By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA – Baseball fans should stop by St. Malachy Church in North Philadelphia before heading to the Phillies’ home opener Sunday, April 5.
At the church, they are certain to hear “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” numerous times during the 4 p.m. vaudeville-style fundraiser benefitting the restoration and preservation of the parish’s 140-year-old organ.
The correlation between church and song is that the man who built the historic organ – Henry Knauff – was the grandfather of Jack Norworth, who in 1908 wrote the lyrics for the renowned classic. Both men were native Philadelphians.
The organ, which was severely damaged during the collapse of the church ceiling in 1997, needs repairs to the tune of $300,000. For years, volunteers from the parish have beeen working to clean, repair and restore the organ.
Tim Wiles, director of research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., will be the master of ceremonies at the fundraiser.
“Philadelphia, this year, is the center of the baseball universe on April 5 because they are the world champions,” Wiles said of the Phillies. “This is their day and a great day for Philadelphia baseball fans to celebrate. I’m really glad to be a part of it and to try to help St. Malachy’s through baseball.”
It was Wiles, a Catholic, who discovered the connection between the famous song and organ as he was researching “Baseball’s Greatest Hit: Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” the 2008 book he co-wrote.
The song, he said, is often referred to as the third most frequently sung tune in America, after “Happy Birthday” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Wiles, who belongs to Church of the Annunciation in Clark Mills, N.Y., Diocese of Syracuse, will perform a rendition of the 1888 poem, “Casey at the Bat” and later be available to sign copies of his book and CD. For each sale, Wiles will donate $5 to the organ fund.
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” will be featured in numerous musical performances, including classical piano, barbershop quartet, an audience sing-a-long and jazz saxophone.
The Abbott and Costello comedy routine, “Who’s on First,” will be performed by Tony Braithwaite and Joe Mallon. The performances are a nod to Norworth, who, in addition to being a songwriter, was a stage star on Broadway and in vaudeville, Wiles said.
St. Malachy’s historic organ, which at present is played only minimally, will also be featured in the concert which will open with a liturgical song performed by the St. Malachy Choir.
Students from St. Malachy School, wearing uniforms used by a former St. Malachy baseball team, will greet concert-goers.
Dozens more students will participate in the musical performances and display the baseball-and-Phillies-inspired artwork they have created in anticipation of the event.
The concert is free and open to the public. A free-will offering will be taken up. A reception and silent auction will follow in the parish school.
St. Malachy is located at 1429 N. 11th St., two blocks north of Girard Avenue.
Under the direction of Father Kevin C. Lawrence, pastor of St. Malachy, the fundraiser is being coordinated by St. Joseph Sister Cecile Anne Reiley, director of parish services.
Although Father Lawrence appreciates the history of the organ, “For me as pastor, it’s more than a historical instrument – it’s an instrument of praise,” he said.
“We have such a treasure,” Father Lawrence said of the organ. “It leads us to appreciate an even deeper treasure – the presence of one another in the community, the presence of God.”
For more information, contact Sister Cecile Anne Reiley, S.S.J., at St. Malachy Parish at (215) 763-1305 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or email@example.com.