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    Vocalists vie for a chance to sing at a Rays game

    More than 150 singers offer their version of the national anthem in a day on the Devil Rays auditions.

    By JOUNICE L. NEALY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 3, 2001


    ST. PETERSBURG -- Standing in the cavernous rotunda of Tropicana Field, Ixabel Altuna shifted from side to side as she sipped from a bottle of water.

    photo
    [Times photo: Fred Victorin]
    Ixabel Altuna, 11, of Gulfport performs The Star-Spangled Banner Friday at Tropicana Field. Open auditions continue today.
    The bespectacled 11-year-old with a ponytail was second in line to audition for the national anthem. Only minutes earlier, she had been whizzed to the stadium by her mom after stepping off the school bus.

    Now, suddenly, it was her turn.

    Facing home plate, just like the real thing, the Gulfport chorister belted out a clear and strong version of The Star-Spangled Banner.

    Was she nervous?

    "Ah yeah."

    Ixabel was among nearly 150 people who participated in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' first open audition since the team's inaugural year three years ago. Hopefuls came from as far way as Thonotosassa and Spring Hill to give it their best shot.

    Auditions resume today from 3 to 6 p.m. at Tropicana Field on a first-come, first-served basis.

    In the beginning, the Devil Rays had tons of tapes from vocalists wanting to sing the national anthem, said John Franzone, director of event productions. But lately, the tapes have not come in such numbers.

    "We felt it was time to open up the doors," Franzone said. It's kind of like scouting, he said.

    "Only we're not looking for pitchers; we're looking for singers."

    But Rose Beery of Tierra Verde did throw a pitch -- a D flat -- before she bellowed into the cordless microphone.

    "I have my pitch pipe," Beery said.

    Dressed in a Devil Rays jersey, she said her love of the anthem grew out of love of baseball. Her father used to make her watch games and tell him everything that happened.

    "It felt wonderful," Beery said after she sang. I try to get the meaning of the words and the feeling. That is really important."

    Vocalists filled out an information sheet, got a number, then took their turn. They all had to sing the entire song -- a cappella. Franzone instructed the singers to keep going even if they messed up.

    Peggy Barney, 34, of St. Petersburg said she put some soul into her rendition because "that's what I feel when I sing."

    Joseph Lamparelli, who sang at the Boston Commons during World War II and calls himself Giuseppe the American Tenor, drove from Spring Hill to audition. He said that he sang the national anthem at Boston Red Sox games in 1998 and 1999.

    "I don't need to warm up," Lamparelli said. "I can go out and do it."

    Johanna Hill, 15, learned the national anthem about two months ago so she could sing at one of her high school basketball games. The ninth-grader at Armwood High School in Seffner said she felt good about her effort Friday.

    "I'm usually all shaky and stuff," said Hill of Thonotosassa.

    Jennifer Rodney, 14, of St. Petersburg dared not practice in front of her friends. She used a more reliable audience: a mirror.

    After she sang, her parents and a group of seven friends cheered as if she had just hit a home run.

    "I think I did okay," she said.

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