Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fenway Park: Behind the Scenes

I happened to be near the Ceremonial Band office Tuesday, March 29, when the department leaders were calmly hurrying about attempting to alter the personnel on upcoming ceremonial jobs to accommodate a new ceremony that just came in. I heard that it was a trip to Boston on Thursday and that I was on it.

“This Thursday!?” I exclaimed.

Laughing, Senior Chief Musician Jim Armstrong, the Ceremonial Band unit leader, said “That’s the response I was hoping for and yes, it’s this Thursday.”

It was an overnight trip to Boston to play the national anthem at the home opener for the Boston Red Sox. As if playing at Fenway Park wasn’t enough, the Red Sox were playing their arch-rival, the New York Yankees.

On Wednesday, the travel plans were finalized and we received word that our buses would leave at 0900 on Thursday morning. That night, I packed up some gear that I had just unpacked from tour days earlier. My wife, a Boston fan, was a little jealous that I would be at Fenway, but also sad because I had just come home from being gone for a month.

Our two buses departed Joint Base Anacostia Bolling at 9 a.m. on Thursday, and were fairly quiet. We picked up some more musicians at shopping mall parking lot in Maryland at 9:30 a.m. The buses came alive with conversation before everyone retreated into their books, iPods, sleep or more hushed conversations.

We arrived in Boston around 6 p.m. and settled into our hotel. Most of us hurriedly headed out to dinner and experience Boston for a few hours.

Friday was opening day. I went for a run through the city in the morning. In a city like Boston, you can feel when there’s a baseball game. Maybe it’s the way people walk, or look at you.

The buses departed the hotel at 11:45 a.m. I’m going through the mental checklist of uniform parts. I think I’m good.

MU1 Brandon Almagro warms up outside the bus.
Making our way to our special ballpark parking, the buses are forced to maneuver through crowds of Boston fans, who are spilling out from the bars next to Fenway. Many of them mistook our buses for the Yankees busses, and were kind enough to raise signs in our direction that politely communicated their respect for the “Bronx Bombers.” Little did they know that behind the tinted windows lurked the U.S. Navy Band.

We were escorted into place around 12:30 p.m. If you know the military at all, you’ll be familiar with the phrase “hurry up and wait.” We know it well. It wasn’t until 1:45 p.m. that we began to slowly edge towards the centerfield entrance, underneath the fans.

“Attention” was called and we marched along the warning track and then through center field. We stopped in shallow center field, facing home plate, and listened to the Red Sox line up. The crowd’s cheers were nearly deafening. It’s amazing how much louder the fan noise is down on the field compared to in the stands. There was a moment of silence, Musician 1st Class Brandon Almagro played “Taps,” and almost immediately we played the U.S. anthem. As we held the last note of the anthem, four F-16s flew directly overhead from center field towards home plate. We were told not to look up, but I saw the fighter jets’ shadows scream across the field.

We played a couple verses of “Anchors Aweigh” while counter-marching off the field. I felt like I was treading on semi-sacred ground. I always wanted to go to Fenway Park and this was an incredible way to initially experience it.

MU1s Haley Bangs and Jen Smith get some jumbotron time.
We stayed through seven and a half innings to hear Musician 1st Class Cory Parker sing “God Bless America.” It’s funny to think that only a couple weeks after checking in to the Navy Band, Cory is singing to a sellout crowd at Fenway Park.

We were quickly escorted out of the city and onto the freeway by a high-speed police motorcycle escort that was stopping all motor and pedestrian traffic to enable us to leave like the celebrities that we are. I suppose it’s possible, too, that the Boston police are just really nice to out-of-towners who play at Fenway. At any rate, we were zooming down the left side of streets and blazing by stopped traffic to our right. People probably thought the Yankees were leaving early.

The band arrived at Anacostia around 1:35 a.m. The bus drivers must have been practically flying back, because we didn’t pull away from the stadium until 5 p.m. (at the earliest), and traffic was very slow on the freeways getting out of Boston; we also stopped at three rest stops.

It was an exciting and quick trip. About half of the band took Saturday off and then were off to a job at the White House on Sunday. Never a dull moment, and that’s why I love my job.

Musician 1st Class David Babich plays saxophone in the Ceremonial Band and Concert Band. Photographs by Senior Chief Musician Mike Schmitz and Musician 1st Class Eric Brown.

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