Druley: Hello, Geneva! Price tour hits Elfstrom

Published: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
Whittier College professor Joe Price, shown here singing the national anthem before a Triple-A Louisville Bats game on May 28, is set to make Elstrom Stadium the 77th stop on his 105-city summer anthem tour on Wednesday. (Photo provided)

An Asheville, N.C., baseball fan approached Joe Price on the concourse last month with a note on his rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

At no point during a 75-second turn at the mic did Price don a cowboy hat, fake a twang or unnecessarily chop the second “g” from “gleaming.” This pleased the woman, who found the tourist at the Tourists game and said, “Thank you for not singing it country.”

Pity that Price’s national anthem tour already had a name. That certainly would have sufficed.

In 76 spring and summer dates through Monday – Wednesday’s trip to Elfstrom Stadium is slated for No. 77 – Price has stressed simplicity in honoring our nation’s song. The Whittier College (Calif.) professor literally is researching and writing a book on the subject while traveling to 105 minor league ballparks, attracting friends and little self-attention along the way.

“The national anthem can be a unifying event when it focuses on the anthem rather than the performer,” Price says. “One of the most frequent comments I get is, ‘Thank you for singing it the way it was supposed to be sung,’ or, ‘Thank you for singing it the way it was written.’ ”

Price seems to be in tune with those elements of Francis Scott Key’s masterwork as he sees the country with his wife, Bonnie. Plenty of miles and milestones have rolled by from the perch of their rented 1994 Fleetwood RV and towed-along 1995 Saturn during a five-month sabbatical.

Price performed the anthem in Erie, Pa., on July 17, his 62nd birthday, but plans to stay put when Bonnie turns 63 later this week. A religious studies professor, Price earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago, and the couple have made arrangements to celebrate with friends in the city.

Many other off-road moments have surfaced since the “National Anthem for the National Pastime” tour kicked off in Viera, Fla., on April 7.

Bonnie isn’t particularly a baseball fan, so has focused her summer blog on the trip’s sights and new friendships with outgoing and curious fans.

Joe, meanwhile, delves into the minutaie and intricacies of the baseball culture in the cities he’s visiting. Baseball and religion have fascinated him since before his academic days, inspiring two earlier books, “From Season to Season: Sport as American Religion” and “Rounding the Bases: Baseball as Religion in America.”

Price channeled a recent conversation with a colleague when Whittier’s sabbatical oppotunity opened. The men talked about a fan in the news who aspired to see games in all 30 major league parks in one season, and the friend urged Joe to do something similar.

Bonnie had retired after 35 years as a teacher, so there was nothing else to stop them.

“It looked like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Price said, “and why not go for it? It’s an incredible amount of work that’s been absolutely delightful.”

Price began emailing minor league clubs about his intentions last summer, sending a link to one of the dozens of anthems he has performed in major league parks over the years. He explained his hobby of singing the song – borne of vocal study and performance as an undergraduate – and anxiously awaited teams’ replies.

Hordes of confirmations flowed in, but that was only the beginning. Price estimated a workload of some 60 hours just to coordinate itineraries and stops.

Saturday’s trip to Fort Wayne, Ind., marked the de facto beginning of his tour through the Midwest League, though Price hit Bowling Green (Ky.) and Lake County (Ohio) as geography dictated earlier this season.

After serenading Cougars fans on Wednesday night, he’ll remain near Chicago for a few days, then see Wisconsin, Clinton, Quad Cities, Beloit, Peoria and Cedar Rapids through Aug. 4.

To date, the trip has featured only two rainouts. The Prices had to cancel a pair of June dates in Virginia when the RV broke down, but soldiered on when the vehicle they call “Arby” encountered a generator malfunction in Texas. At least it was early May when the air conditioning didn’t work.

Because “Arby” gets only 7-9 miles per gallon, the Prices often park it in a central location and commute to various ballparks in the Saturn. As of Sunday, Joe calculated the mileage count at around 7,500 for the RV; 7,800 on the Saturn (called “Toad”) and 4,500 on various rental vehicles.

Expect the final tally in the book, which soon could have to fight its way into the front seat of Joe Price’s attention.

Classes at Whittier resume on Sept. 8, just four days after “Arby” makes its final stop in San Bernadino, Calif.

• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@kcchronicle.com.

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