Patriotism, pride drive national anthem singers

Local singers will perform the anthem before the Tri-City ValleyCats’ 38 home dates this season.
National Anthem singers for Valley Cats baseball games pose together for a photo on Thursday, June 5, 2014. From left to right are: Kelli Trippany, of Rotterdam, Charlie Peterson, of Troy, Jake Goodman, 12 years old, of East Greenbush, Mike Pickett, of...
National Anthem singers for Valley Cats baseball games pose together for a photo on Thursday, June 5, 2014. From left to right are: Kelli Trippany, of Rotterdam, Charlie Peterson, of Troy, Jake Goodman, 12 years old, of East Greenbush, Mike Pickett, of...

Outfielders and infielders will warm up — stretching arms and legs — before Friday’s opener at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium as the Tri-City ValleyCats open their 13th season in the New York-Penn League.

And while guys in uniform will be getting ready to catch high fly balls, Jake Goodman will be getting ready to hit high notes when he sings “The Star-Spangled Banner” to officially kick off the new season.

“It’s a powerful song, and it represents our country,” Goodman, 12, a sixth-grader at Goff Middle School in East Greenbush, said of the national anthem. “It makes me happy to be an American.”

Other local singers will perform the anthem before the ValleyCats’ 38 home dates this season. They all auditioned to win spots behind home plate and give voice to Francis Scott Key’s famous composition from 1814.

Chris Chenes, media and production manager for the ValleyCats, says baseball and the anthem share a historic bond.

“Sure, you can play a recording,” he said, “but to have someone out there performing the anthem, I think it adds to the overall experience for the fans in the park. You’re paying tribute to your country, and when you have someone out there local who is very talented, singing the anthem, it adds an emotional effect to the game. People pay more attention to it.”

Goodman and 84 other people auditioned in April for the opening night gig at Crossgates Mall in Guilderland. The young singer said people were just walking the mall, and not many were paying attention at first.

“By the end of the song, there must have been 100 people watching me,” he said.

Goodman decided to audition — he had unsuccessfully tried out in 2012 and 2013 — because he loves singing. He’ll perform the title role this summer as Albany’s Park Playhouse presents “Oliver!” And as a New York Mets fan, Goodman also loves baseball.

Both facts pleased Charlie Peterson, who will sing the anthem at the ballpark later this season.

“I’m a Red Sox fan. We love the Mets fans,” said Peterson, 70, who lives in Troy. “They don’t like the Yankees any more than we do.”

Peterson has sung the anthem at Joe Bruno Stadium about 20 times. As a Coast Guard veteran, the song holds special meaning for her.

“You better believe it does,” Peterson said. “You get choked up. You realize this is your country you’re singing about. You think about the people who fought and died for this country.”

Peterson’s father, Clemello Clemens, died in Normandy during World War II. Her son, Sam “Happy” Russell, died when he was stricken at a military base in Germany where he was stationed.

Peterson, who with her husband, Jim, are ValleyCats season ticket holders, said she sings in a traditional style.

“You sing what’s on the paper,” she said. “You sing what’s written, and you leave it alone. It’s powerful, and you leave it alone.”

That’s why Peterson doesn’t like renditions in which singers give “The Star-Spangled Banner” a personal spin or an ascending swirl of notes. And she really doesn’t like when people don’t treat the anthem seriously.

“There was a young girl who was getting ready to sing the anthem here and her cellphone rang just before she started,” Peterson said. “That little brat pulled out her cellphone and answered it. I wanted to come down the aisle and go over the fence, but I’m a lady.”

Chenes said the anthem isn’t just a solo gig. And sometimes, it’s an instrumental piece at The Joe.

“We have quartets come in, we had somebody playing the saxophone,” he said. “We have very young, talented musicians, and we have those who are older, people who are retired and people like Charlie Peterson. … The anthem means a lot to her.

Mike Pickett, 68, of Latham, can wear several caps at the stadium.

“I’m very proud to be not only a veteran, but an employee of the Tri-City ValleyCats and a member of the Racing City Chorus,” he said.

The Saratoga Springs singing group will perform the anthem during the season. Pickett will also sing the patriotic tune with his barbershop quartet, Jumpp.

“I think if it’s sung properly, people get a big feeling of pride,” he said, “and they can tie that in with the great game of baseball. They don’t know if they’re getting chills from the national anthem or the combination of the national anthem and being at the ballpark.”

The words and notes also affect the singer.

“I get the chills,” Pickett said. “I get goose bumps.”

Pickett also said singers expect fans to stand at attention and listen to the performance, but they might forget players are also part of the audience. Pickett remembers one evening, after the chorus gathered around home plate had just sung the anthem, the guys noticed players standing alongside the first base line weren’t looking at the huge flag that flies beyond the outfield. Instead, they were craning their necks to look at the singers.

“We sang it great that night,” Pickett said.

Leslie Maiello of Schenectady has been singing the anthem for decades — she even performed the song at Heritage Park in Colonie when the Albany-Colonie Yankees were playing in the Eastern League. Maiello has slapped palms with players as she’s walked off the field after singing.

The song is so powerful, Maiello said, it almost takes her to another place.

“When I finish singing, it’s almost like I’m coming out of a cloud,” she said. “I’ve been somewhere else for a moment.”

Maiello also said people who sing at baseball games sometimes have to deal with unexpected accompaniment.

“I was singing once, and all of a sudden, there was this ‘Boom! Boom! Boom!’ ” she said. “It was fireworks. I can say it startled me.”

She’ll be singing the anthem July 5.

“There will be fireworks that night,” she said. “Bring your family.”

Kelli Trippany of Rotterdam, who won the 2012 ValleyCats audition, will sing Aug. 25. The more times she sings the song, she said, the more proud she becomes.

Trippany, 34, has performed the anthem plenty of times. Her voice has taken her to Albany Devils hockey games at the Times Union Center and Syracuse University basketball games at the Carrier Dome. As a secretary for the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s law enforcement division, Trippany has also has performed at department functions such as graduations.

“I’ve sung this before 40 people and 40,000 people,” she said.

Like Peterson, Trippany has patriotic reasons to perform the song well. Her brother, Andrew Liddane of Albany, recently joined the U.S. Air Force.

“Now, every time I sing it, I’ll be thinking of him,” she said.

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