Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)

When you hear the last note of the words “for the land of the free, and the home of the brave,” you think of freedom, patriotism – right? Independence Day? Or do the words, “play ball!” automatically pop out? It’s okay, it’s as American as Apple pie.

The ritual of singing the national anthem before sporting events got its start before it was even our national anthem. During the 7th inning stretch at the 1918 World Series, the band spontaneously played the Star Spangled Banner and the crowd joined in as the Cubs and Red Sox players turned and faced Old Glory in centerfield. It wasn’t until 1931 that Congress declared the Star Spangled Banner our National Anthem.

This was a huge hit and for the next several games, the crowd took to their feet and the players stood at attention as they belted out the song. By the end of the series, when the series moved to Boston, the patriotic ritual moved to the beginning of the game and was accompanied by the players marching out in formation with their bats over their shoulders like rifles.

World War I ended and while patriotism in our country remained high, the pre-game song was saved for special occasions. But as we geared up for World War II, so did our ballparks. Canada was already at war and had taken to the playing of their anthem before hockey games. Not to be outdone, Madison Square Garden joined in with our own.

During the 1940s at the height of the war, the National Anthem was sung before the start of most every game played in our country and entrenched itself in the legacy of sports in America. Some parks were even reciting the national anthem and it was not uncommon for teams to host “proud to be American” days at the ballpark. Today, it would seem impossible for the umpire to signal the start of the game without his cue.

This year’s World Series will mark the 90th anniversary of the 1918 game that started it all. I plan to file a Resolution in Congress to recognize the impact this American tradition has had on our culture and the history of patriotism and sports in America.   During the war, there was talk of canceling the 1918 World Series, but our troops overseas wouldn’t hear of it. They needed something to rally behind, a reminder of our way of life and what they were fighting for.  

We go to baseball games, take off our hats and cover our hearts and hear the words “play ball,” but sometimes we miss the “for the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” Every 4th of July, we sing the national anthem, trot out to parades, pop firecrackers, grill hotdogs and hamburgers and celebrate a day off from work. But, sometimes in all the celebrating we forget what we are really celebrating – freedom.

Francis Scott Key captured a moment in history and a place in our hearts with the words of a song. It is a song of freedom, patriotism and sacrifice. It is a song that tells the tale of the birth of our country and a God-given right that’s still worth dying for. It is song that is intertwined in our culture and synonymous with everything American, including the words, “play ball.”

Have a happy Independence Day and may God Bless America.

And that’s just the way it is.