Playing music while the Nationals play ball

John Kelly
Columnist July 2, 2013

When he was in college, Matthew Van Hoose finagled a tryout with the Cleveland Indians. He came pretty close to making it to the majors, but on the night he was supposed to show them his best stuff, he couldn’t go. He had a piano recital.

“I missed the chance to do that,” Matthew told me recently.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

But he got a second chance at the big leagues. If you’ve attended a Nationals home game recently you’ve heard the ballpark organ stylings of Dr. Van Hoose, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin, a master’s and doctorate from Indiana, and is on the music faculty at American University.

He also does a mean organ version of the Who’s “Who Are You?”

“We do that for visiting team lineups,” Matthew said.

Get it: Who are these bums who dare enter our hallowed home park?

There’s more to a baseball game than the action on the field. There are dozens of people who work to enhance the overall experience — to entertain and inform the fans. Matthew reports to David Lundin, the Nats’ director of production and operations. On game nights David and his staff create carefully calibrated multimedia mood enhancers.

They want to pump you up.

The production crew is responsible for everything fans hear over the PA and see on the various in-house video screens, from between-inning highlight packages to the organ trill that culminates in “Let’s go Nats!”

The crew made that stirring video that introduces the home team, all slooooooow-motion and sepia, except for the splashes of Nationals red. (Those evocative puffs of smoke that erupt when a bat connects with the horsehide? They put baby powder on the balls, David said.)

David keeps tabs on things from a control room high above home plate, where he stares at four flat-screen TVs and rarely has a chance to glance at the field. Matthew is in the audio control room nearby, along with an audio engineer and a DJ who can access hundreds of snippets of prerecorded music, including the players’ walk-up songs.

These multimedia wizards try to plan as much as possible in advance, but, of course, they can’t predict what will happen during the game. Three different audio devices are loaded with song snippets that are divided on a digital spreadsheet into various categories: offense, defense, singles, walks, pitcher in trouble, inning wrap-ups . . .

When an opponent uncorks a wild pitch it takes just a microsecond to click the cursor on the Flo Rida song “Wild Ones.”

Matthew has his own repertoire for when David calls for him to tickle the keys on his Korg digital keyboard.

“ ‘Green Onions’ is a good one for mound visits,” Matthew said. There’s also Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” for when the Nats trail late in the game. (It’s one of the numbers Matthew played in his audition for the team, along with “I’ve Gotta Feeling” by the Black-Eyed Peas and a prelude from “The Well-Tempered Clavier” by Johann Sebastian Bach.)

“It’s all reactionary,” David explained. “It’s not just, ‘We have a moment. Let’s play a promo.’ It’s also saying, ‘What is this moment?’

“Is the batter stepping out of the box? Is he walking around a little bit? Do we have time for a longer promo? Is it a big game moment? Do we play something that’s happy and fun or something serious to get the guy pumped up? It’s reacting to what’s happening in the game and reading the situation and the crowd.”

Matthew has an interesting situation. His music is heard by an audience whose size any performer would envy but that can’t see him.

“It is kind of funny,” he said. “Even though there are 40,000 people, somehow I don’t really think about it. Maybe the person throwing out the [ceremonial] first pitch has more pressure on them.”

I was sitting in the stands during a rain-delay last week when I heard Matthew play a bit of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.”

The storm had passed. Play keyboard! Cue video! Play ball!

Eat crab, help camp

“Outdoors is where kids should be in the summer.”

That was the message a reader included with her donation to Camp Moss Hollow, a summer-camp for at-risk kids from the Washington area. Generous support from Post readers allows hundreds of children to experience the great outdoors.

To make a tax-deductible donation, simply go to washingtonpost.com/camp and click where it says, “Give Now.” Or send a check, made payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Send a Kid to Camp, Family Matters of Greater Washington, P.O. Box 200045, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15251-0045.

It’s Wednesday. Have you had your recommended daily allowance of crab cakes? No? Then head over to a Clyde’s restaurant, including the Tombs, the Hamilton and Old Ebbitt Grill. Order the jumbo lump crab cakes for lunch Wednesday and a portion of the bill will benefit Camp Moss Hollow.

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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