Bradenton ballpark crowd of 7,141 sees Pirate home finale

vmannix@bradenton.comMarch 28, 2013 

BRADENTON

Phil Carocci is 90, deaf in one ear, uses a cane and he can't read music.

Yet the spry senior still warmed the McKechnie Field crowd of 7,141 on a chilly, breezy Wednesday with his distinctive performance of our national anthem.

He played it on a harmonica.

"I knew I could do it," Carocci said. "Pretty good, huh?"

It was, indeed, especially for someone making their first ballpark performance ever after 30 years of playing the harmonica.

"He's a natural," said daughter Sandy Mack, 65. "He does it all by ear -- his good ear."

Nervous? Not Carocci, who took up the harmonica after retiring from 55 years as a grocery manager.

"I've got a lot of confidence," said the Syracuse, N.Y., native. "The Star-Spangled Banner isn't easy to play. Any musician will tell you that. But I can do it."

As Carocci played off home plate, the flags of the Korean War Veterans Association (KWVA) honor guard snapped in the wind. Gradually the sound of the crowd singing along swelled like a sign of approval.

Their applause punctuated his performance at the Pittsburgh Pirates final

Grapefruit League home game.

It meant a lot to Carocci.

"I wanted to be a professional ballplayer one day and it never worked out. So to be this close, it's awesome," said the Fort Myers winter resident.

His playing earned a salute from appreciative listeners.

One was Skip Hannon, who has heard his share of national anthems performed at McKechnie Field with the KWVA honor guard.

"It's the first time I've heard it on a harmonica," he said. "It was almost like what I imagine you'd hear in the Civil War days."

"Very unique," Pirates fan Bonnie Augenstein said.

Visiting Minnesota Twins fans gave it a thumbs up, too.

"Wonderful," Bob Anderson said. "It's not something you see every day."

"Very inspiring," Joe Smith said.

Carocci's family were pleased by his performance and by the reception given him by the McKechnie Field crowd.

"It's great to see him do something he loves so much," said great-niece Alex Carocci, 16. "To be so energetic and have the ability to do this at his age, I'm so proud of him."

So was Martha Carocci, his 78-year-old sister-in-law.

"He did such a good job," she said. "It's what keeps him young."

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

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