They are round and simple pins with a small Milwaukee Brewers log and a three-letter message of memory: “Joe.” You saw them adorning the Opening Day shirts and jackets of Brewers employees, even a few members of the press, and you once more saw the man they posthumously honor.
Joe Attanasio’s baritone voice has boomed out the National Anthem at every Brewers home opener since 2005. And today, even in the wake of his January death at age 89, he serenaded Opening Day fans yet again.
When fans rose to their feet just before the first pitch, they’ll heard and saw a recording of Joe’s 2014 rendition. “And I’m looking forward to hearing it,” said Joe’s son, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, in a pregame press conference, “one last time over the loudspeakers.”
So Mark again stood with his family behind home plate, where he’d so often watched Joe sing a few feet in front of him, only now, he had to look up to see him. In front of him was a mic with nobody standing at it. Above, the video board images of Joe singing dominated the stadium, and the team owner was but one more son on a baseball field with thoughts of his father.
Baseball, more than any other sport, seems somehow empowered to bridge generational gaps. It was no different for the Attanasios, and Mark often spoke of how Joe, a lifelong Yankees fan, found room in his heart for another team once Mark bought the Brewers after the 2004 season. “He got to share this with me for 10 years, and that’s a blessing for me and my family,” Mark says. “Had he lived to 79, which is still a ripe old age, he’d have not known any of this.
“So I’m trying to focus on the blessing of that,” Mark said, “and what good times we shared rather than the pain of not having him here today.”
The Attanasios aren’t the only ones at Miller Park missing Joe. He was only too happy to strike up conversations with both strangers and friends, and he’d often turn brief chats into long and thoughtful exchanges, about baseball, and about more than that. When you left such talks, you felt you knew a man worth knowing. Those pins are not perfunctory.
“He’d want us to all have a good time today,” Mark said.
When the anthem was over, fans stood and cheered the performance – and Joe’s smiling face on the video board – for more than a minute after the music faded.
Joe was getting his wish.
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