If this was going to be David Ortiz's last Opening Day at Fenway Park, we vowed to make it one to remember.
There is no argument over what was the sweetest moment of Monday's pregame ceremonies, the one that surprised and touched Ortiz most deeply. That was when his 15-year-old daughter Alex performed the national anthem while her father, standing just a few feet away on the first-base line, fought back tears. "I'm not going to lie to you: I was more nervous during that time than during any at bat I've ever had in my career," Ortiz told reporters after the game.
This is the story of how that moment came about. It begins with an e-mail from Therese Provenzano, the music director of the Weston High School chorus. Therese is also Alex's music teacher, and well known to the Sox. She is the music director of the a cappella group "In Choro Novo," which performs annually at Christmas at Fenway.
"Therese emailed me in November and asked me if I would like to hear Alex's anthem version," said Dan Lyons, the Red Sox manager of entertainment tasked with the job of lining up Fenway's anthem singers.
In March Lyons mentioned to Sarah McKenna, our vice president of Fan Services and Entertainment, that he had received an audition tape from Alex. Sarah McKenna is our Spielberg, the one entrusted with putting the "special" in our special occasions, directing, producing and choreographing our biggest productions like Winter Weekend and Opening Day.
Sometimes it's an easy call to select the anthem performer for Opening Day. If a ring ceremony honoring a championship is part of the proceedings, then we know the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops will be involved. But this opener had a definite theme, and Sarah was looking for someone appropriate for the occasion. That's when she thought, only a couple of weeks ago, "What about Alex Ortiz?" She bounced the idea off club president Sam Kennedy and Jonathan Gilula, our executive vice president of business affairs. They both loved the idea.
"Sam was like, 'That's great. Let's do this.'"
Dan Lyons e-mailed Therese, who arranged for Alex to come out to Fenway Park on the day before the season opened, April 3, to give the anthem a whirl, to see if this was really something she'd like to do. Alex was in. She came back for a rehearsal on Sunday, the day before the home opener. Now it was a matter of keeping it a secret from her papi, our Big Papi.
Mission accomplished. Ortiz had no idea until his daughter was striding to the microphone, introduced over the stadium PA by Henry Mahegan. Tiffany Ortiz, Alex's mom, sat alongside Carolina Martinez, Pedro's wife, on folding chairs a few feet away. Therese Provenzano stood in front of Alex, arms poised to direct.
Alex's parents may have been nervous, but not Sarah. "I wasn't nervous at all," she said. "I'd heard her sing the day before. She was great."
Besides, Sarah was more concerned about the flyover by the F-16 fighter jets. Ortiz had jogged through the receiving line of teammates at a much faster pace than anticipated, Sarah believing that Ortiz would stop to exchange his trademark hugs. The anthem was five minutes ahead of schedule.
But the Sox had someone on the roof, radioing to the pilots the change in schedule. They thundered overhead, just as Alex's last notes were fading and her father had wrapped her in his arms in a huge embrace.
Ortiz, by the way, told Sarah the same thing he told Alex: "Don't surprise me like that again."
"He's in for a season of surprises," Sarah said. "This is Your Life."
Red Sox Team Historian