This is a joy to watch, whether you're a sports fan or...well, just breathe.
Two things to know beforehand. First, the Chicago Cubs have a tradition to honor long-time announcer Harry Caray after he passed away. They bring in celebrities -- national, but even local -- to lead the crowd in singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for the Seventh Inning Stretch. And second, this is the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, and the team has been doing events all season long to celebrate.
On Saturday, the Cubs flew in Lennie Merullo to sing the song. Who is Lennie Merullo? He's the oldest living Chicago Cub and only surviving member of the last Cubs team to play in a World Series. That was 1945 -- 69 years ago. Lennie Merullo is now 97 years old. He didn't just play shortstop for the Cubs, but he also served as a scout for the team for 22 years.
Before the celebrity sings, he always in interviewed for a half-inning, first on the radio broadcast and then on WGN television. I listened to the former, and he was charming and enthusiastic, if also perhaps a bit hard of hearing. But he was thrilled to be there, having flown in with his family from Boston. My favorite part was when announcer Pat Hughes asked if he was ready to sing, and Merullo noted that he was and had been practicing. And as Hughes returned to the play-by-play, Merullo softly began to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the background. The normally unflappable Pat Hughes got so flustered he called the third out of the inning, until he quickly realized it was only the second out, and he started laughing, warmly explaining that it was nice to see that "Lennie is still practicing!"
Usually the guest stays in the radio booth for the full half-inning, but they let him leave early because it no doubt took him a bit longer than most visitors to get over to the television side. But get there he did, and here's a video of some of his enthusiastic interview in the TV booth, followed him leading the crowd.
There some whimsy to his "guest conducting." Usually, the conductor warms up the crowd with, "A-one, a-two, a-three -- in part to prepare the organist -- but he dives right in. Happily, he has a family member with him. And the tradition, too, is for the guest conductor to sing "the Cubbies," rather than "the home team". But Lennie practiced the song as written, and that's what he was going to sing -- even if the crowd, as you'll hear, sings it their way. The final tradition is to end by shouting to the crowed, "Let's Get Some RUNS!!!!!" But when you're 97 years old, you're tradition enough, and however Lennie Merullo wanted to end the song is perfectly fine.
Alas, I am unable to embed the video, but you can find it here. Just scroll down the page and click Play.
In the meantime, I should mention too that when someone leads the crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," they also are invited to thrown out the ceremonial first pitch. Not all want to, or are able to get to the park in time. Lennie Merullo was there...
By the way, the movie Field of Dreams is based on the novel, Shoeless Joe, written by W.P. Kinsella. There's a chapter and character in the book that was dropped from the film. It's called, "The Oldest Living Chicago Cub." It would have extended the movie too much in a different direction, but if you ever read the book is a lovely, fascinating sequence and character.
However, Lennie Merullo is the real thing.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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