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Hendersonville trio to sing national anthem before Cincinnati Reds game

Matthew Rogers was an encyclopedia of names and statistics when it came to his beloved Cincinnati Reds.

 

That made for a natural connection with Reds owner Bob Castellini, who would eat lunch at Rogers's Three-Chopt sandwich shop downtown with Tom Fazio, the nationally known golf course designer based in Hendersonville and Jupiter, Florida. The connection resulted in a rare honor for Rogers and two friends. They're scheduled to sing the national anthem to open a Reds game on Monday, May 6.

The story originates last fall, when Fazio was getting a sandwich at Three-Chopt.

Rogers recalls: "I said, 'You know, sir, I have a dream to sing the national anthem at the Great American Ballpark,' and he says, 'This is your lucky weekend, he's staying at the house.' He says, 'Write a letter, make it short, and say why you should do it.' A week later the phone rings and I saw Cincinnati on the machine, a telemarketer I thought. The front office says, 'Our boss says we should let you sing.' Just like that: 'Let you sing.'"

Exhilaration soon gave way to panic.

"I'm not going to do this by myself," he thought. He recruited Philip Wiehe, a retired Episcopal priest he sings with in the early service choir at St. James Episcopal Church, and Steve Johnson, another Three-Chopt regular who performs with his brother, Henry, and others in a bluegrass band.

"Steve said, 'Let's go to our choir director,'" Michael Brannon, at First Methodist Church. "When Michael heard us, he opened up some hidden talent we never knew we had," Rogers said. "All we want to do is get to a C-plus performance. We're not going to be an A but we don't want to be remembered for being bad. Michael was awesome. He harmonized us."

Working with Tempo music, the three singers recorded an audition CD, which the front office had demanded. Don't call us, we'll call you, the marketing people said. Rogers figured that might be the end of it.

"They called me and said, 'Your CD sounds great.'"

Athough the Reds lost eight games in a row early on this season, they've improved to 9-14. A Monday afternoon game suits the trio fine.

"We're in contention. It's not hot. It's a day game," Rogers said. "There's no pressure."

Born at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, Rogers recalls his dad taking him to Reds games without his two little brothers, making "a wonderful connection between a father and his son." He's been a fan ever since. Johnson, who grew up a Reds fan in East Tennessee, went to games when ballplayers like future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn stood in line at the concession stand with fans because they had no separate food service. Wiehe is also from Cincinnati.

They've already got their Reds jerseys, emblazoned on the back with their favorite players — two hall of famers and a third who would be if not disqualified for betting on baseball games. Johnson's got Pete Rose, Rogers Tony Perez and Wiehe Frank Robinson.

Rogers and his co-singers can hardly believe their good fortune, all because a sandwich maker shared his love for his hometown team with the owner of the Reds.

"It's so much fun to honor the country, I mean it's an honor," he said. "We certainly are lucky."

About 20 friends and relatives plan to travel with the singers to watch the national anthem performance. The Hendersonville three are scheduled for a mic check at the Great American Ballpark at noon Sunday, the day before their big performance.

"That's going to make us so confident — not cocky," Rogers said. "Again, we're looking for a C-plus."

An hour before the game, the trio will be allowed on the field with their spouses to meet the Reds players. Just before the first pitch, Rogers said, "We'll be announced and then we'll be on the video Jumbotron with our singing."