Adam Levine stood near home plate at Citi Field last Sunday, adjusting his posture and twiddling his fingers in front of nearly 35,000 baseball fans.
He had been in this spot before but was still slightly nervous. Levine, 48, was making his sixth appearance at the Mets' home stadium in Flushing Meadows, where he sings the national anthem.
He gradually raised his voice during his modest rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the crowd's applause crescendoed as Levine reached the end. Afterward, he joyfully hopped off the field, dressed in his signature red tie and black blazer, which he wears to services at his synagogue in his hometown of Glen Cove.
"It's good, it's good," Levine said under his breath as he reflected on his performance a few days later.
Levine was born with Down syndrome and grew up listening to music ranging from Beethoven to Broadway show tunes. But "The Star-Spangled Banner" has been his trademark at Citi Field.
"He just loves it," David Levine, 83, of Glen Cove, said of his son. "The custodians and ushers said he gets the most resounding applause than any of the singers."
David Levine and his wife, Millie, 78, performed in a community theater group for about 30 years in local schools, churches and synagogues, which cultivated Levine's passion for music.
"He's educating people every time he goes up there about what the developmentally handicapped can do," said David Levine. "It makes me feel proud of him and what it can do for other people who are there."
In 2010, after Levine passed the Mets' singing tryout, he gave his first performance at Citi Field and has been called back there every year.
Drawn to music
Levine now is mostly nonverbal, which may surprise some who have heard him sing.
"He's still very expressive, though it might not be in a verbal way," said his sister Nancy Levine, 45, of Queens.
Levine's older sister, Amy Murray, 50, of Manhattan, said her brother used to be much more verbal and accompanied their parents to local acting auditions. "He's always been really musical, really into music," she said. "He knew all the words to all the songs and would sit in front of the speakers. It's really kind of uncanny."
Levine learned "The Star-Spangled Banner" when he was about 7. He used to wake up in the middle of the night and sneak into his parents' room after they fell asleep with the television on, according to David Levine. Later, broadcast stations signed off for the night by playing the national anthem and then showing a test pattern with a continuing hum. Levine sat in front of the TV and sang along. The next day, he started singing the anthem around the house and finished by humming.
Since 2001, Levine has lived near his parents' house in an AHRC group home in Glen Cove for people with developmental disabilities. His first public performance was nearly a decade ago, in front of 30 people at a Christmas party at the Glen Cove Knights of Columbus hall.
Just as it has taken Levine time to achieve notice for his singing, it has taken time for him to be more outgoing after he was bullied.
When he was about 30, Levine's co-workers at a fast-food restaurant near where he now lives harassed him. Levine was a busboy, and other employees put Tabasco sauce in his drinks and blocked him as he carried trays, his father said.
"He would just scream at the top of his lungs, which is just unacceptable," said David Levine about his son's reaction, adding that some of the workers were fired. "They apologized. But, something happened to Adam after that. He became so inward."
Since then, music has helped Levine express himself. He has been attending programs at AHRC Nassau in Brookville for 13 years. AHRC Nassau serves more than 2,200 people with developmental disabilities. Levine has also been involved in community services including Meals on Wheels to bring food from the Atria assisted-living facility in Roslyn Harbor to seniors in Glen Cove, Bayvilleand other areas.
Chante McCoy, 29, is the assistant site manager at Brookville's AHRC greenhouse day center, where Levine and about 20 other members perform activities like folding paper to be used as bedding for animals in local shelters.
McCoy said Levine sings the national anthem each morning for the members, which has helped him connect with them.
"We told him this is his practice stage," McCoy said. "We get our own private concert from him every morning."
"Adam Levine's national anthem always gets a fantastic crowd reaction, and this past Sunday's nationally televised Mets-Nationals game was no exception," said Harold Kaufman, executive director of communications for the Mets. "We are grateful for the opportunity to get to know Adam, and to help raise awareness for the Nassau County AHRC, which provides numerous services for adults and children with disabilities, including the music program that Adam loves so much."