Texas Rangers

‘Simply, it’s the best I have ever heard.’ Van Cliburn’s anthem wowed at ballpark opener

Editor’s note: The first in a countdown of the most memorable moments in Globe Life Park history. The Texas Rangers will play their final game there Sept. 29 before moving into Globe Life Field next season.

If there’s one thing Chuck Morgan can state expertise, it’s judging performances of the national anthem.

The voice of Globe Life Park has heard 81 of them in 24 of the ballpark’s 25 completed seasons and will get in 81 more this season. He goes back to 1983 at Arlington Stadium, and has heard the anthem even more times in rehearsals, at spring training and in the postseason.

That’s a lot anthems.

As the Rangers prepare to close Globe Life Park on Sept. 29, it’s only fitting to revisit the day they opened it and the enduring moment from that day, April 11, 1994.

That moment is also the best National Anthem performance Morgan has ever heard.

But he anticipated it could be a memorable one. It wasn’t every day that Van Cliburn made his way to a ballgame.

The classical pianist who stunned the Commies in 1958 and made Fort Worth his home, where an international piano competition bearing his name is held every four years, hit the first home run at the new ballpark.

“I have heard my share of National Anthems, and, simply, it’s the best I have ever heard,” said Morgan, the Rangers’ executive vice president of ballpark entertainment, promotions and productions.

But, like many things with the Rangers it seems, there was some worry if Cliburn would be able to play at all. Rain hit before first pitch, delaying the game nearly an hour and making things a little soggy.

The piano needed to be moved onto the field through the left-field gate. Pianos are heavy, and heavy things don’t always do all that well in wet conditions.

Alas, a trailer brought the piano to home plate, where the Fort Worth Symphony would also play, and Cliburn performed.

Man, did he perform.

“I think I realized something special was about to happen as I watched the Fort Worth Symphony started coming onto the field and then having the opportunity to introduce them and then Van Cliburn,” Morgan said. “And as he started playing the piano, it hit me again, that all of us were being treated to a very special performance.”

Jim Reeves was one of three Sports columnists for the Star-Telegram, and he had arrived early to tour the ballpark before settling into the press box. Revo has heard his share of anthems, too.

“As wondrous as the stadium was, when they rolled out Van Cliburn’s grand piano and he strode out in coat and tails to hit the first notes of the Star-Spangled Banner, an absolute hush fell over the crowd,” he said.

“You could almost hear the fans suck in their breath in awe. This was something none of us had ever experienced at a ballpark before.”

As if his rendition weren’t terrific enough, Cliburn then stood after finishing and led the crowd in signing the anthem as the symphony took its turn.

That made the whole experience even more memorable.

Probably more memorable than the game, which the Rangers lost 4-3 to the Milwaukee Brewers. Afterward, a female fan from Plano fell from the upper deck of the home-run porch, and, fortunately, she survived.

And Cliburn, the opening act, stole the show.

“Among the many astounding events I personally witnessed in covering the game — Kirk Gibson’s dramatic World Series home run, Kenny Rogers’ perfect game, Nolan’s 5,000th strikeout and his seventh no-hitter, the ball scooting through Bill Buckner’s legs in Shea Stadium — those two minutes listening to Van Cliburn may have been the most magical moment of all,” Reeves said.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.