Jacobs graduate Matt Kaminski happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Kaminski, a 1995 alum of the Algonquin school who played basketball and tennis there, was giving a music student a lesson in Georgia around the 2009 time frame. That student knew the individual in charge of hiring for the open Atlanta Braves organist position.
“He called his buddy and I got an interview pretty much the next week,” said Kaminski.
And ever since Kaminski has been the Braves organist, enjoying a wide-ranging job description first at the team’s old home of Turner Field and now in its newer SunTrust Park in suburban Cobb County, Georgia.
“I’ve always been curious how many people they even interviewed,” Kaminski said with a laugh from Georgia last week. “I’m not too sure how many applicants this guy found. The Braves didn’t put an audition out or a press release. They left it up to one of the audio engineers to find someone. It was all kind of behind the scenes. It landed in my lap. If I wouldn’t have been teaching that one student who knew the audio engineer, I wouldn’t have known they were looking for one. It was being in the right place at the right time or knowing the right people.”
Kaminski plays the organ at all 81 Braves home game and in the case of this past season with an up-and-coming and talented squad under the direction of National League manager of the year Brian Snitker, the playoff games as well.
One of Kaminski’s main jobs is to play walk-up music for the opposing teams’ players at SunTrust Park.
“As the batter walks from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box, I get about 25-30 seconds to play something,” he described.
And Kaminski makes full use of those 25-30 seconds.
“What I’m known for is playing songs that kind of have a connection to the player’s name or a situation,” he said.
So when Washington Nationals standout and impending mega-free agent Bryce Harper strolled to the plate this past season, Kaminski played the Cubs theme song of “Go Cubs Go.”
“Because he was rumored to be going to the Cubs,” he said.
When Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo comes to the plate, Kaminski gets even more creative.
“I play the Muppets show theme because there is a Rizzo the Rat on the show,” he said. “This is what I am kind of known for. It’s almost a game within a game. The fans enjoy figuring out what I’m playing for a player. It’s fun for them.”
Can you guess what Kaminski played for Michael Morse, an MLB journeyman who played for, among others, the Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Seattle Mariners?
If you said Morse code, you would be correct.
“It was one note on the organ,” said Kaminski. “I would do a generic SOS signal. I also figured out on Morse code how to do the word ‘out.’ It was one of my more artsy picks.”
Former New York Mets, Kansas City Royals and Braves player Lucas Duda really got the business delivered to him when he played for the Mets. “He’s one I’m kind of known for,” said Kaminski. “I do ‘Camptown Races’ (Well, the Camptown ladies sing this song, doodah, doodah).
“This is one instance where the whole stadium started singing along with me. It kind of irritated him. He was interviewed after the game and said he has heard it his whole life and is kind of tired of it.”
Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp? He gets the Rihanna treatment (the two dated). Former controversial Yankees third baseman and current television commentator Alex Rodriguez? Kaminski played the former girlfriend card there as well with “Material Girl” by Madonna.
And sometimes there is the straight play on names. “For Chase Utley (former Phillies and Dodgers player) I would play ‘Holiday Road’ from ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ because of Chevy Chase,” Kaminski explained.
“I don’t know if I got in anybody’s head playing a song, but hopefully it distracts them a little.”
Kaminski added that this past season he was charged with playing music during the opposing teams’ batting practice sessions. “That’s always fun,” he said. “I play all styles from jazz to pop to anything I can think of. It goes for about an hour. To me, that’s the most fun part. Being able to play without stopping.
“This is the part of the job that is the most creative. I don’t have to play just charges or hand-clapping. When the Braves are up to bat, they have their own walk-up music. A lot of people think I play the tomahawk chop, but they use a marching-band version. I still do play the clapping songs, ‘Let’s Go Braves,’ charge and ‘If you are happy and you know it clap your hands.’ It’s the stuff that gets the crowd going and makes noise.”
The 41-year-old Kaminski, who has been married 10 years and has a son and a daughter, started out at the University of Arizona and transferred to Georgia State where he earned bachelors and masters degrees in music.
He keeps plenty busy beyond the Braves by teaching music lessons to about a dozen students, while also teaching organ classes at a local music store. He plays myriad gigs on his own, ranging from piano in a salsa band, different jazz assignments and accordion in a polka band during Oktoberfest.
“The funny thing is a lot of people think the only thing I do is the Braves,” he said. “I always have been teaching. Being a musician you kind of have to do many different things to make a living and to make it as musician. You can’t expect to just play gigs to make enough money. I keep myself busy.”
Mike Miazga has been writing about sports in the Fox Valley for more than 25 years. His Off at College column returns in two weeks. Send information and/or statistics on Fox Valley-area athletes playing collegiately to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.