I have been a fan of the New York Yankees for just about my entire life. For as long as I can remember, I have spent countless hours watching games in the only chair that directly faces the TV in my kitchen. In 2003, when I was 9 years old, my parents took me to my first Yankees game. Out of everything that went on at the game, one particular moment has stuck in my mind: the seventh inning stretch.
Just as it did when the Yankees took on the Seattle Mariners that night, Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” blares over the PA system at every game played in Yankee Stadium. I can recall vividly the way the entire stadium stood up (some silently, some über-patriotically belting out the words) to honor America and the military personnel serving both at home and abroad. I remember the overwhelming sense of patriotism and pride I felt being a part of the crowd of more than 30,000 people that stood up to show respect for both God and the United States.
As I had never been to a game prior to September 11, 2001, I was unaware that “God Bless America” was played, originally, only on select days of the season: Opening Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and playoff games. At the time, I was also unaware that most Major League Baseball stadiums do not play “God Bless America” outside of those select days, with the exception of a few teams, including the Washington Nationals who play the song during Sunday games. Instead, the vast majority of stadiums play “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch.
While “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is essentially the unofficial anthem at professional baseball stadiums across the country (and I really do enjoy the song), I was caught off guard, while attending a game at a certain other New York baseball team’s stadium in Queens, when “God Bless America” failed to come on. It is entirely possible that I am just too accustomed to hearing it daily for the six months of the baseball season, as well as the few times a year I make my way to Yankee Stadium.
To be clear, I am in no way suggesting that “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” be replaced or that other MLB stadiums have any sort of lack of respect for God or America. While there are concerns about the place of “God Bless America” in a public setting, I found my first Yankee game to be a much more memorable experience because of the song. The combined sense of patriotism and faith that those two minutes embodied helped make the experience unforgettable. (Of course, being a few feet away from Hideki Matsui didn’t hurt).
For me, the seventh inning stretch at Yankee Stadium yielded pride: pride in the country I call home; pride in my faith that hopes the United States will be blessed; and, of course, pride in the New York Yankees. “God Bless America” is not asking that other nations experience hardships and is not meant to force religion upon those who do not wish to believe; rather, it is a symbol of respect for the nation that the majority of Major League Baseball teams and their fans call home. The playing of “God Bless America” represents hope for the safety and well-being of an entire nation, and I am delighted to be a fan of a team that plays the song regularly.