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Trying Out For The Hartford Yard Goats, Microphone In Hand

If you were to get to every game of the Hartford Yard Goats this season -- which starts this week -- and arrive before the first pitch, you'd hear 70 different renditions of "The Star Spangled Banner."

Henry Smith's might be one of them. Late this winter, Smith auditioned at Dunkin' Donuts Park in Hartford, Connecticut. The tryout took place way above home plate, in a glassed-in suite, and while not an acoustical paradise, the view is great.

Smith, who is a security guard and owns a music studio, said the night before auditions he waffled about trying out. He’s not a Goats fan, he said. He's never even been to a game. But if he gets a chance to sing?

He's no newcomer to performing. Smith has been a contestant on "American Idol." For others auditioning on this day, singing before thousands would be a first.

Kayla Prioleau, 8, looked remarkably calm as she waited her turn. She came to the park on the suggestion of an after-school coach who heard her sing. How would she find her starting note, this reporter, who also sings, wondered?

Kayla said she's been working on that in voice lessons, and demonstrated, confidently belting out the beginning of the anthem. What a set of pipes!

Minutes later, she and her parents were greeted by two men, neither of them musicians. Like the other handful of judges, they're members of the Yard Goats' front-office staff.

"Judge" Steve Given set the scene for Kayla.

"Imagine a capacity crowd," he said. "Seven thousand people. They're all getting to their seats. You can the smell popcorn in the air, the freshly-mown grass, the team has taken the field and we're ready to play ball. We just need you perform the anthem to get us started. OK?"

Dunkin' Donuts Park on opening day, April 13, 2017.
Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR
The Hartford Yard Goats play at Dunkin' Donuts Park on opening day, April 13, 2017.

In another room, this one with a great view of third base, Yard Goats General Manager Mike Abramson said he's seen a lots of people sing the anthem.

"Crowds really react differently to each performer," he said. "It's just getting the vibe that you know will really get the crowd behind the singer and have people enjoy the experience of it."

This is the Yard Goats' second season at Dunkin' Donuts Park. Four hundred soloists, groups, even a saxophonist, signed up to audition. That's more than double last year, and many more than possibly needed. But at a Yard Goats game, it’s not just the anthem that gets sung.

Abramson was now listening to Natalie Malinowsky, 6, as she sang "God Bless America." After, he said he was impressed she could sing so well, and on key. Could she could also sing the national anthem? In singers' parlance, it's not -- at least not yet -- in her repertoire.

The Hartford Yard Goats are scheduled to throw their first pitch of the season April 5, when they play the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

Tema Silk is the editor for NEPM's award-winning commentaries, which she’s been involved with since 2010. She's also a contributing reporter.
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