As Bryce Harper stepped into the batter’s box after dutifully respecting the ‘A’ in the dirt behind home plate during the second inning at Atlanta’s SunTrust Park on Monday, Braves organist Matthew Kaminski played “The Imperial March” from Star Wars. Harper — who might as well be Darth Vader to his National League East foes — proceeded to launch Sean Newcomb’s first pitch into a galaxy far, far away, a three-run home run that gave the Washington Nationals a 5-0 lead en route to their fourth straight win.
Harper got “The Imperial March” treatment again in his first at-bat on Tuesday, which ended in an RBI groundout. When Harper came to bat in the third inning, the Wicked Witch of the West’s theme song from “The Wizard of Oz” blared from the SunTrust Park speakers. Kaminski’s piece de resistance came in the sixth, when he played “Go Cubs Go” as Harper left the on-deck circle.
Steve Goodman’s classic song, which is played after every Cubs win at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, served as a double dig. Not only did the Cubs eliminate the Nationals in last year’s NLDS, they’re also considered among the favorites to sign Harper after this season. Harper has declined to discuss his pending free agency, but he can expect this sort of treatment, if not always from the stadium organist, on the road all year.
Kaminski has been the Braves organist since 2009, when one of his organ students suggested he apply for the position.
“When I got interviewed, they asked if I could come up with songs that would kind of play on the opposite team’s players,” Kaminski, who has played the organ since he was 5 years old, told the Marietta Daily Journal last year. “And, I guess, what was kind of required is a little bit of a knowledge of baseball. So, growing up in Chicago, I grew up a Cubs fan. And even though I wasn’t a die-hard baseball fan, I knew enough about the game. They wanted to make sure I knew enough about situations where I guess I wouldn’t be clueless about it.”
Last season, when Braves TV announcer Joe Simpson suggested that Kaminski suspend his playful bit when Atlanta was losing, which was often, Braves fans came to his defense. The Sports Organist Network And Trade Association (SONATA) also issued a statement in support of Kaminski, who continues to teach the instrument.
“It’s more for the fans,” Kaminski told NJ.com in 2015. “If the fans get the connection and they can laugh at it, it’s really more gratifying for me. I’m really not doing it to offend the players or knock their concentration.”
Some of Kaminski’s connections are obvious. When the Los Angeles Dodgers visited Atlanta last season, Kaminski played a rap song by Yung Joc for Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson. On Tuesday, he played “Coal Miner’s Daughter” for Nationals starting pitcher A.J. Cole and Devo’s “Whip It” for Wilmer Difo.
Kaminski also plays tunes with more subtle connections that require a little more thought or research, such as the “Eastbound and Down” theme for Anthony Rendon, who looked a lot more like Kenny Powers from the HBO comedy series before he shaved his mullet. Kaminski told the Marietta Daily Journal that one of his favorite original ideas was playing Morse code, including the sound for “S.O.S.” and “O.U.T.,” for former Nationals slugger Michael Morse. Kaminski once played Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” for Ian Desmond because the song was originally composed by Paul Desmond, and the Doobie Brothers’ “Jesus is Just Alright” for hirsute former National Jayson Werth.
Kaminski comes up with a list of songs to play for the visiting team before every series and posts them on Twitter and Facebook. He also solicits suggestions from fans on social media.
“Should I throw in ‘New York, New York’ for Bryce Harper today?” he asked before Wednesday’s series finale. (Many were predicting Harper would eventually land with the Yankees, his childhood team, before they signed Giancarlo Stanton last offseason.)
“I would go with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” one fan responded.
Sure enough, Kaminski played “New York, New York” before Harper’s first plate appearance Wednesday. Harper drew his seventh walk of the series.
Later in the game, Kamenski played “Go Cubs Go” again.
Harper, who has walked up to Sinatra’s “The Best is Yet to Come” at home in the past, hasn’t been fazed by harmless needling this season. On Sunday in Cincinnati, he hit his second home run of the game seconds after a fan shouted “overrated.” A Braves fan shouted the same thing before his three-run blast on Tuesday. In fact, if “The Imperial March” isn’t Harper’s walk-up song at Thursday’s home opener, he’s doing it wrong.
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