Singing NYC policeman rekindles patriotism
By Ron Greeson, Aug 2002 - Brown News Service Connersville, Ind.
A light breeze blew across the warm August night in this small, midwestern city. But this was a special night during a special event. It highlighted one special man, a man who has become known to people across the nation and around the world.
At the center of the baseball diamond stood Daniel Rodriguez, a native New Yorker and New York City police officer, doing what he does best - singing patriotic songs. The event was the 2002 15-and-under Babe Ruth Baseball World Series and this weeknight of play was the final night of round robin play. It was not an especially big night in the eight days of youth baseball in the tournament.
But the youth league park was jammed with over 8,000 fans, thousands of whom came to see, and hear, the man who has become the face, and voice, literally, of the public safety officers in these United States. It wasn't that way one year ago. He was just another NYPD officer, a man who represented the department and sang at some functions, on his own, and on the behalf of the department. But then came Sept. 11, 2001, and like those of millions of Americans, the life of Daniel Rodriguez changed forever.
Hundreds of fans moved forward to meet, greet, hug and talk to Rodriguez, who autographed shirts, hats, CDs, programs, and even arms. He did it all with a friendliness and grace you don't always see when a celebrity does a public autograph session, especially from some of the baseball luminaries who had appeared at this youth baseball event. The event organizers noted the difference. "Daniel has been a joy, even from the time I picked him up at the airport," said Butch Bunzendahl, a crewcut-headed man in charge of taking care of the invited daily celebrity guests at the Series.
"This might be our biggest attendance night of the Series," he continued. "People have really come out tonight, and it is a wonderful thing. The ceremony was something I'll never forget, and I don't think the people who were here will ever forget, either. Rodriguez belted out God Bless America, and then in front of all the youth league teams, assorted luminaries on the field, a lineup of public safety officers, a rising water fountain beyond the centerfield fence, and the misty-eyed fans, he sang the National Anthem.
Rodriguez finished amid booming fireworks, to the roar of Americans for whom the Hispanic policeman has become a symbol of all that is good and noble about America. He is now seeking to fulfill a lifetime dream, an aspiration that now seems possible because of the unspeakable tragedy of that unforgettable day. "He was already singing, as an official National Anthem singer for the city of New York.
Rodriguez is still on leave from the NYPD and hopes to become a professional singer, although that is still uncertain. On this night, he spoke to the young, the old, men and women, many of whom seemed awestruck and emotional, not able to speak to a man who struck such an emotional chord with a nation reeling from a national catastrophe, even in a city so far away and different from here as New York City.
Many misted up, and couldn't speak, as if in hugging this man, the symbol of many who died, they were hugging the victims themselves. to have items autographed and pay their respects... even one local police dog stood at attention as if saluting Rodriguez.
When he finished with the people, the man from New York went to the air-conditioned media area to eat and meet some selected sponsors and local dignitaries who had come to the park to meet 'The Singing Cop.' He spoke briefly before settling in to watch a little bit of the baseball, and talk about his life after 9/11.
"It's wonderful to travel around the country. People have such positive comments for me," the singer related.
"I am a man of faith, and faith has brought me this far and it will take me the rest of the way, wherever that is." He was in the middle of the action on the fateful day of September 11. "I was on my way to work when the first plane hit the building," he explained. "I was there when the first tower collapsed, trying to help people running to get out of lower Manhattan. We just tried to render assistance where we could."
"We were covered in debris ourselves, and I spent most of the next two weeks at Ground Zero," he continued. "In the first week, I was on the morgue detail, and then the first call to sing (at funerals) came." The singing at events that were televised followed, and now Rodriguez is a national figure.
On this night, people in the far-away Midwest met a man they felt they knew, representing a love of something that is shared by Americans of all races, economic stratas, locations and backgrounds.
Daniel Rodriguez came and touched these people at this youth baseball tournament, just as he had on television many months before. And the mood of the night was perhaps best reflected by one elderly white-haired lady as she approached the autograph table on this night. "Thank you, Mr. Rodriguez, for coming to our town," the lady said softly. "It means so much to us, what you did and what you are doing. You have such a beautiful voice."
Rodriguez simply smiled and answered, "thank you for the compliment and for coming out to see me, and may God bless you," he said quietly as the lady clutched his arm, then leaning on a walking cane, moved out of the tent.