Get news updates from WGBH
Wed October 23, 2013
The Duo Behind The Sound Of Fenway Park
There is nothing quite like the sound of 37,000-plus Red Sox fans, crammed into every nook and cranny of baseball's oldest ballpark on Yawkey Way in Boston's Fenway neighborhood. The swelling chorus of approval for each David Ortiz home run, each John Lester strike out, each Drew-to-Pedroia-to Napoli double-play can be heard for miles.
But as the Red Sox filtered onto the field at Fenway Park earlier this week for an afternoon workout in preparation for the 2013 World Series, it was quiet at the ballpark. A tour guide led a small group along the mezzanine as batting practice got underway. You could even hear the buzz of the fluorescent stadium lights echoing through the empty stands. That is, until TJ Connelly went to work.
Connelly is the Fenway Park DJ. He's the man responsible for providing a soundtrack for Red Sox workouts, and more importantly Red Sox home games.
"The at-bat music, inning breaks and situational stuff — when people score hits or there's a walk or anything else that happens in the game — I'm the one who scores those moments," Connelly said.
That LCD Soundsystem cut after a Dustin Pedrioia double, or the booming techno beats after Big Papi crushes one over the Green Monster — that’s all Connelly.
And then there are the walk-ups: unique theme songs for each player as he steps into the batters box or onto the mound. The players usually choose their own, though their selection sometimes starts with Connelly.
Andrew Miller did that this year with a Johnny Cash song, "God's Gonna Cut You Down".
"I played it and he said that one. Stick with that. It's great," Connelly said.
The indisputable fan favorite right now is outfielder Shane Victorino's walk-up, "Three Little Birds" by Bob Marley.
"The crowd reaction is incredible," Connelly said of the song. "It's been organic. It's actually built throughout the season. We'll be down by three runs and he'll come up and they'll scream it...like it's some kind of comfort for them and catharsis."
His partner is Josh Kantor has been the park’s organist for the last 11 years. Kantor splits duties with Connelly, fostering that delicate balance of old and new that is particular to baseball, especially in this town. Kantor said he's on call to play at any given time.
"TJ and I talk to each other on a headset, we give each other cues, suggestions and feedback," Kantor said. "We help to keep each other on our toes and help each other play what we might think is the right song at the right time."
While Kantor might have the more traditional role on the more traditional instrument, his organ bench sits squarely in the 21st century- even taking requests on Twitter during the game.
Connelly said both he and Kantor see themselves as keepers of a tradition. They’re both enthusiastic about what they do. But at the same time, they are also very serious about it.
"Probably my sense of responsibility about the music at the ballpark is overdeveloped more than it needs to be, but I definitely have a sense of the importance of what we're doing," Connelly said of his work at the 101-year-old ballpark.
Connelly and Kantor admit they aren’t above a little good-natured ribbing at the visiting club’s expense.
"There are some things — sort of little jabs at the other team — that I can get away with a little bit more because I am only playing the melody. I'm not playing lyric, I'm not playing the actual words, but people who recognize the melody in the stands might sing a long and say ‘Oh, I get it he made a little joke there.’"
For example, during the ALDS when Rays manager Joe Madden was arguing a call with the ump – and losing the battle — Kantor played "You Might Think I'm Crazy" by The Cars.
There are a few things you hear at most stadiums that Connelly said you’ll never hear at Fenway. Namely, crowd prompts like "Charge!" or "Everybody clap your hands".
"We have some of the best fans in baseball here. They're watching the game, they're into it, they know what's going on," he said. "We just try and build that feeling organically through the game. The crowd is into it and they are excited so you don't have to yell at them to act a certain way."
Just as it is for the players, the coaches, and the fans, there‘s plenty more on the line for these two now that they're in the World Series. Connelly said there are some sacred tracks that don't see the light of day until the the Sox are in the post season.
"I'm of the belief that there are some things that live under glass. A great example is Journey's "Don't Stop Believing'. I don't play that in the ballpark ever, since it's very connected to 2004 in my mind. But I played it in the in ALCS Game 2. Detroit had already won one and it was very tight before Ortiz hit the grand slam and I sat there and said: OK this is the moment."
Both hinted that they might have a little something special up their sleeve for the World Series. But this is baseball after all, and like any good baseball guys both are wary of a jinx.
"I'm probably more superstitious then I even wanna talk about. I have my habits and my peculiarities about what i do before the game, but too be honest one of them is that I don't really talk about that stuff," Connelly said.
This is Connelly’s first World Series and Kantor’s third, though the ’04 and ’07 Red Sox teams both won it on the road. If this year’s team of bearded ballplayers are somehow able to close out the Cardinals here at Fenway, Connelly promised that he and Kantor will be ready.
"The secret of being good at this is to anticipate what might happen so you have to be ready but since most of the stuff I do is improvised, as long as I have an idea what the first couple songs are I think we'll do great. And hopefully the first song is 'Dirty Water'."
"Dirty Water," of course, is the song that signals every Red Sox home win. And maybe – just maybe - this year, for the first time ever, it will be the first sure sign that they’ve won it all.
See the men behind the music on Greater Boston:
Watch Josh Kantor Play 'Take Me Out To The Ballgame' on the Fenway organ: