You had to be in your seat very early to see the real highlight of Monday night's Modesto Nuts game.
It came about 10 minutes before first pitch, when the Beijing Youth Symphony Orchestra gathered around home plate to perform the National Anthem.
The young musicians, ages 8-10, were perfect.
Then the Nuts took the field, started flat and stayed off-key all night long in dropping a 9-2 decision to Rancho Cucamonga.
How bad was it for Modesto? Of the nine runs scored by the Quakes, only one was not the direct result of a walk, hit batter, wild pitch, error or passed ball.
"We didn't play real well tonight," said Nuts manager Fred Nelson. "A lot of walks. We didn't swing the bats great, and when you get down it's tough. The guys did battle, and we'll come back and play tomorrow."
Modesto opens a three-game series against Bakersfield tonight at John Thurman Field. The Blaze has the worst record in the California League, which should mean the Nuts have a chance to get healthy in these three games.
On the other hand, Rancho Cucamonga has not been a factor in the South Division race all season, yet the Quakes came to Modesto and won two of three.
Rancho scored its first run on a wild pitch, and even then the Nuts had a chance to get the runner had pitcher Eddie Butler (3-4) covered home. The Quakes scored three more in the fifth Butler's mandated final inning of work when he labored to throw 31 pitches, walked a batter, hit one more, then two runs scored when first baseman Harold Riggins dropped a low throw from Butler.
"Eddie had a chance to put away hitters early and didn't get it done," Nelson said. "He also had the play where he stumbled a little bit and the ball got away and all of the sudden they had a four-run lead."
Rancho added three more in the seventh on three walks issued by Ryan Buch and a bases-loaded triple by Darnell Sweeney on the first pitch offered by Kraig Sitton.
And even when Modesto was having success at the plate it found a way to trip itself up on the bases.
In the second inning, Brian Humphries drilled a double to left-center, but was thrown out at third base trying to advance on a ground ball to shortstop a two hopper that crossed in front of Humphries.
It was an error born of hustle, but a mistake nonetheless, and it was compounded when the Nuts went on to leave the bases loaded.
The Nuts trailed 8-0 before finally getting on the board in the seventh. Harold Riggins drove a top-spin double to the scoreboard ahead of a line-hugging home run to left off the bat of Niko Gallego.
It was the second homer of the week for Gallego, who had gone almost three full professional seasons between long balls prior to connecting in San Jose on Wednesday.
Modesto would have needed several more homers to have a chance just to overcome its poor play both physically and mentally.
"Sometimes the guys brain cramp out here and that's why we're here to work on things like that," Nelson said.
But even Nelson agreed that the youth orchestra was special.
Baseball is gaining in popularity in China, and the young orchestra made up of students from Beijing's Zhongguancun No. 2 Primary School seemed to sense what was ahead.
Wrapping up their visit to the area and having already performed at CSU Stanislaus and at the Gallo Center for the Arts, the young musicians left the ballpark and boarded their bus in the third inning.
NUTS NOTES: Jordan Ribera, who last played May 25 before having surgery to remove a broken hamate bone in his right hand, was activated prior to Monday night's game. He takes the roster spot of Juan Crousset, who went to the DL ... Sam Mende, who hasn't played since May 12, is back with the club and could be activated by the end of the month. Mende was slated to be the Nuts' everyday third baseman, but has been hampered all season by hamstring problems.
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek.