“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” – Rogers Hornsby

I normally write about the classical music world and its evolution, but today I just want to share a fun story about the best day I ever had at work as a classical musician, thanks to baseball, and especially Ernie Banks.

Over the weekend, Banks died at the age of 83. Known as “Mr. Cub,” he was the most beloved player in the history of the Chicago Cubs, and a great ambassador for both the team and the sport. He was well-known as one of the most cheerful people around, and his enthusiasm is at the center of this story.

Shortly after taking office in 2001, President George W. Bush invited the entire Hall of Fame over to lunch at the White House, which frankly, is exactly what I would have done if elected President. At the time, I was in the “President’s Own” Marine Chamber Orchestra, which exists to play at the White House. Needless to say, the orchestra was excited (at least those of us who loved baseball), and there was fierce competition among the wind and brass players to get assigned to that job.

On the big day, we were reminded not to take pictures, and not to be distracted from our work. The first part was easy to enforce, while the second was impossible – I will only say that I have never played the cello as badly as I did that day, and I won’t apologize for it. I was in the presence of Reggie Jackson, for goodness sake!

All through the afternoon, we spotted players we loved and missed notes by the bushel. When I saw Sandy Koufax, I nearly dropped my bow. I got to chat with Phil Niekro, the great knuckleball pitcher, and saw Yankee legends like Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra, too.

But the highlight of the afternoon was when Stan Musial pulled out his harmonica, and we accompanied him on “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Well, accompanied isn’t quite the right word – he only knew it in the key of D and we had it in the key of G, so we just played it in both keys. Stravinsky would have been proud.

What made it work was Ernie Banks – he got right behind our conductor and started waving his arms like a helicopter gone beserk – he was having a great time, and it was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen. Everyone started singing, in several other keys besides the 2 we were already using. A perfect ending to a great day. Thanks, Mr. Cub.

Hope thoughts of baseball help you keep warm – remember, pitchers and catchers report in 3 weeks! Next post, I’ll get back to music, I promise.

Till next time,




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