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Boys of spring are back

BRADENTON — Alina Evans was feeling butterflies Wednesday.

So were Victoria Velasquez-Estrada, Ashley Berg and Ana Hernandez.

It was Opening Day at McKechnie Field and the first pitch was 40 minutes away. Almost showtime for the Wakeland Elementary School quartet, who would sing the national anthem before a baseball hungry crowd, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the 2008 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

“We’re nervous,” Alina said.

“Very nervous,” Victoria and Ashley chimed in.

Ana? Not so much.

Music teacher Amelia Twinem had told them an amusing, imaginative way to stay calm when they sang.

“She said to picture the whole audience is sitting in their underwear and they’re more nervous than you,” Ana said.

The girls giggled.

Theirs would be a happy crowd.

Opening Day does that, even if it’s just the Grapefruit League.

“It’s baseball,” said Don McKie, 85, Pirates Booster and usher for 22 years. “It never, never, never gets old.”

Bob Bilbrey, 74, who grew up in Clearwater, agreed.

“First game, blue skies, it’s super,” said the Anna Maria Island winter resident and University of Florida alum, Class of 1958.

Opening Day also meant the resumption of time-honored baseball tradition for a good number of early arriving fans.

Like making a beeline to the concession stands for a hot dog and a beverage.

“It goes with a ball game,” said Bob Richner, 78, a snowbird from Goshen, N.Y., who liked his foot-long hot dog smothered in onions and mustard.

“You’ve got to have a hot dog at a ball game,” said Tina Richter, 46, a local cashier.

It was comfort food for her pal, Sue Jeletic, who grew up practically in the shadow of Pittsburgh’s old Three Rivers Stadium.

She is unemployed.

“It’s been stressful, but this is a day I think about nothing but watching the game, watching my Pirates and kicking back,” said Jeletic, 53. “It’s terrible out there, so I’m glad to be at a ballgame.”

Ryan Leverenz was, too.

The Southeast High School freshman and JV baseball catcher was a Pirates’ batboy for Opening Day.

“My dream is to be out there someday,” he said, looking on from the Pirates’ dugout.

One of his classmates had that honor Wednesday.

Ashley Norman, a Seminoles’ varsity softball player, threw out the first pitch, followed by Mayor Wayne Poston.

Nervous? Nah.

“I’m going to show them girls can do this, too,” she said. “I’m going to bring heat.”

After the ceremonial first pitch, it was the Wakeland quartet’s turn.

Their national anthem sounded angelic.

Did they see anybody in their BVDs?

“Nooo,” Ana Hernandez said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fla. 34206 or email him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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