Saturday, May 18, 2013

By Ellen Bell, Staff Writer - 

It was my New Year’s resolution. A dare, if you will.

Over the years I had listened to many National Anthem singers at the ballpark. One day, I said to myself,

“I can do that.”

I’m not really sure what drove me to call the Angels Front Office to inquire about an audition in January of 1998. But for whatever the reason, I made the call, recorded a short cassette tape, and mailed it in. I told myself that the dare was complete. I had made the effort and followed through. Mission accomplished.

Then I got the call.

I came home to find a message from the Angels on my answering machine, wondering if I’d like to sing the National Anthem in April. My kids, who were only 6 and 3 at the time, wanted to know why my face looked funny. 

“Mommy’s gonna sing at the Angels game,” I answered weakly.

“Will you be on that giant TV screen in the field?” Tyler asked.

I had to sit down.

When the big day arrived and I drove to the stadium filled with a mixture of excitement and dread. I was thrilled for the opportunity but my anticipation was laced with panic. What if I messed up? What if I sang off key and embarrassed all of the neighbors and friends who had bought tickets to come and support me? 

But what of it all went well and I had the time of my life?

I hung on to that thought as I met the Andre, the Angels Stage Manager at the time, who walked me through the tunnels and then up the elevator to the press level. There I met Peggy Duquesnel, the wonderfully talented musician who used to play live organ music during every home game. Peggy made me feel right at home as we ran through the anthem and practiced “Take Me Out to The Ballgame.” She was a stickler for the lyrics, and insisted that every soloist sang…”I don’t care if I never get back.”  Even now, I still listen to the singers to see if they get it right.

After rehearsal, we took the elevator down to the dugout suites level.  Andre showed me to the dressing room that was so close to the field I could hear the crack of the bats as the players took batting practice.  Minutes later, I stepped up onto the field behind home plate and took a look around.

It was a beautiful, warm spring evening and the stadium was slowly filling with fans. Peggy’s music was floating over the field and I scanned the stadium around me, trying to memorize everything.  David Courtney announced the lineup of the visiting team and then “Spirit in the Sky” began to play over the loud speaker. This was my signal to step up and take my position at the microphone. To this day, no matter where I am when I hear that song, my stomach fills with butterflies.

Then David Courtney said, “Now would you please rise and kindly remove your hats and join Ms Ellen Bell in the singing of our National Anthem.”

I glanced up at the giant image of myself on the jumbotron and quickly looked away. I decided to smile and focus on the flag in the outfield instead.

“Oh say can you see…”

A funny thing happens when you’re singing the National Anthem in front of thousands of people. Your mind begins to play tricks on you. Sure, you try to stay focused on the task at hand, but a little voice in your head tries to mess you up. This is why I will always have empathy for Christina Aguilera or anyone else who has flubbed the lyrics. Suddenly, in the middle of the song, I was absolutely convinced that I had sung the wrong words. I looked at the cameraman to see if he was confused by my jumbled lyrics, but his expression told me nothing.  I continued on, singing through to the money note at the end, still believing that I had screwed the whole thing up.

“….O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

The cheers went up and I felt as if Mo Vaughn had been lifted off my shoulders. I walked off the field and whispered to my husband,

“Did I get the words right?”

“You were perfect,” he said just as the umpires took the field.

After that first night, I went on to sing the National Anthem more than 50 times at southern California sporting events. I had the honor of singing at Dodgers Stadium, Staples Center and on the ice for the Ducks when they still played at “The Pond.” But more than 30 of those games were for the Anaheim Angels, who always treated me and my family as if we were part of theirs.  I have many wonderful memories from singing at Angels Stadium, but I have to say that the best are from that very first night,

...when I dared myself to step up to the plate.

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