WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Don’t tell Neal Davis there’s no crying in baseball.
He couldn’t help but get choked up watching his son Wesley, 5, nail an a cappella rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner at Hanes Mall Saturday.
Wesley was competing to to be one of 69 performers selected to sing the National Anthem at a Winston-Salem Dash home game in the upcoming season.
Neal Davis said his son learned the words of the song by hearing it at baseball games.
“I’m sure I was more nervous than he was, and very proud,” his dad said after giving his son a long hug after he came off the stage.
Dash spokesman Brian Boesch said the annual audition is an unofficial kickoff to the season.
“This is where it starts to get real again,” he said.
There are 70 home games this year, beginning April 3. About twice that number of performers signed up to audition, and there were numerous standbys as well.
In addition to 69 who will be chosen to fill the tab of home games, a grand prize winner will be chosen to perform at the biggest game of the year – on July 4.
A panel of judges will help pick five finalists from the tryouts. Videos of their performances will be available on the Journal’s Web site, journalnow.com, and readers will be allowed to vote for their favorite. The Journal was a sponsor of the tryouts.
Ron Hatcher is hoping to be among those selected. He was upbeat and all smiles after his performance, but despite his smooth voice and falsetto high notes, he still didn’t find perfection, he said.
“I was doing so great, and I messed up at the end,” he said.
Carl Schlager and Rob Cantanio had an advantage over many of the performers. They played trumpets, so they didn’t have to remember the words that flummoxed more than one of the aspiring singers.
Schlager and Cantanio auditioned last year and got a chance to play at a game. But that’s not what really drives them. Both men have also played taps at funerals for veterans. Schlager estimates he’s played more than 3,000 of them.
Cantino said it’s an honor to be able to support the veterans in such a way. He said there are many volunteer trumpeters and buglers willing to perform at veterans funerals, and he said families of veterans should seek them out.
“Even the worst bugler is better than recorded music,” he said.
Like most of the performers, Danielle Johnson sang a cappella. She admitted to being nervous, but said she had a trick to get her through – she found her mother and husband in the crowd.
“I picked them out and blanked everyone else out,” she said. “You’ve got to find that dot and just zone.”
Boesch said the live tryout in front of a crowd helps them see how the performers will handle a crowd.
“This is a real-life experience, and that’s a challenge for them,” he said.
But it’s important to get it right, he said, because the anthem sets the tone for the game.
“Most of the game is about beating the other team,” he said. “But for those two minutes, everyone is together, everyone is one.”