Without a crowd, Ogren Park at Alliance Field is a lazy sort of place, especially on a recent Saturday when two young Missoula Osprey employees are there roasting in the early June heat. The ballpark is recovering from the hangover left by Brutus Beefcake and Mick Foley during a Big Time Wrestling event the night before. The two groundskeepers in tank tops take their work slowly, shooting the breeze while they hang up the netted backstop behind home plate from the basket of a small crane.
Into the park runs Robin Kendall, ten minutes to noon, warming her vocal chords as she strides through the front gate. She finds a third Osprey employee outside the press box, who is still making sure the microphones work for the national anthem tryouts that don't start for another 10 minutes. No matter, the two walk down to home plate, Kendall taps the mic a few times, then sings to her audience of three.
She's halfway through the anthem by the time her wife and kids find their way inside. Kendall smiles and waves, finishes up, and high fives Osprey marketing assistant Chris Ward.
Kendall is a shoo-in for the gig, having sung her whole life and performed at local sporting events in Tennessee, where she's from. Plus, her judge is no Simon Cowell. Ward is a lifelong baseball fan and newly minted college graduate from Chicago who dropped a job application in a bucket at Major League Baseball's winter meetings. He ended up with the Osprey this summer because the club happened to call him.
"If you're trying out, I've got to give you props," Ward says.
Tryouts start at noon, and Kendall is the only performer to come by during the first hour. Ward isn't concerned, noting that the Osprey have a sizable pool of returning singers who are already scheduled for the year.
The next singer, 14-year-old Nevaeh Norton, has never sung the national anthem outside of the bathroom, but she nails the song as her family looks on with pride.
"How do you feel?" her father asks when she's done.
"Better," Norton says.
The afternoon's third and final rendition comes from another 14-year-old, Marshall Softich, who lugs his trombone onto the field. Softich clears his spit valve and practices some scales while his father sets up a music stand. He gets through a few bars before his sheet music flies off the stand. Softich starts over, and his tryout ends with a word of encouragement from Ward.
Ward spends the rest of the hour in the shade of the press box, looking out over the diamond, waiting for opening day.