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Off Central: D-backs organist plays 21 years for love of music, baseball

(KTAR News Photo/Sharon Mittelman)
LISTEN: Diamondbacks organist Bobby Freeman

PHOENIX — If you’ve ever attended an Arizona Diamondbacks game at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix, you’ve heard organist Bobby Freeman working his magic.

The musical mascot of the Diamondbacks has been serenading Arizona’s baseball fans since the team set up shop in downtown Phoenix. This upcoming season — like the team’s — will be his 21st.

“I absolutely love it,” he said in an October interview.

“I don’t have a job. I never go to work. I don’t work ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’ I play ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.'”

In addition to the traditional riffs, Freeman works to keep his repertoire current so he can mix in tunes younger fans will recognize while making sure the classics aren’t skipped.

“I listen to my Sirius radio, anything from 1940 to top 40.”

Freeman said he doesn’t base his musical selection on how the team is doing on the field.

“I’m here to keep a smile on my face, and keep the energy up the best that I can,” he said. “People are here for a fun experience, whether we win or lose.”

During the seventh inning stretch, Freeman is featured on the massive screen in center field. He typically attracts a good-sized crowd.

“He really can play the organ,” one fan said.

“I thought this really was fun,” another of Freeman’s younger fans said.

The adoration from the crowd is not lost on Freeman.

“It makes me feel so good that somebody will walk up and say, ‘You really enjoy what you do, don’t you?'”

Freeman said he takes his “work” home with him: “I have keyboards at home, several of them, and they’re all over the house.”

He said he does better playing music by ear, rather than by reading it. He still practices, sometimes staying up late into the night to learn new songs. Once he gets started, he said, it can hit 1 a.m. without him noticing.

“I still have a love to play. I’ll never lose that.”

Freeman plays a traditional Roland organ with all the foot pedals along with a Yamaha keyboard.

His love for music started when he was a child. He played the piano for the first time when he was 2 years old, when he taught himself how to play in the family living room.

As he grew up, Freeman accompanied his parents to a local roller rink in Cleveland, Ohio.

“I would mimic the roller skating rink organist and I would copy his songs and memorize them, so by the time I was 5, 6 years old, I was playing a lot of the hits of the ’50s and the ’60s,” he said.”

His first professional experience came when he was 15. He was the organist at that skating rink.

Freeman’s musical career in baseball started, like many players, in the minor leagues. The Phoenix Firebirds — a Triple-A team that, at that point, was the highest level of baseball in the Valley — hired him.

He was later added the fall league and then spring training. When the Arizona Diamondbacks began in 1998, Freeman was ready.

Since then, Freeman has become a face of the team. He appears all over the state helping the Diamondbacks support both community programs and corporate partners.

“I’m so proud of that and I’m proud of what we do,” he said.

He said he loves hearing people come up behind him and say, “Oh my gosh, it’s a real organ guy. Can we take a picture with you? Can we have an autograph?

Freeman said he loves being the D-backs’ organist and he doesn’t plan to walk away from the ballpark anytime soon.

“I don’t have any plans for retirement. Why would you retire from something you truly love and you’ve loved your whole life?”

This story originally aired on Oct. 3, 2017.

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