begin to make the changes that make our country ever greater. Just as the Eternal Question in baseball inspires players to keep playing and fans to keep passing through the turnstiles.

Jefferson said the price of freedom is vigilance. To be vigilant is to always live in the question, never resting on certainty. Oh say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Play ball!

National Anthem Oct 16, 2008

My Taiko group (the ensemble group--so unfortunately not the one I play with) played the Nat'l Anthem at the Red Sox game last night.  This is the third time they've played, and the third time the Red Sox have come from behind to win.  I didn't get to see it 'cause was rehearsing, but here's a YouTube of another time they played.  My sensei, Mark, is the first drummer you see.

Odaiko New England with Tiger Okoshi and trumpeters from Berklee School of Music.

In honor...

Sheesh. Nicely put. That gave me goosebumps.Smile

In honor...

I agree, Kat.  I always knew there was a reason why baseball's narrative was so appealing.  Great analogy.  It's a reson I love being a Red Sox fan--but weirdly I think I kinda liked it better before winning the 2004 world series, lol.  Heh, if only I had been on a plane that crashed on a mysterious island....