Riley rocks Target Field
MINNEAPOLIS -- For one minute and 59 seconds, Riley Meester was in the major leagues.
And it's a moment no one will ever forget.
For those minutes at Sunday's Minnesota Twins game, the 14-year old from Ellsworth sang the National Anthem in such an emotional and inspiring way, it brought both tears and the loudest ovation of the day.
"I thought that was touching, as good as you can get," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It was one of the better moments we've had. It might be one of the better moments you'll ever have. It was pretty neat."
Sitting on the field behind home plate at Target Field with his mother Gwen, father Larry and sister Samantha surrounding him, Riley held the microphone and sang the anthem like few can.
"I was a little nervous at first," he said. "Then I just sang it out."
And he sure did, leaving a lasting impression on everyone at the game.
"That was awesome," Twins' right fielder Michael Cuddyer said. "It almost brought a tear to my eye when I was out there listening to it. It was pretty cool."
It was Autism Awareness Day for the Minnesota Twins, and Riley -- who has a mild form of autism -- was the perfect young man to lead off the game.
"Obviously he was singing for everybody that has autism," Cuddyer said. "He was representing a huge group that normally doesn't get represented. That was pretty cool."
It was the first Twins game for the Meester family -- which was also on Father's Day. And if singing wasn't enough excitement, the Twins beat the Padres 5-4 in a late-game rally.
"It was outstanding," said Twins' catcher Drew Butera, who had the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth inning. "What courage and bravery he had. It gave me goose bumps, it really did.
"What a way to start off a ballgame. It was really cool."
Meester was selected to sing at the Twins game after team officials heard a recording of his rendition of the anthem.
On Sunday, he gave one of his best performances yet.
"I thought it was pretty cool," said Twins' catcher Joe Mauer, who is Riley's favorite player. "He did a great job.
"I thought it was pretty neat that he had his whole family out there. I thought it was a pretty cool ovation, too."
Before Riley could hit his last note, Target Field erupted with applause -- arguably the biggest of the day.
"I thought it was a great job by the fans to acknowledge that and it was a great reception," Mauer said.
As Riley and his family were exiting past the San Diego dugout, the Padres players came to greet the young singer.
"They all came out of the dugout, I was very surprised at that," Gwen said. "They all came out of the dugout and were giving him knuckle bumps and high fives."
Home plate umpire Jerry Layne gave Riley a game ball, and the Padres gave him another -- small mementos of his big day.
As the Meesters moved toward the exit, the fans remained standing, giving him an ovation until he disappeared down into Target Field.
The Meesters then found their seats and watched what proved to be an exciting game -- capped by Butera's single to score Delmon Young in the ninth inning for Minnesota's seventh straight victory.
Even before the game was over, Riley was already a celebrity.
"The guy that sang 'God Bless America' in the seventh was so taken with Riley he came and found us and he took a picture," Gwen said. "He said, 'This is a day I don't want to forget,' and he took a picture with Riley so he could have it."
The family arrived to the game early, and eventually found their place on the field, waiting behind home plate as the pre-game festivities concluded.
"It seemed like a long time to me," Gwen said. "I kept looking around thinking, 'Oh my gosh, there are so many people here.'"
And then, it was time to sing.
"They just said, 'Hit it Riley,' and what did you do?" Gwen asked.
"I hit it," Riley said, with a smile.
As he belted out "And the rockets red glare," fireworks erupted.
"The rockets interrupted me there," Riley said. "I was not expecting that."
But he kept on singing, leaving few dry eyes in the stadium.
"I think it was the best," Cuddyer said. "It's hard to top that, that's for sure. There was a standing ovation from the crowd -- obviously they are all standing -- but I think the crowd was really behind him. But it was a good one."
Approximately 30 friends and family made the trip to watch Riley, with another 40,000-plus in the stands. Almost immediately following his performance, the Internet lit up with comments, praising the emotional and moving moment.
A video was uploaded to YouTube, which had more than 1,000 views in less than 48 hours.
And for that one minute and 59 seconds, Riley was on a big-league field, a part of a Major League Baseball game with all eyes on him, just like his favorite Twins players.
"It was awesome," Riley said, grinning from ear to ear.