by Anthony HarrisonAnthony Harrison

Three young women — Christianna, Morgan and Graeson — opened the Fourth of July game between the Frederick Keys and Winston-Salem Dash by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” complete with twangy, three-part a cappella harmony reminiscent of the Dixie Chicks, while standing in front of the Dash’s dugout at BB&T Park.

There was one hiccup, though: They forgot the beginning of the third verse. Still, they recovered well, simply starting from the top.

Despite its ubiquity, sung before every baseball game, I’ll be first to admit it’s a challenging song to sing, from its kickoff descending triad and octave-and-a-fifth range to the lyrics’ sprawling, 19th century syntax.

The Dash’s opponents are named not for what unlocks doors, but for the man responsible for writing the lyrics to our anthem: Francis Scott Key.

The Keys possess a genuine claim to the name — Key spent part of his early legal career in Frederick, Md. before writing his immortal words.

Strangely enough, the song has a longer history with baseball than it does as the national anthem.

It was first performed during a baseball game on May 16, 1862 in Brooklyn, NY. It was played more regularly during opening-day ceremonies at the Polo Grounds, the bygone home of the New York Giants, beginning in 1898. Twenty years later, it was played at every game of the World Series between Babe Ruth’s Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs. Guess who won.

The tradition of opening every game with “The Star-Spangled Banner” began during World War II; by that time, the song had been signed into law in 1931 by President Calvin Coolidge as the official anthem of the United States.

I’m not necessarily one for grand patriotic gestures, but “The Star-Spangled Banner” will put me on my feet. I might even sing along. I won’t cross my heart, though, and if I wore hats regularly, I probably wouldn’t doff mine.

Color me un-American.

But I still love baseball.

After the trio’s stuttering start, the Keys took to the plate.

At the top of the first, Adrian Marin landed on base safely due to an error on first, but they couldn’t capitalize.

The Dash — currently the Carolina League’s Southern Division leaders for the season’s second half — got off to a better start, scoring two runs off a soaring double slammed by first baseman Keon Barnum, redeeming himself for his early error.

But the Keys answered in kind, scoring three runs in the second inning, including a daring sprint by first baseman Wynston Sawyer towards home off a bunt. Sawyer earlier drove in the first two runs with a strong triple.

In the bottom of the second, Dash designated hitter Toby Thomas established an antsy lead for himself on third base. His risk paid off after a wild pitch by Luis Gonzalez. Thomas jumped at the chance and scurried down the line, stealing home and tying the game.

The Keys and Dash traded runs in the fourth inning; the former off a line drive from catcher Austin Wynns, and the latter off a ground-rule double hit by right fielder Nolan Earley which bounced off the field in Earley’s corner.

For the next three innings, the game slowed into the doldrums. It was no perilous fight at this point. Those innings were accented only when Bolt — the Dash’s Phanatic-esque mascot — danced with first-base umpire Randy Rosenberg to Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” in the middle of the sixth. Bolt grabbed the official’s butt with both red, fuzzy mitts right before the chorus.

Rosenberg seemed unamused.

In the top of the seventh, Keys designated hitter Chance Sisco smacked an RBI single, but following the seventh-inning stretch, the Dash loaded the bases, scoring after Keys pitcher Jimmy Yacabonis struck Barnum. Catcher Omar Narvaez had a chance to drive in more runs, but a 1-2-3 double play effectively halted the rally.

By this time, the rockets’ red glare from fireworks displays elsewhere flashed outside the field.

The game was still tied at the bottom of the ninth. Impressive fielding, including quick snags of high line drives, defined the prior two innings. With Dash center fielder Adam Engel on third and third baseman Trey Michalczewski — a Top-10 White Sox prospect — on first, Narvaez again had a chance to end the game with a single RBI.

The audience sat silent with rapt attention.

But he struck out swinging, leading to extra innings.

At the top of the 11th, pitcher Brad Goldberg smashed any chance of the Keys scoring.

It seemed the same would happen when the Dash stepped up after a fly-out and strikeout. But second baseman Jake Peter’s line drive to center found him safe on first. A wild pitch sent him to second. Michalczewski was walked, as was Barnum.

Then, déjà vu all over again: Narvaez took the plate.

The pressure was on, and I mean on.

But, you know what they say: Third time’s a charm.

Narvaez smacked a Texas leaguer to center field, driving in Peter for the winning run, the crowd roaring like bombs bursting in air.

Winston-Salem reigned as the home of the brave.

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