On Sept. 19, 2019, Estero resident Jim Doepke completed a quest he began more than 11 years ago. The retired music teacher from Wisconsin set out to play the national anthem on his well-traveled trumpet in all 30 Major League Baseball parks across America. What he thought could be accomplished fairly easily — after all, he had a letter of endorsement from former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig — turned out to be an ambitious undertaking.
“One of the things I learned throughout this 11-year project was it truly takes ‘someone who knows someone’ to get to the final goal line of a dream,” he says.
Doepke and his trumpet are now back in Southwest Florida, where he frequently performs the national anthem for Florida Gulf Coast University athletic events. He’s also scheduled to open several spring training games this month with his reverent rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Catch him at Hammond Stadium before the Minnesota Twins game on March 9 and at JetBlue Park for the March 17 Boston Red Sox game. He will also be playing for the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota on March 23 and before the FGCU softball game on March 16 against Iowa.
- When did you start playing the trumpet?
I started playing a WWI bugle probably around 10 years old at my grandparents’ house, then the trumpet shortly thereafter. My parents purchased a Bach Stradivarius trumpet for me in junior high — the same instrument I still play today!
- How did you hatch the idea of playing in all 30 Major League ballparks?
During my teaching years at Waukesha North High School, my band performed at a number of Milwaukee Brewers events. I also played “charge” in the stands at Brewers’ games and earned the nickname “Mr Trumpet.” So, after I retired in 2007, I decided to challenge myself with the goal of performing at every MLB park in America, and “Anthem Across America” was born.
- Why is playing the national anthem so meaningful for you?
My national anthem, of about a minute and 10 seconds, frames a moment in time before an event where everyone is quiet and focused on how fortunate we are to have the freedoms and opportunities we have as American citizens. I think about my dad, Howard Doepke, who passed last March after a full life of 103 years and who took five years out of his teaching career to serve in the U.S. Army in Europe as a captain in Patton’s Third Army. When I play the national anthem, I am also playing for those real heroes.
- When did you fall in love with baseball?
Growing up in Milwaukee, baseball was a common listening pastime. I recall spending Sunday afternoons visiting my girlfriend (Liz, now married 47 years). Her dad would always have the Brewers game on the radio.
- How many times have you performed the anthem for your ‘home team’?
My first national anthem was in newly constructed Miller Park on July 23, 2001. Since then, I have performed the national anthem at Miller Park seven times. On Sept. 17, 2017, I had the honor to perform the anthem in Miller Park honoring my dad’s 100th birthday. The Brewers showed him on the scoreboard and saluted his military service. That was a great night!
- Who has helped you along this journey?
In addition to my wife, there are a few others who have “run alongside” me during this anthem quest. Frank Coonelly, former president of the Pittsburgh Pirates, became a great friend and HUGE help. Frank achieved anthem invites from the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves, and he convinced the Anaheim Angels, who have a strict no-instrument anthem policy, to open Anaheim Stadium solely for me to play the national anthem while the Angels were on the road. FGCU Athletic Director Ken Kavanagh also took a sincere interest in my quest and “got me” the Chicago Cubs and White Sox. Dave Dorsey, sports writer with The News-Press, was the guy behind my anthem invitations to the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers.
- What is your “life motto”?
I have adopted my dad’s motto that served him well for his 103-year life: “Get up, get dressed, and get out!”