A star-spangled singer Anthem: Donna Greenwald of Columbia has a goal of singing the national anthem in the 28 Major League Baseball parks. On Friday, the soprano hit stadium 16.

August 04, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- For Columbia homemaker Donna Greenwald, who aims to sing the national anthem in every Major League Baseball stadium, tension is part of the game.

Audiences swell to 50,000. Microphones and acoustics are unpredictable. And there is the song itself -- a nightmare of a 13-note range that can crack the best of voices.

But even trips to 15 of the 28 ballparks over the past four years didn't prepare the woman dubbed "Anthem Annie" for Friday night's trip to Boston's Fenway Park, stadium 16. Greenwald, 41, a dinner theater veteran with a golden soprano, almost didn't make it to the 7: 05 p.m. game.

As of 12: 30 p.m. Friday, the Greenwald minivan was stuck in traffic outside New York City, a four-hour drive to Boston under ideal conditions. But construction delays continued up the coast.

At 3: 30 p.m., Anthem Annie picked up her cell phone and called the stadium, where a Red Sox official gave her only fair chances of making the game.

"It was the most nervous I'd ever seen her," her husband, Gary, said later.

Thirty minutes before the game, though, the Greenwalds made it. There was no time to find 2-year-old Rebecca milk for her bottle, no time to find a cup of warm water, which Donna normally uses to wet her vocal cords -- and no time to test the Red Sox microphone.

The family members -- five in all -- worked their way through the crowd toward the field.

"Do we have all the kids?" Gary Greenwald asked.

Children accounted for, Donna Greenwald brushed her hair near the backstop. She was introduced: "Performing our national anthem is Donna Greenwald from Columbia, Maryland."

'She sounds funny'

She started singing. Nearby, Red Sox promotions director Susan Salerno whispered into her walkie-talkie: "She sounds funny."

Actually, she didn't sound at all. The microphone didn't kick in for about five seconds. Greenwald quickly adjusted.

By the "rockets' red glare," the crowd was roaring, cheering her to the end.

The Greenwalds walked back to their seats. Fans with New England accents complimented Anthem Annie as she passed.

The family always stays for the game. Donna Greenwald -- who married into baseball mania -- has learned to appreciate the game. Her quest has become a series of relaxing trips with family, an opportunity to spread her bubbling patriotism and a growing collection of pictures, autographs and memories she wants to turn into a book.

12 parks to go

The Greenwalds still have 12 stadiums ahead of them -- including all six on the West Coast. And that's a problem, because Anthem Annie does not fly. She never really recovered from a Washington-to-Chicago flight six years ago in which the plane hit an air pocket, dropped 300 feet and left her convinced her next flight would be her last.

She is considering taking classes to get over her fear.

Meanwhile, she keeps her voice limber by singing the anthem at least four times a day -- often out an open window into the trees of her suburban back yard.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is no easy tune. The singer must hit a high F three times. Although many singers can hit notes higher, this note is difficult because it falls outside a natural range, said Shirley Greitzer, placement director of the Julliard School of Music in New York.

"It's nerve-racking," Greitzer said in a telephone interview.

Added inspiration

The lyrics also can be a bit dicey. Donna Greenwald was concerned at first that she might forget the words and hum her way off the field.

So before her 1992 debut at Camden Yards, she went straight to the source -- Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore.

While there, she checked the words and soaked up an extra dose of patriotism, although it's hard to believe she needed much more. This is a woman, after all, who bakes about 25 apple pies a year and gives them to friends and family. "Anthem Annie's Apple Pies," she calls them.

On the road, she has met two of baseball's notoriously unpleasant people -- Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott and Cleveland Indians slugger Albert Belle -- and reports nice conversation with both. Belle even signed a bat.

Keeping score

The tour is full of such stories. Just give her a city, and she'll conjure up a picture:

Baltimore: "Excellent acoustics. Boog Powell's food."

Milwaukee: Sports commentator Bob Uecker joked through her headset and microphone apparatus, helping ease tensions just before she sang.

New York (Mets): She had to wait for a roaring airplane to pass from nearby LaGuardia Airport. Cavernous stadium created difficult, two-second sound delay. "Shea Stadium's acoustics were probably the worst thing I've experienced on tour."

New York (Yankees): Before she sang, she was instructed to wait in the Yankee dugout, and manager Buck Showalter asked what she was doing there. After she told him, he became a gracious host. And the acoustics were excellent.

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