10/28/09 9:17 PM EST
Star-studded tribute precedes Game 1
First lady, Berra highlight on-field festivities
By Brittany Ghiroli / Special to MLB.com
Tabbed to sing the national anthem prior to Game 1 of the first World Series played in the new Yankee Stadium, Thomas was part of a pregame celebration that included first lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, Yogi Berra and enough star power to mistake the Yankees-Phillies showdown for a night out in Hollywood.
"This is the only song I get nervous singing," Thomas admitted. "Not because I'm afraid I'm going to forget the words, but just the emotion of it."
With a celebrity list that included directors Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Spike Lee, actors Matthew McConaughey and Alec Baldwin, in addition to former Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, ex-New York Ranger Mark Messier, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Thomas' anxiety was understandable. But it wasn't enough to keep the Atlanta native from enjoying the moment.
"I get to sing the anthem at a lot of different events, and this is by far the greatest crowd," said Thomas, who made his fifth appearance singing for the Yankees, his second at the new stadium. "I don't know what it is about the north, but New Yorkers [baseball] really is their pastime."
Wearing an official World Series Yankees jacket with a Yankee T-shirt underneath, Thomas' anthem ended with boisterous applause from the standing crowd, and was followed by the entrance of Mrs. Obama, Dr. Biden, and Berra. The trio donned matching maroon World Series jackets, with both women linking arms and escorting the Hall of Fame Yankee out onto the field.
Once there, West Point graduate Tony Odierno, who lost his left arm during the war in Iraq, capped an eventful pregame ceremony with a strike, hitting Yankees captain Derek Jeter's glove perfectly for the ceremonial first pitch.
Odierno received the Bronze Star with a Valor and a Purple Heart and now works for the Yankees in Stadium Operations.
Jeter ran out to the mound to greet the quartet, exchanging a warm handshake with Odierno and a hug and kiss on the cheek with Mrs. Obama.
Thomas, also served in the armed forces throughout the 1990s until leaving active duty. In addition to recording an independently released album and charting two singles on the Billboard country music charts, he serves as a motivational speaker, and was thrilled to be a part of a pregame ceremony that paid tribute to the war veterans, through MLB's welcomebackveterans.org initiative.
"It's a big moment indeed," said Thomas of his permanent place in baseball history.
"You can't take that away, it will be here forever."
Brittany Ghiroli is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.