Virtual 7th-inning stretch brings ballpark feeling home
BOSTON — It’s 3 o’clock, about the time they’d be getting ready for the seventh-inning stretch at an afternoon Red Sox game. Josh Kantor settles onto the bench of the Yamaha Electone organ in his living room and clicks on his wife’s iPhone to begin another show.
Each afternoon since what would have been opening day, the Fenway Park organist has been livestreaming concerts of ballpark music and other fan requests on Facebook in an attempt to recreate the community feeling baseball fans might be missing during the sport’s shutdown.
“Part of the experience of going to a ballgame is chatting with your neighbors. And we’re in a time right now where there aren’t necessarily opportunities for people to have that,” Kantor said. “For half an hour a day, ideally people can just forget all their stresses and be a little bit refortified to then go face those stresses afterwards.”
A 47-year-old part-time library assistant and gig musician, Kantor has been playing the organ at Red Sox games since 2003, filling the Fenway air with players’ walk-up music and keeping things light during replay reviews and rain delays. After this year’s baseball season was put on hold because of the coronavirus outbreak, a friend suggested that Kantor put on a livestream concert to mark what would have been the Red Sox opener on March 26.
“I didn’t know how to do a livestream, but we watched a little video tutorial and made a very, kind of crude setup,” he said. “I figured it would be a one-time thing.”
The first show began awkwardly, with Kantor taking 100 or so song requests and playing about 40 of them, including not just the seventh-inning stretch standard, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” which he features every episode, but also, fittingly, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”; the March 26 video has since drawn more than 5,300 views. At its peak, 19,000 have tuned in for the afternoon concerts.
“As soon as we finished, we kind of knew that we had to do it because we enjoyed it so much,” Kantor said. “We figured as long as people need it — as long as we need it — we’ll do it.”
Telltale signs of COVID-19 isolation are scattered throughout the room behind him, from the jigsaw puzzles on the coffee table to Kantor’s increasingly bushy beard. His wife, Mary Eaton, an ecumenical pastor who works with the homeless community, pops onto the screen from time to time; she monitors the Facebook chat for requests and passes them to him on sticky notes.
And that’s where Kantor’s extraordinary musical ear comes in: He can perform any song he’s familiar with, even if he’s never played it before, humming a few bars to himself first to get the melody down.
“It’s a great gift,” said Nancy Faust, the 41-year Chicago White Sox organist who has been a mentor to Kantor and whose bobblehead sits above his keyboard. “He struggles through them and he lets you see what the process is, which most musicians would do alone.”
Kantor will sometimes stump for donations to food banks; a sign for FeedingAmerica.org, sits on the bookshelf behind him. He can’t estimate how much much he’s helped raise, though one viewer offered to donate $500 if Kantor would do a 10-minute Grateful Dead jam.
“They’re very authentic people and they’re providing a lot of joy when it’s most needed,” Faust said. “The show just brings a lot of delight into a person’s day. For a half hour, there’s no negativity.”