Riley Meester was out on the field, ready to sing his heart out.
Among the more than 40,000 fans who filled Target Field was Matt Huss.
A former Daily Globe sports reporter, it was Huss who made what Riley was about to do possible.
A 14-year-old from Ellsworth, Riley was chosen to sing the National Anthem before the Minnesota Twins faced the San Diego Padres on June 19; Father’s Day.
“I was incredibly nervous leading up to Riley’s performance,” Huss said. “It’s been well documented that Riley doesn’t much like to be around large groups and loud noises, and I started to worry that maybe the whole scene, sellout crowd in a huge stadium, might be overwhelming. But, yet again, Riley rose to the occasion.”
Riley was positioned behind home plate, looking out toward the vast Target Field outfield with his family surrounding him.
Riley delivered one of the best performances of the year, hitting every note and every word.
If he was nervous, he didn’t show it.
Huss first heard Riley sing while covering an Ellsworth boys’ basketball game a few years ago. Since then, he has kept up with the family, and with Riley.
On that special day in Minneapolis, Huss was reminded of the first time he heard Riley sing.
“Just like the first time I heard him sing, in the Ellsworth High School gymnasium, I got chills and goose bumps,” he said. “It was incredible. I clapped so hard that my hands started hurting. I was so happy that he did well and that he had fun. The best moment was when the crowd erupted and Riley smiled, raised his arms above his head in triumph, and basked in the applause.”
Huss wasn’t the only one taken with Riley’s performance. The players on the field were impressed as well. So much so that the Padres players greeted Riley as he went past.
Huss’ wife, Ruth, took a YouTube video of the performance, which instantly drew a large number of views.
“My wife, Ruth, ignored the Target Field ushers and rushed to the front row behind San Diego’s dugout to shoot a video of Riley’s performance,” Huss explained. “When she returned to her seat, she told me that she saw women crying. Then, when the Meester family left the field, the surrounding sections gave them a standing ovation. Almost immediately, on both Facebook and Twitter, people attending the game were publishing emotional reactions many admitted tears, and all of them gushed about both Riley’s ability to sing and inspire. I didn’t expect the YouTube video would reach 3,000 views by the end of the week, and I didn’t expect to see Riley mentioned so often on social media sites, but I’m not surprised. He’s a special kid.”
One letter to the Star Tribune read:
“As good as the Twins are playing and with another win on Sunday it pales in comparison to what is really important. The (14) year old Autistic young man that sang the National Anthem to start the game was beyond wonderful. There was not a dry eye around where my wife and I were standing. His singing with all his heart and enthusiasm was better than any so called superstar trying to outdo all others. He sang with all his heart and soul and it could not have been more perfect. Thanks to his parents for their work and dedication and to the Twins to let us all enjoy.”
Another blog, posted on www.gardenweb.com said:
“It was hard not to cry, but I think I was wiping my eyes some…jaw got sore clenching it tight too….
“I wasn’t the only one.
“Applause/ovation after that was enormous…”
Riley received the loudest ovation of the day. The fans stayed on their feet until he was off the field, creating a moment that touched and inspired every person at Target Field.
I know it’s a day I’ll never forget.