Arizona Diamondbacks Organist Bobby Freeman Celebrates 20 Years With The Team
The Arizona Diamondbacks played their first major league game 20 years ago this month. And the franchise is celebrating two decades in Phoenix this year, with a little help from a man who's been with the team since the beginning.
To organist Bobby Freeman, the "CHARGE!" rally cheer is the ultimate riff to play at a Diamondbacks baseball game
“That particular chant I wouldn’t play like for the first batter in the first inning because there’s no level of excitement quite yet. So I have to read the game.”
The cherry on top, if you will.
“It’s kind of like having dinner. You start off dinner with hot rolls and then salad. You don’t start your meal with [dessert]. Well, you could start your meal with dessert,” Freeman said.
Freeman seems like he wouldn’t mind starting with dessert. He’s constantly smiling and waving to fans and keeps up the energy that gets him through most spring training games and all 81 home games at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.
Not that hard for a man who grew up loving baseball.
“Every time I see myself on the screen I get excited, too," Freeman said. "I always tell people, 'I don’t go to work, I don’t have a job.'”
Freeman’s job is more than plunking at the 88 keys, which is also the number on his jersey. He goes out into the community as an ambassador for the team.
On this day, he’s playing a spring training game at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, where the Diamondbacks face the Los Angeles Angels.
His booming notes reach all fans, like 3-year-old Angels fan Welles Leano and his dad, Jed Leano. Welles is in piano class where the teacher plays and the students clap; not dissimilar to what happens at the games. It's why he ran over to Freeman, and Leano said why he and his son love the ballpark organ.
“When I’m out here and then you hear it, it’s just as much like you see the grass and the dirt and the sound of the ball and the bat and the organ is just one of those parts,” Leano said.
The inviting music touches all range of fans, like 78-year-old Diamondbacks fan Nick Rogers sitting right in front of the instrument. Every so often, he turns around to give the organist a thumbs up.
“I can play along with it, I can clap along with it and sing along with it and it makes me feel part of the game,” Rogers said.
And there’s one song every baseball fan, no matter the allegiance, knows: "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
Even after thousands of plays, Freeman never gets tired of playing the song that makes the sport iconic.
“It is the fabric of baseball," Freeman said. "It’s one time in the game when visiting fans and the home team fans are actually together.”
By now he plays it by memory. In fact, he doesn’t really read music at all. It’s mostly by ear.
“I always tell people, 'I don’t go to work, I don’t have a job.'”
— Bobby Freeman
Organs were introduced to baseball in 1941. Freeman played organ in Arizona years before the Diamondbacks even arrived.
He played for the Minor League baseball team Phoenix Firebirds, he played for roller skate rinks and he played for ballroom dancing clubs.
Freeman said there isn’t one “best” organist in Major League Baseball.
“If you’re lucky enough to have an organist, a live organist at your team, that should be the best one you have,” Freeman said.
And the fans keep coming to stop by the organ, which happens to be the original one that was at Chase Field, then called Bank One Ballpark. One woman takes videos on her phone inning after inning to show her young son, who plays the piano and has Freeman’s autograph.
It’s a fan service, the organ. For players, they prefer to hear their walkup music blast through the speakers.
Take Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks relief pitcher who picked Jay-Z’s "Public Service Announcement."
“From the moment it bumps to when I like jog out of the pen it completely locks me in,” Bradley said.
And if he had to pick between the organ or Top 40?
“I’m going Top 40," Bradley said, laughing. "Unless Bobby Freeman’s got some remixes he’s going to pull up I need something that’s gonna get me going.”
Diamondbacks Manager Torey Lovullo picks up on Bradley’s hip-hop vibe for the locker room.
But for the tradition, he’s all for Freeman.
“I know that he’s got a great feel for when it’s time to really stand on it and play a good song and play a good jingle or play the traditional songs that go along with baseball,” Lovullo said.
Freeman agrees an all-organ game would probably get old.
“There’s such a good balance because it’s the DJ, it's me, it’s the DJ, me. We mix it constantly,” Freeman said.
In the third inning, Freeman plays that high energy "CHARGE!" rally as Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta goes up to bat.
Freeman stands in as announcer.
“Only one out, we have a runner on third, we have a runner on first, a great batter like David,” Freeman said.
The bat hits the ball with a resounding crack.
“That sounded good," Freeman said. "And it might be gone — he’s out, there it is!”
Peralta hits a homerun.
“It’s all because I played 'CHARGE!,'" Freeman said, laughing as the air horn plays over the speakers. "Kidding, kidding!”
Could a Top 40 song do that?
Freeman said his goal is a solid 40 years with the franchise.
"I've been with the Diamondbacks for 20 years, and I hope to be with them 20 more," he said.