Reds Organist: John Schutte

Inside Information
Last season, John Schutte was offered a dream job: Wipe four years of dust off the organ at Great American Ball Park and start tinkling the keys for the Reds. The 46-year-old firefighter talks about how the gig fell into his lap, the art of picking songs for players, and his most memorable game.
My band, the Rusty Griswolds, was scheduled to play at a Reds game. We asked if they still had the organ from Riverfront Stadium, and they said, “Yeah we still have it. Nobody’s played it in a couple of years because we haven’t had an organist.” I told them to let me know if they ever needed someone. And they said, “Are you doing anything Sunday?” At first, I played just a couple of songs before the game. I played “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and then we added stuff as we went along through the season.

We try to do things with specific players based on their names. For Scott Rolen, we play “rolling, rolling, rolling”—the Rawhide theme. For Jonny Gomes, we play “Johnny B. Goode.” Some of them were hard—like Joey Votto. We found “Run Joey Run.” I don’t know if he liked that.

I kept waiting for the call from them saying, “We appreciate you doing it, but we’ve had enough.” And that never came.

Traditional organists have special shoes with kind of an extended heel so they can walk up and down the pedals. I’m not going to do that.

Every once in a while, we have a guy call if he starts to slump. He’ll call and say, “Hey, change my song. I don’t want that one anymore.” Joey Votto changed his song at one point, and he just went on a tear.

Mother’s Day was one of the first games I played, and my family was there. They showed my family and me on the scoreboard. It was one of those surreal moments when you can’t believe what’s happening. I remember getting home and telling my wife, “That was one of the best days ever.”


Vital Stats

Best Seat in the House
Schutte sits near home plate on the first base line. “Actually, Walt Jocketty is to my left. If there weren’t a window, I could touch him.”

Off-season Moves
To practice in the off-season, Schutte purchased a Baldwin Pro 222 organ—identical to the one at the stadium—and set it up in his Anderson home.

Away from the Game
Reds games aren’t Schutte’s only gigs. He has played with ’80s cover band The Rusty Griswolds for more than a decade. By day, he’s a firefighter.

Photograph by Jonathan Willis
Originally published in the April 2011 issue.

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