When the Chicago Fire host a celebration of the club's 20th Season this Saturday night, the pre-game ceremonies will feature two individuals who were in the building for the Fire's first-ever home match at Soldier Field on April 4, 1998.
Rachel Barton Pine, an internationally renowned classical violinist, performed the national anthem prior to that inaugural home game and will have that honor once again for Saturday's 20th Season celebration match, her first performance at a Fire match since 1998.
And preceding Pine's violin Saturday night will be the tones of longtime Fire season ticket holder and bagpiper extraordinaire, Mike Park. Park, who attended the 1998 home opener as a fan, has helped herald the start of opening ceremonies at most home matches this season, bringing to life a musical styling that is part of the club's official pregame hype video.
While their respective ties to the Fire certainly diverted after that chilly April evening, both will be on the pitch this Saturday as the club marks its milestone 20th Season presented by Valspar. See their stories below:
Rachel Barton Pine
A prodigy on the violin from the youngest of ages, Chicago native Rachel Barton Pine never had much of an opportunity to participate in organized sports and had only passing memories of the World Cup's arrival in the Windy City in 1994. But that hardly prevented her from realizing the excitement of the Fire's first home match at Soldier Field.
"Playing for the Fire was really my first exposure to soccer and I was really impressed how fun it was to watch, how thrilling it was," Pine said ahead of her upcoming performance at Toyota Park. "You go to a baseball game for a relaxing atmosphere but soccer was really a whole different experience."
Pine, who has released more than 30 albums and over the years has performed at other Chicago pro sporting events as well as the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, was pleased to see that a break in her international touring schedule would allow her to participate in the Fire's commemorative 20th Season match.
"The timing is great because it’s sort of between seasons for us," she said. "It’s a big honor to have been there in 1998 and I can’t wait to play for the Fire and my fellow Chicagoans and to see the game on Saturday."
Unlike Rachel Barton Pine with the violin, Mike Park was a bit of a latecomer to picking up the bagpipes. It was only about eight years ago that Park decided to pursue a beginner's lesson with the Chicago Stock Yard Kilty Band.
"It was just one of those things on my bucket list to learn how to do," said Park, who now is a regular participant in parades, ceremonies and other events where his bagpiping skills are called for.
Similarly, the Los Angeles native wasn't always the passionate soccer supporter he has become since the Fire's inception.
"I didn't really grow up with soccer, I kind of came around to it via punk rock and sort of the cultural aspect of soccer," he explained. "Then I started playing it a bit, playing in bar leagues, and from a Fire perspective, I was at game number one and been pretty much coming ever since then."
Within a few years, the music crafted by Park and his former band, Deal's Gone Bad, gradually became the Fire's "goal song," which still rings through Toyota Park each time the Men In Red find the net. Park's ability to combine his passions for music and soccer in a new and recurring way in 2017 has helped contribute to the Fire's 20th Season.
"It's been really awesome, it's cool to be part of the experience, something new, being down by the tunnel with the players has been cool. The first time you do it with the camera in your face and the sound echoing, it can rattle you if you let it," he said with a laugh. "But it's a real exciting team to watch this year and it's taken me back to 'back in the day'. When [the Fire] are playing well, it's just so much fun."