Local tenor to sing national anthem at major league baseball game
By Mark Wineka
For a night in September, Salisbury’s Neal Wilkinson will be the Cincinnati Kid.
The well-known local tenor will add a notch to his singing conquests Sept. 14 when he belts out the national anthem at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park.
The Monday night baseball game between the Reds and Houston Astros will follow.
It will be the fourth major league ballpark and game for which Wilkinson has sung the national anthem.
His trip to Cincinnati this year was made possible by Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman, longtime voice of the Reds and onetime sports voice for WSTP in Salisbury.
Wilkinson, who regularly sings at the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association banquet in Salisbury, made the connection with Brennaman this past spring when the broadcaster was inducted into the NSSA Hall of Fame.
Wilkinson later sent information about himself and a tape to Brennaman, who made sure the packet reached the right people in the Reds organization.
Early this month, on a day when Wilkinson had just started his recovery from prostate cancer surgery, the Reds front office called him and invited him to sing before the Sept. 14 game.
“It was an uplifting experience,” Wilkinson said of the call’s timing.
Wilkinson, structural products manager for W.A. Brown & Son, has slowly worked himself back to his job and expects to be in full voice come September.
In 1999, Wilkinson sang the national anthem at Shea Stadium, then the home of the New York Mets. It was before a game between the Mets and his favorite team, the Atlanta Braves.
He sang the anthem to start a game at Baltimore’s Camden Yards in 2001. That game featured the Orioles against the Boston Red Sox.
In 2005, he sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Banc One Ballpark in Phoenix for a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Atlanta Braves.
Each time, networking at the NSSA banquet has led to Wilkinson’s appearance at a major league ballpark.
His connections in the past have included Frank Cashen, former general manager of the New York Mets; Peter Schmuck, a Baltimore Sun sportswriter; and Joe Garagiola Jr., then general manager for the Diamondbacks.
Wilkinson has sung the national anthem at many other sports venues and events, including Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Atlantic Coast Conference baseball and basketball games, minor league hockey, Arena Football and Legion and Little League baseball games.