WASHINGTON -- "God Bless America" has become a baseball tradition during the seventh-inning stretch since the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001. Credit John Dever, the Nationals' senior director of baseball media relations, for the idea.
Like all Americans, Dever was saddened to learn about the tragedies that struck New York, Washington D.C., and Stonycreek Township, Pa.
At the time, Dever was living in San Diego and working in a similar position with the Padres. In the hours after the attack and temporarily working under the assumption there might be games that night, Dever was trying to figure out how the team could best remember and honor the victims of 9/11.
Then Dever tossed out the notion of going beyond "The Star-Spangled Banner." He mentioned "God Bless America," but worried about the original placement right after the national anthem. Dever thought the fans' focus might waver after standing for a lengthy period of time.
"I thought that would be a lot of standing. I remember thinking, 'There has to be a different place we can do this. We don't need people to stand for six minutes at a time. Where can we do a song?'"
Dever then thought the song, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" would be "a little too jovial" to sing during the seventh-inning stretch.
"It's a fantastic and wonderful baseball tradition," Dever said. "But [the seventh inning] seemed like a place you could do something different, because [Sept. 11] was different, the world was different."
The Padres' staff then agreed that "God Bless America" should be played during the seventh-inning stretch at Qualcomm Stadium. But the staff needed approval from its superiors. Then-Padres executive vice president Dr. Charles Steinberg, who called the meeting, passed along the notion to then-CEO/president Larry Lucchino. Lucchino was at the Owners' Meetings in Milwaukee at the time and loved the concept. He then took the idea to Commissioner Bud Selig, who approved the playing of "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.
"It went to the right people's hands, and it spread to a league-wide thing," Dever said.
Dever never thought "God Bless America" would continue to be a tradition 10 years later. He also credits the Yankees for taking the song to another level.
"I never thought it would be anything like that. It was one idea for one night," Dever said. "It got into the right people's hands, and the right people executed it to perfection. The Yankees then took it to a new level during the 2001 postseason.
"President Bush throwing that pitch [during the 2001 World Series] was memorable. That eagle flying around Yankee Stadium, the FDNY hats and NYPD hats -- those are the things that took it to another level. If the 'God Bless America' idea was a small portion of baseball's effect, that's fantastic. I hope it lasts as long as people want it to."
Dever gets emotional when he talks about baseball's role in the healing after 9/11.
"Baseball cast a light on the victims and the first responders. They reminded everyone about courage and the American spirit. That's what baseball did really well," Dever said. "I think baseball did everything they possibly could."