The smoke from the Rim Fire briefly lifted to make way for a warm, breezy Sunday evening—a stroke of luck for the Aces’ last home game of the season—and rays of sunlight cut above the western edge of the stadium to cast a shadow to the base of the pitcher’s mound.
The ring of an organ echoed from the center field wall and bounced back up to the press box to Tristan Selzler, who sat wailing on a keyboard.
Baseball is a sport steeped in tradition and among the most recognizable of the sport’s customs is its accompanying music. Nothing says “ballpark” more than an organ … well, maybe overpriced beer.
As I walked into the press box, I admittedly was expecting an analog organ tucked into some corner, but when I considered the stadium’s relative newness, I quickly realized how ridiculous my notion was.
Instead, Selzler—a professional musician in Reno—led me to a counter holding a Midi keyboard plugged into a Macbook Pro. He was running the signal through the editing software Logic, then out into an external interface.
It was a high-tech take on the old tradition.
Warming up the crowd before the first pitch, Selzler’s hands darted around the keyboard popping up with “When the Saints Go Marching In,” taking second with “Friday” by Rebecca Black, rounding out the medley with a few verses of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, and finally sliding right into home with Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” It was a healthy mix of expected ballpark favorites and off-the-cuff contemporary songs. He later played some Dr. Dre as a foul ball ricocheted into the crowd behind third base.
It’s really cool, but why go to such effort? The person running sound could easily play any prerecorded organ song he wanted with the simple press of a button.
“It’s cool because what I’m playing up here is a human reaction to the game,” said Selzler. “It’s human experience … human connection.”
I suppose it doesn’t matter if the keyboard is running through computer software as long as a person is playing it—even if not explicit, it’s a commentary on the game.
But he has to be careful about how forward his commentary is, said Selzler.
“There was an organist [for a Cubs’ minor league team] who got ejected for playing ’Three Blind Mice’ when the ump made a bad call,” he said.
Selzler’s references are much more subtle, and a lot of his material is original.
He’s been playing for the Aces for only one season, usually only on Sundays, but his sophistication makes it seem as though he’s played every game for years. Every time a foul ball was tipped into the crowd, a base stolen, or every time the sound guy shouted “Tristan!” across the press box, he chimed in immediately with a short melody or string of chords—each a quick comment on the game.
His comfort in the press box might have to do with his general comfort in front of a keyboard. Selzler plays in a staggering number of groups (at least six or seven in town, including the Tristan Selzler Jazz Quintet, Jelly Bread, the St. Christopher Project, and Blues Assault). He says, though, the press box has a completely different dynamic from playing in a band.
“There are about a dozen people in there doing shit, and as the organist, I have to coordinate with these folks to make sure I’m not playing at the wrong time—over the announcer, the sound effects guy, etc.,” Selzler said. “It’s stressful but fun.”
That dynamic might change entirely next season. Management is talking about moving the organ out of the press box and down on the floor to display it a little more.
“You know, I’ll get heckled, dodge foul balls … but hey, anything that brings more attention to the fact that this is all live … that’s a good thing.”