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40 audition for national anthem at McKechnie (WITH VIDEO, AUDIO)

BRADENTON -- Southeast High School’s Haven Miller practiced for days.

So did Sarasota sisters Lily and Emma Slotabec.

Not Sabrina Cooper, though.

The 40ish woman ran eight miles Saturday morning, got home, heard the strains of “Oooh, say can you seeeee ... ” reverberating from nearby McKechnie Field and decided to check out the national anthem auditions, jogging attire and all.

“I said, I know I can sing that song,” Cooper said, proudly.

She wasn’t the only one who felt that way and helped liven up the ol’ ballpark on Ninth Street West despite Saturday morning’s overcast weather.

Forty people, young and old, auditioned for the honor of singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” before Pittsburgh Pirates spring training games at McKechnie and for Bradenton Marauder Florida State League games, too.

“Different feels, different ages, different styles. It was impressive,” said Joel Godett, the Pirates coodinator of communications. “The national anthem is hard to do, get out there in front of any amount of people. But we’re happy with what we had today.

“We’d love to use as many of them as possible.”

Haven Miller hopes to get one of those phone calls.

A Southeast sophomore with musical ambitions, she has never sung before at a ballpark or at a ballgame.

Yet the 15-year-old seemed right at home at home plate Saturday.

“When you get up there, you’re in your own world,” Miller said. “It’s just you, the microphone and the song.”

A song she practiced over and over in her room.

“My parents heard me a lot,” Miller joked.

That goes for the Slotabec sisters, too.

They auditioned separately, but overcame the same nervousness.

“It was weird seeing my competition sing before me and after me,” said Emma, 13.

“We practiced a lot, but not in front of anyone,” said Lily, 11. “Still it was fun because you get to show your stuff.”

It wasn’t a big crowd Saturday, just a few dozen, tops and it had varying effects on the singers.

Take Manatee High alum Michelle Grantham.

Used to singing the national anthem before big football crowds at Hawkins Stadium, performing to a largely empty McKechnie was definitely different for the State College of Florida student.

“It seems bigger because there’s no crowd, so it’s a little overwhelming, but definitely worth it,” said Grantham, 21.

Samantha Rankin handled the cavernous surroundings her own way.

She closed her eyes.

“I like to think I’m at home, so it’s comforting instead of looking at people I don’t know,” said the King Middle 12-year-old.

Dylan Southwick, 19, had an appropriate method for the occasion.

“I picture myself looking at the flag waving in the wind when I sing the anthem, that’s all,” said the Manatee School for the Arts student.

Some singers brought impressive resumes to Saturday’s auditions.

Sophie Robitaille, a polished 11-year-old mezzo-soprano from Crystal River, is used to performing before Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning games.

So McKechnie was a change.

“I prefer a lot of people because it makes me feel better the more are watching me,” she said.

Kimberly Cooper, a classically trained singer, has sung a variety of styles -- rock, Top 40, etc. -- for more than 20 years, but never done the national anthem at a ballgame.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” she said. “It’s an inspiring song and my passion is to use my voice to inspire people.”

Haley Faye Rosenthal has never auditioned to sing at a ballgame, either.

But she’s auditioned several times in New York City for Broadway musicals like “Mary Poppins,” “Shrek” and “Billy Elliot.”

“I’ve never performed on a big field before,” said the Sarasota 11-year-old. “It was kind of cool.”

Cool, indeed.

Steve Ramsey will vouch for that.

The 30-year-old salesman has auditioned successfully at McKechnie for the last two years and was on his game Saturday.

He looks forward to performing the national anthem there again this spring training.

“It’s not about singing it, it’s about feeling it,” Ramsey said. “I enjoy this venue, it’s an awesome time of year, the weather’s perfect -- and it gets you out of work.”

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