'7th-Inning Stretch': Why Red Sox Organist Josh Kantor Is Still Playing

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With baseball on hold, Boston Red Sox organist Josh Kantor has a new audience: Facebook. (Mary Eaton)
With baseball on hold, Boston Red Sox organist Josh Kantor has found a new place to perform: on Facebook. (Mary Eaton)

If you’re like me, you’re missing baseball. Not so much baseball on TV. I’ll admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of that. But I love going to the ballpark. I love sitting in the too-small seats at Fenway.

Josh Kantor loves it there, too. And since 2003, he’s had his own special seat: at the keys of Fenway Park’s organ. During the games, Josh takes requests — via Twitter — from the fans in the stadium. And it becomes a sort of game within a game to listen to whether Josh will be able to make those requests happen.

This spring, Josh has been missing baseball. So along with his wife, Mary Eaton, he decided to do something about it.

Josh told me the story:

My old friend Jason, whom I've known for almost 30 years, he texted me on the afternoon of what would've been the opening day of the baseball season. And he said, "You should do a live stream and play some songs today." And I thought, "That sounds like fun."

I was like, "How do you do a live stream?" He said, "I don't know, just look on Google." So I watched a video with a little four minute tutorial, and then my wife Mary helped me set it up. We didn't really know what we were doing as far as how to get good sound, how to get good picture, how to talk.

And we thought it was going to be a one-time thing — it would last a few minutes, a couple people might show up. It turned out that a ton of people showed up, and we got almost 100 song requests. And I had time to get to about 40 of them. And after over an hour we finally decided, "OK, we have to be done now." As soon as we finished, we both realized how much we enjoyed that and how much we needed it. And so we committed to doing it for a half hour every afternoon, 3:00 Eastern time.

Finding Community

It just feels lovely to have that community and that kindness and that respite and, you know, just a little bit of joy. And we're not burying our heads in the sand, but it's an activity and exercise that re-fortifies us so that we can face those stresses and those challenges.

My wife, Mary, is a minister, and she works primarily with the homeless population in Boston. So that's been particularly stressful right now. It's a community that is particularly vulnerable and hunger has become a big issue. And so we decided right from the get go that we would ask people who are enjoying the show and who have the means to make a donation to their local food bank. So it’s just been another warm way that we’re seeing people come together and help each other.

"It just feels lovely to have that community and that kindness ... and, you know, just a little bit of joy."

Josh Kantor

Sometimes I'll do a little practice run of a song, just a rough draft, you know, 10, 15 seconds of it to make sure I remember it.

It never felt like a luxury until now, but at the ball games I have, you know, maybe two minutes from the time the request comes in until I have to learn the song and play it. That always felt like I was extremely pressed for time. Now I have maybe 10 seconds.

Some people have have mentioned to me that they've enjoyed getting that, that little behind-the-scenes peek at how it works because it is sort of strange how it works.

Josh Kantor at Fenway Park in December 2017. (Karen Given/WBUR)
Josh Kantor at Fenway Park in December 2017. (Karen Given/WBUR)

It's these sort of compensations, you know. It's like two ends of a scale. So on one end of the scale I'm missing baseball so much. And I'm missing playing music with friends so much, and I'm missing seeing friends, and I'm missing just being at the ballpark. And then on the other end of the scale are the things that I'm doing to try to offset that a bit. Such as doing this show every day, such as interacting with people on the internet, such as making a point of checking in more frequently with family and friends to see how everybody's doing. So I guess I'm still missing it a lot, but I'm finding other ways to offset that a bit.

People have, you know, reached out to me and written me messages from all over the world talking about, you know, why it means something to them. And I kind of feel like, not so much like a therapist, but I feel like people's bartender, you know. Sometimes people come up to the bar and they feel like they can open up to the bartender about what's on their mind.

I've been, you know, trying to respond as much as I can and as best as I can to offer the encouragement and support that I am able to give. We all need each other right now, and the more we commit to helping each other all get through it together, the better off we're going to be and less scarred we're going to be when we get to the other side.

Josh Kantor and his wife Mary Eaton stream the 7th-Inning Stretch on Facebook live at 3 p.m. ET every day.

(Mary Eaton/Screenshot via Facebook livestream)
(Mary Eaton/Screenshot via Facebook livestream)

This segment aired on April 11, 2020.


Karen Given Executive Producer/Interim Host, Only A Game
Karen is the executive producer for WBUR's Only A Game.



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