Bradenton hosts auditions for McKechnie Field spring training games

vmannix@bradenton.comFebruary 10, 2013 

BRADENTON -- The Pittsburgh Pirates had an interesting cross-section of people with varying talents perform at Saturday's national anthem tryouts at Pirate City.

An angelic 10-year-old.

A veteran nightclub performer.

A whistler, too.

"That is a first," said Pirates official Kris Koch.

It was a first for Tim Eggert, too, a world-ranked whistler.

"I've never done a ballgame before, so I thought I'd give it a try," said the 33-year-old Orlando graphic designer. "I'm sure they get a lot of singers, but not many whistlers."

Of the other 46 who auditioned, there were 45 singers and one harmonica player.

"We've got quite a field to choose from and a whistler gives us some intriguing possibilities," Koch said. "I'm curious what response he'd get at McKechnie."

The Pirates open Grapefruit League play Feb. 24 against Atlanta.

Eggert has been whistling all his life, but gained notoriety when he won the allied arts competition at the popular 2011 International Whistlers Convention in Louisburg, N.C.

He performed Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" whistling -- and dancing.

Eggert's unique national anthem rendition made an impression, too.

"I've always wanted to do this and

figured spring training would be a good place to start," he said. "I'm glad I made the trip."

With renovations wrapping up at McKechnie Field, the usual site of national anthem auditions, they were moved to Pirate City's cafeteria.

Courtney Fults, who has sung at McKechnie, liked the switch.

"It was more personal, more quiet and you could hear people better," she said. "This was almost easier. Cafeterias and bathrooms are the best places to sing."

Erika Quartuccio, who's sung at Bradenton Marauder games, preferred the cafeteria setting, too.

"Audition feelings and performance feelings are different," the nursing student said. "You're being judged for an audition, so you want to make sure you can hear yourself."

Coz Serrapere has worked his share of different rooms as an entertainer and the experience showed.

Yet the crooner has never sang the national anthem at a ballpark, never mind McKechnie -- and he's a Pittsburgh guy!

"How could they not like me? An entertainer from Pittsburgh? A Pirates fan?" Serrapere said.

Sandra Herrera was a first-timer in the truest sense.

She enjoys singing and has a pretty voice, but has never performed publicly.

"I wanted to try it and knock it off my bucket list," said the apartment manager. "It was a good experience."

Perhaps no one at Saturday's audition had more experience singing our national anthem than Paul Villaluz.

Before moving here last October, he performed it 229 times over a decade for the Las Vegas Wranglers hockey team, and another couple dozen times for the Triple-A Las Vegas 51sballclub, a New York Mets affiliate.

Despite that resume, Villaluz was a tad nervous.

A good thing, he said.

"You want to have nerves at first, because it becomes too automatic otherwise and it doesn't have soul when you're out there," said the Manatee County transportation engineer.

Villaluz never forgot something his father reiterated about singing our national anthem, either.

"He always said, if you're going to go out and sing the anthem, you make sure it's not about you. It's about the song," he said. "The song is the flag, the anthem is the flag and the flag is bigger than you."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.

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