Tim Kepler isn't always a big believer in signs, but this one was hard to ignore.
It occurred this past summer when Kepler was in discussions with the Ducks about becoming the team's full-time national anthem singer.
"I was outside my house with my wife and there was a lone duck flying through the air a few hundred yards from me, quacking by itself like he's in pain or something," recalls Kepler, who admits to having a fondness for making animal sounds. "Now, me being myself, I throw out this duck call. That duck was headed in the opposite direction of me, turned around and headed straight for me and landed on the house across the street."
Later that evening, Kepler was driving back to his Anaheim home after running some errands, and as soon as he got on the off ramp, "A mother duck and four little ducklings cross the freeway exit right in front of me. I'm thinking, Okay, the earth is crying out to me about ducks right now. Then the next day, they called me and we solidified everything. I thought that stuff was really kind of cool."
Starting this season, Kepler will sing the national anthem at every Ducks home game, an arrangement that both parties hope to continue for a long time coming. The organization's relationship with Kepler goes back to when he sang the anthem about 10 times at Ducks home games last season, and the familiarity harkens back to the numerous occasions he's sung it at Angels games the last dozen or so years.
"I'm really honored," he says of his association with the Ducks. "The anthem means a lot to me because I'm not just singing words, I'm really picturing myself and the rocket's red glare and I'm picturing myself in the war where the bombs are bursting through air. I'm picturing myself in that environment as I'm singing that song. When I do that, that really, it makes it come to life for me.
"It comes from the heart because of the significance of that song and what it means and what it stands for. It stands for our freedom and our rights and to live in a free country and it means all of that. That's the excitement for me. I get to do it on a regular basis. Not only that, I get to do it for the Ducks, so it doesn't get much better than that."
Kepler was among a variety of singers who performed the anthems last season for the Ducks after Dawn Wright - who had been the Ducks' permanent singer since the 2009-10 season - had to sit out last year with vocal chord nodes issues.
She had a pain-free procedure last January, and is fully healed after a four-month recovery process. But she made the tough decision not to come back to the Ducks in order to spend more time with her family. That includes her husband Scott and two daughters - 6-year-old Emma and 13-year-old Abby - who are both heavily involved in softball (with Dawn helping to coach Emma's team).
"They'll be out of the house before I know it, and I don't want to miss anything," says Wright, who is also going back to work as a substitute schoolteacher. "It's just really hard to kind of run around and do everything. The season before this past season I missed a few more games than I would have liked, and it was because it was just getting busier."
The Ducks' desire to go with one consistent singer for every game throughout the season made it difficult for Wright to make that time commitment. During a lunch over the summer with Ducks Director of Game Entertainment Rich Cooley, she had to come to terms with it. "I said, 'You know, I love doing this. This has been great. I love the fans and I love going to the games. My girls have grown up going to the games. They're older, and it's just so much busier now.'"
Among her favorite memories of singing the anthem is the intensity of Stanley Cup Playoffs games along with the opportunity to perform on several occasions with the gospel choir Firm Soundation ("amazing," she calls it).
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And she of course got a kick out of the home crowd loudly chanting "DAWN!" when she got to the "dawn's early light…" point in the song.
"I'm going to miss it so much," she says. "Every time I sing the anthem, it's like, Are you kidding me? This is awesome. It never got old, that's what's so cool."
Wright plans to keep coming to Ducks games with her family and has expressed a willingness to fill in and sing if the need arises. ("Oh yeah, for sure. I'd love to," she says.) In the meantime, she's thrilled to pass the torch to Kepler, whom she has heard perform the song at Angels games in the past.
"He is awesome," Wright says. "That's just kind of my type of sound that I love to listen to. He's so good and he'll do great."
While Wright was known for putting her signature style on the "flag was still there…" portion of the song, Kepler prefers to perform it in a more traditional manner. "I don't really deviate too far from the style of the song," he says. "Because people are singing it with you, and I think you need to keep it so it's universal. I do maybe have a little bit of flair here and there on the tone of my voice, but I don't really deviate too far from the melody or anything like that. I keep it pretty straightforward."
Kepler's musical background extends well past singing the anthem. He has performed all over the world in far-off locations that include Japan, China and Amsterdam. Closer to home, he's a regular singer at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, where he has performed for congressmen and assorted dignitaries, including a recent gig in front of the Tuskegee Airmen.
"It's really a great experience to be able to go around the world and do something that I love, which is my music," Kepler says. "That's really a great experience, something that I really enjoy doing. It's taken me to different places, in front of different types of people, but there's that one universal language and that's music. That's kind of the same thing I'm doing with the Ducks. I'm sharing my gift of music and song."
Kepler says he can't wait to get going with the season, starting with the first preseason game tonight vs. San Jose. For him, there's nothing quite like the atmosphere at Honda Center during Ducks games.
"When I'm there and I'm feeling the crowd, what really stands out for me is just the loyalty of the fans to the Ducks," Kepler says. "I like that and have deep respect for that loyalty. To be able to be a part of that is really awesome for me."