Oh, say can they sing ... and sing Anthem: Leading off all around the major leagues, a 10-year-old national anthem singer. Impressive, sure -- but is it history?


At first, it sounded irresistible: a 10-year old girl determined to sing the national anthem at every major league ballpark and set a world record.

How precocious. And ingenious. See the country, catch 30 baseball games and make a little history along the way. Why wait for puberty when you've got a shot at immortality, huh?

Needless to say, we were impressed.

But that was before we found out that this particular singing feat isn't singular after all. Turns out Jamie Lynn Bence, a fourth-grader from Hartland, Wis., who is in town to sing the anthem before tonight's game at Camden Yards, isn't the only one trying to belt out "The Star-Spangled Banner" in every ballpark.

Like the St. Louis Cardinals' Mark McGwire, who leads a handful of players chasing the previously untouchable single-season home run record, she has some competition in the anthem race. For those of you scoring at home, this is ballpark No. 23 for Bence. Here's the rest of the roster:

There's Mark Reiman, a 44-year-old middle-school counselor from Everett, Wash., with Lou Gehrig's disease. By singing at every ballpark this season, he hopes to "inspire people who face all kinds of challenges."

There's Phil Margo, a 55-year-old Hollywood producer and lead singer of the band the Tokens ("The Lion Sleeps Tonight"), who says his group is the first to attempt the record -- well, as far as he knows. "It might get us a little more well known," he says. "I don't know if that sounds sleazy, but that's part of it."

There's our very own Donna Greenwald, a.k.a. "Anthem Annie," a mother of three from Columbia. For the sixth consecutive season, she and her family are taking a trip that is part vacation, part anthem tour. She's taking her own sweet time -- 19 parks down, 11 to go.

And finally, there's Kristen Scanes, a 30-year-old singer from Toronto, who says she already holds the record. With the help of sponsors Chysler, IBM and Kodak, she traveled the country the past two seasons performing "The Star-Spangled Banner" for every major league team -- all 28.

Of course, that was before expansion, so you purists out there know to put an asterisk by Scanes' name. With the addition of the Tampa Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks, baseball's anthem circuit now has 30 stops.

Scanes, though, is unruffled. "Two more teams?" she asks. "I could do that in two days, easy."

But why do it to begin with? Why ignore the sage advice of Nat King Cole, who reportedly said one should never perform the anthem at a baseball game? Why put up with the dreaded two-second delay while singing over a P.A. system? Why risk forgetting the lyrics (it happened to Robert Goulet at the Ali-Liston rematch in 1965) and getting booed by 40,000 people? Why go to all that trouble for peanuts -- that is, free tickets, parking and food, but no pay.

Why? Because some singers have an unflagging sense of patriotism, that's why. Greenwald, who was eight months pregnant at her Toronto Blue Jays engagement back in 1992, gave her daughter a middle name Anthem Annie could appreciate: Dawn (as in "dawn's early light"). Margo, the Tokens' frontman, and Reiman say singing their country's anthem is an honor like no other.

It also doesn't hurt that it's good exposure -- even if it only lasts a minute and a half. Although Rod Beaudoin, Jamie Lynn Bence's manager in Milwaukee, doesn't know of anyone who has become a star by performing "The Star-Spangled Banner," he's confident it could work for his client, who travels from ballpark to ballpark with her parents.

Jamie's already been on "Good Morning America," CNN and "The Vickie Lawrence Show" and has recorded a promotional Christmas CD. She has enough material for her debut pop CD. All she needs is a record label.

"She knows what she wants. She's 10 going on 30," says Beaudoin. "She loves Celine Dion -- she loves the best -- and she's fascinated with LeAnn Rimes because of the age thing."

In addition to the utmost respect for the song itself, these star-spangled belters share a belief that a ballpark pilgrimage is a stepping stone to bigger things.

Margo and the Tokens have a new CD, and Scanes plans to release her first CD this summer. Meanwhile, Greenwald is pitching the ballparks her line of Anthem Lady Pies. Reiman, whose travel expenses are being covered by a pharmaceutical company, hopes to generate more awareness of Lou Gehrig's disease, which could lead to more research.

Then there's allure of a world record, although no one's quite sure what it should be. Thirty ballparks in one season? Or is two seasons acceptable? Or, in Greenwald's case, a decade? Unfortunately, anthem performance is practically the only baseball statistic that the Elias Sports Bureau doesn't keep track of.

But no matter. "It's never been done before, so it'd be a real nice accomplishment," Margo says of the single-season mark. "You definitely want to be the first. Nobody wants to be the second man on the moon, you know?"

Or worse, to reach the moon and discover no one else cares. When it comes to world records, the folks at Guinness are choosy; just because a feat is a first doesn't automatically make it a Guinness world record.

So far, the only official record involving "The Star-Spangled Banner" belongs to Susan Jeske of Costa Mesa, Calif. Back in 1992, when Anthem Annie was just starting out and Jamie Lynn Bence was only 4 years old, Jeske performed the national anthem at 17 different events in 24 hours, including a boat parade in Newport Beach and a Fourth of July celebration at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

"I traveled 373 miles by limousine, eight miles by helicopter, three miles by boat and at one point I rode a motorcyle to get through the crowds," says Jeske, 36, who is also the current Ms. America.

After the record, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton wrote to congratulate her. The following year she proposed another record -- 400 national anthem performances in a year -- but came up 15 shy.

"I've sung the anthem for kings, queens, five U.S. presidents, major league teams and Little League teams," Jeske says. "I'll bvnsing it for anyone, anytime."

To prove her point, she starts belting it out it right then and there over the phone from California, hitting a high C on the final note: "... and the home of the bra-AVE!"

So, Jamie, good luck on the anthem tour and remember: You're in the big leagues now, kid. Show us your stuff.

Pub Date: 6/30/98

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