February 18 marked the 15th anniversary of the death of the great Chicago Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray at the age of 77. No matter how poorly the Cubs were doing on the field, Harry could always brighten up the day. My wife Chris and I remember many hours watching the Cubbies on cable from the remote Alaska town of Barrow. She noticed that as Harry got older, he started mispronouncing the names of various players, but his patient sidekick, Steve Stone, would kindly correct the name, and the game went on.
Of course, the highlight always was Harry singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," in the seventh inning with lots of enthusiasm, even if the Cubs were losing, with plenty of errors and relief pitchers who couldn't get anyone out.
Back in Barrow, KBRW public radio began doing a play-by-play of a local softball game each week. And that included a midway version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." I had the honors of singing, even though my voice made Harry sound like an opera star.
Later on we were fortunate to have 10-year-old Crystal Martin of Barrow take over. She said she learned the song by watching Harry on Cubs television broadcasts, and she did a great job. The fans loved her, and would beep their horns in appreciation.
One night she was unable to show up because she wasn't feeling well. But we arranged a telephone feed and she called in the song. Again—perfect!
That led to an all-out Barrow effort to have the Cubs invite Crystal (and her parents) to Wrigley Field to have her sing the song with Harry. We sent a recording of Crystal singing to the Cubs, and a donor agreed to fund the travel. Also a Chicago newspaper columnist urged the Cubs to do it, but the invitation never came.
Whether in Barrow or Medford, Wis., the upcoming start of another baseball season warms up even the coldest day and/or howling snowstorm. We'll miss you Harry and dream about how great that would have been for you and Crystal to do a very special rendition of "Take me out to the ballgame!"
Earl Finkler is a former resident of Barrow and host of the Morning Show on KBRW Barrow -- serving the North Slope. He now lives in Medford, Wis., with his wife Chris and former Barrow Husky "Avu."