At Game 5 of the 1968 World Series, Jose Feliciano started it all: His melodic voice sent out a slow, acoustic rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner to 50,000 people at Tiger Stadium in Detroit.
Before then, the national anthem at baseball games had been a traditional affair, with no room for improvisation. And the public didn't exactly warm to the idea. War veterans around the country threw shoes at their TVs, radio stations stopped playing Feliciano's songs, and thousands sent angry letters to NBC and the Tigers.
Feliciano dared to be different because he felt the national anthem deserved something more.
"I got tired of seeing people rush through the national anthem so they could have their popcorn and get to the game," says Feliciano, a virtuoso guitarist of international acclaim. "Nobody ever sang the anthem with soul. It was always done clinically and they always stuck to the original. I put feeling into it. I sang it in a soulful manner."
Fast-forward nearly a half a century later, and see how the world has changed. Today, no one throws shoes at singers who take creative approaches to the national anthem. In fact, it's even encouraged, so long as the song and its tradition is still given a high measure of respect.
Every major league baseball team has a creative director in charge of finding the talent to perform the grand old song night after night at the nation's ballparks. They look for great singers, but they also look for heroes, veterans, children and everyday common people who can bring different flavors to a national anthem performance.
For the Cleveland Indians, the person who hunts for talent is Jason Kidik, 36, assistant director for in-game experience. Every year he receives about 800 audition tapes for 81 home games.
"We get inundated with demos, CDs, DVDs, YouTube links, mp3s," said Kidik, who's been booking talent for the Indians since 2005. "Lots of people want to perform. But it's a very tough song to sing, especially in front of 30 (thousand) to 40 thousand people. There is inherent pressure, and you have to have a good voice."
On Monday's game against the Boston Red Sox, Nate Jones, 24, of Cleveland, performed an acoustic version of The Star-Spangled Banner.
Jones, an upcoming artist, has been splitting time between Cleveland and San Francisco to promote his music. Progressive Field is the biggest venue he's ever played in, and singing the anthem there has been a dream of his for a long time.
"I've been an Indians fan since I was 4 years old, die-hard fan, and I've been a professional singer since I was 15, so to have both worlds combine, it's kind of surreal," Jones said.
Eli Bayless, 36, director of promotions and in-game entertainment for the Detroit Tigers, describes it as a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
"You take that 90 seconds - that small amount of time, that minute and a half - and just think about the memories that are going to last on forever and ever for that performer. It never gets old."
Joyce Stearnes Thompson, 66, and her sister, Rosilyn Stearnes-Brown, 67, daughters of the famous Negro League baseball player Norman "Turkey" Stearnes, have been singing the national anthem at Comerica Park in Detroit since 2009. They are regulars at the park's annual Negro League weekend.
Stearnes played on the Detroit Stars. He earned his nickname because he ran the bases like a hunted turkey - neck out, head bobbing. His baseball career lasted 20 years, ending in 1940.
Singing the national anthem in Detroit has special meaning for Turkey Stearnes' daughters. In 1958, the Detroit Tigers became the second-to-last MLB team to integrate. In 2007, a permanent plaque was placed outside the stadium dedicated to their father, a recognition Thompson had to fight for.
"It was not my father's fault that he was not afforded the opportunity (to play for the Tigers) because of the color of his skin and the racism" of the time, she said.
The stadium honors the Negro Leagues for a weekend every season, where the sisters sing together.
"I live to sing. It's what defines me," Thompson said. "It touches people's hearts."
Thompson has been singing since she was 3 years old. She has retired from 36 years of teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students, but continues to tutor. The first time she performed the anthem at Comerica Park was with Eastover Elementary School Sign Choir, where 70 kids used sign language as she sang.
However, the national anthem isn't always sung. The San Francisco Giants brought in Joel Brandon, a famous whistler, to whistle the national anthem. Giants fans have also seen the anthem played on an electric violin, a saw blade and a hammer dulcimer (a trapezoidal string instrument).
When Feliciano was invited back to sing at Comerica Park in 2010 to honor Ernie Harwell, a sportscaster for the Tigers for 42 years, he received a standing ovation. The national anthem continues to unify America and remind baseball fans of the past.
Though The Star-Spangled Banner was only named the national anthem in 1931, the song was first played at a baseball game in 1862. The custom of playing it before every game began during World War II.
"It's a time to reflect on the words and the meaning, and the people who gave their lives so that we would be free," Thompson said.
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Read the original story: The national anthem: Not just the same old tune