Salisbury resident to sing at Fenway Park
By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — Neal Wilkinson will sing the national anthem at a place on his personal holy grail of venues — Boston’s Fenway Park.
Wilkinson, a well-known Salisbury tenor, received confirmation Wednesday from the Boston Red Sox that he will sing the anthem prior to the 1:35 p.m. July 10 game between the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles.
Wilkinson again capitalized on his participation in the annual National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association program in Salisbury to land a singing engagement in a major league ballpark.
This time, Boston sportswriter Bob Ryan assisted in paving the way. Ryan was inducted into the NSSA Hall of Fame this spring.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Bob Ryan helped,” Wilkinson said.
Fenway Park — a bandbox by modern stadium standards but cherished by its strong fan base — dates back to 1912 and is the oldest major league ballpark.
The next oldest ballpark is Chicago’s Wrigley Field, opened in 1914.
“Both of those ballparks have been on my to-do list for the last several years, simply because of the history and nostalgia at both,” Wilkinson said. “Think of what has happened at those two ballparks.”
Ryan helped in leading Wilkinson to the right contact person in the Red Sox organization. In recent weeks, he has been swapping email and telephones calls with that person in lining himself up for the July 10 date.
“I got confirmation, we’re on and we’re moving forward,” Wilkinson said.
“As far as my wants and desires, it is definitely at the top of my list because I’ve been wanting to do those two ballparks for so long.”
Connections Wilkinson made at the NSSA have led to his singing the national anthem at Camden Yards in Baltimore, the old Shea Stadium in New York, Banc One Ballpark in Phoenix and the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
“NSSA has given me the exposure to the right people,” Wilkinson said. “I can’t give them enough credit. It’s a great program and I think we’re very fortunate to have it here in Salisbury.”
Wilkinson has posted videos of his national anthem performances in Cincinnati and for an international business show in Las Vegas on YouTube. Now, when he contacts a major league team, he sends it letters of recommendation from other organizations and links to the YouTube videos with his emails.
He recently has been in discussions with the San Diego Padres and New York Mets, who now play at Citi Field instead of Shea Stadium.
Wilkinson has sung the “Star-Spangled Banner” at Atlantic Coast Conference basketball games, minor league hockey games, minor league baseball games, Arena Football, American Legion baseball, NASCAR events and the NSSA for 15 straight years.
He also has sung at national bass fishing tournaments on Lake Wylie and for the National Association of State Park Directors in Boise, Idaho, which led to singing engagements in Wichita, Kan., and Williamsburg, Va.
His biggest anthem audience may have been live at a Busch race at then Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, which included a worldwide television audience and 160,000 people in the stands.