07/14/08 3:49 PM ET
Long Islander wins video contest
Wilbur will lead singing of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game"
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
How will he sing it?
"Loud," he said. "It's a big deal. I want to get the crowd involved. This has been the most fun I've ever had and I get to sing at the All-Star Game."
There is your winner in the "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" Video Contest presented by Baby Ruth, determined Monday morning at DHL All-Star FanFest by a three-member "American Idol"-style panel of celebrity judges.
The contest ran the first half of the season on MLB.com, starting with an open invitation for anyone to upload videos of themselves performing the famous song that is now 100 years old. The 10 semifinalists were determined and then presented to fans for online voting, and the three finalists were brought here for one last competition.
Wilbur's video was titled "Baby Ruth-alele" because he played a ukulele while his brother (also in attendance at FanFest) played a tuba. The winner beat out Chad Gunderson of Sherman Oaks, Calif. (the one who created multiple identities of himself during his video) and Robert Huffman of Birmingham, Ala. (the one who played the harmonica after singing).
Judges included: six-time All-Star Bernie Williams; William Petersen from the TV show "CSI"; and entertainment correspondent A.J. Calloway of "Extra." Emcee Michael Kay, the Yankees' TV play-by-play man, asked the finalist why he should be chosen and then each finalist had to sing the song a capella.
"I always heard the song all those years of playing, but I never sang it," Williams said. "As I got older, I came to really appreciate it. This was very tough to determine a winner among them, because you couldn't go wrong with any of the guys."
Petersen called the winner "a great salesman" during the judging competition, noting how effectively he worked the crowd at FanFest to get them involved.
"We didn't want to choose one winner," Petersen said afterwards. "We wanted to put all three of them down on the final sheet. It was a certain genuine-ness that ultimately put him over the top. But at some point, really, you just have to put the 'X' down on the sheet and pick a winner. They all were great.
"This kid is a wonderful fan. He'll do great."
Wilbur said he used the ukulele because of a vacation two years earlier to Hawaii.
"I started playing it then," he said. "It's a fantastic little instrument. I'm a ukulele fan."
He also is a hardcore Yankees fan.
"I was watching a Yankees game on a Sunday afternoon, and we saw the commercial during the game and decided to go to [MLB.com] and enter," Wilbur said. "We all know the Yankees are associated with winning championships. I thought I could win."
That Yankees enthusiasm might not have hurt him in the judges' eyes, in the final analysis. Wilbur will have no trouble connecting in the seventh inning stretch with a full house.
"This has taken on a life of its own, and the icing on the cake is just getting to perform at the All-Star Game," Wilbur said. "This has been the most fun I've ever had."
The ironic part is that online voting not only sent so many players to this All-Star Game, but also its seventh-inning stretch singer.
"I want to thank all my students who voted," Wilbur said.
Cherry Joh, marketing manager for Baby Ruth, called the campaign an unqualified success. It resulted in a high volume of participation by fans, and it accomplished the mission of celebrating an important anniversary for an important song.
"I think the whole campaign has been wonderful," she said. "The company has been given so much attention not just from the press but also from consumers who are very connected with the brand. All of the finalists were fantastic. They all represented different genres. All of them had a lot of heart. They did a great job, and we're thrilled with the outcome."
The "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" song was composed in 1908 by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer, neither of whom had ever been to a Major League Baseball game. The song has sold more than 10 million copies in sheet music and/or records. Over the past 100 years, more than 400 musicians in every conceivable genre have recorded the song including Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, LL Cool J, The Goo Goo Dolls and Jimmy Buffett. The original lyrics are now part of the collection at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown.
Williams, a classically trained musician, was enjoying himself during the proceedings at the Jacob Javits Center. At one point while the finalists were making their cases, Kay asked Williams: "Bernie, what's harder -- picking a winner here or bases loaded in the World Series?"
Williams smiled and said: "I would have to go with bases loaded."
It was not possible to talk to Williams without asking what he thinks about the current American League East picture, and specifically the Rays. They have been all the rage, but a recent tailspin is making one wonder if they are for real this year. He gave high praise to the upstarts from Tampa Bay.
"I am not that surprised by them," he said. "Every time we would go to Tampa Bay and play them, they always played us tough.
"Toward the end of the season, when the mentality for us was one of getting ready for the playoffs, they would knock us off and I would think, 'Wow.' I always kept thinking that if this team can put things together the next few years, it could be dangerous. They were young and fearless, and then they matured and added some players. They look good."
Wilbur knew that particular judge very well, at least from a fan's perspective.
"Bern, Baby, Bern," he said upon taking the stage to make his case for victory.
That's what they used to say a lot around Yankee Stadium. On Tuesday night, they will be singing along under the direction of a high school band director.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.