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O say, can you sing . . . at the ballpark?

Nobody named Luciano Pavarotti showed up Friday to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" at Buffalo Bisons' auditions in Dunn Tire Park.

Neither did anyone like Roseanne Barr, whose performance at a 1990 Major League Baseball game was a star-spangled bummer when she spit and gestured after the crowd booed her mangled anthem.

The talent level was somewhere between those extremes, but the candidates for backup anthem singer at this season's Bisons home games sang their hearts out -- even when they were drowned out by power washers cleaning the seats for the season's opener April 14 against Columbus.

Brooke Lewis, an 11-year-old from Portville who stepped up to the mike beside the Bisons dugout at high noon, was not going to let the noise rattle her.

From Francis Scott Key's opening line, "O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light," to the closing ". . .land of the free, and the home of the brave," her voice rang out clearly over the stadium public address system, above the nearby din.

Admittedly, Brooke had a leg up on most of the competition. The diminutive fourth-grader has sung the anthem before at St. Bonaventure University and Portville High School basketball games, and played Gretel in a high school production of "The Sound of Music." Last year, she was a finalist in the Buffalo Bills' search for anthem singers.

On the other hand, Larry Wightman, who preceded Brooke, has never sung before a crowd. The 48-year-old heating and air conditioning installer from Eden learned about last year's Bisons auditions too late.

"I enjoy singing, so when I heard about it again this year, I said, 'Let's try it,' " he said.

Wightman, too, had to compete against the power washers. The racket may have been a factor when he forgot a line and had to start over midway through the anthem.

Wightman took the slip-up in stride.

"Do I get to say 'Play ball'?" he asked Bisons intern Cindy Smith after finishing.

Fifty people auditioned Friday and another 50 are scheduled to try out today. They know the chances of pinch-hitting as an anthem singer during home games are slim.

"We have our core of singers. We're just looking to find a couple who could stand in if we need them," said Brad Bisbing, Bisons public relations coordinator.

To the guys with the power washers, it was no contest. After Brooke Lewis stopped singing, they dropped their hoses and applauded.


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