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"I've used the 'charge!' call at weddings, too. Just before the recessional, you know, just after they kiss and they're about to come down the aisle. I'll play, "Da da da da, da da! Charge!"
Nicholas Mamich, a cabdriver in Westview, Pa. near Pittsburgh (whose nickname is Lunchbucket, "on account of how much I eat"), puts it well when he explains the difference between playing in a church and playing at a ball park. "Lascheid makes different kinds of life for the music," he says. "When he plays at the park, it says something about the game. When he plays in church, it says something about God."
It was the middle of the eighth inning of the fourth and final game of the Pirates-Phillies series. The Pirates, having lost the first three games, were looking bad. So was I.
I'd practiced for four hours that afternoon, burying land mines of explosive chords all over the field. For the pregame warm-up I'd played 45 minutes of rags while the parrot joggled his stomach up and down and cavorted, with fans throwing their hats, even their shirts, onto the field. During the seventh inning stretch I'd played Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Now my hands were so loose they felt like rags.
The keys on an electric organ go down too easily, so you don't really feel your fingers articulating the way you do on a piano; also the keys don't depress very much, and you never really feel like you've hit bottom. If you play for any length of time, after a while you feel as if you're swishing your hands back and forth through pudding, or a shallow bog. An electric organ is completely unresponsive to touch. The volume is controlled by a switch somewhere (I never found it) so no matter how hard or softly you caress the key the sound is the same. Nothing your finger longs to impart to the tone penetrates the plastic. If Mozart played a C-major scale on an electric organ with as much expression as he could muster, the sound would be the same as that produced by dragging a banana from one C to the next.
It isn't a satisfying instrument to play. Particularly if you have traveled from a whole other state to come and play your heart out, contributing a decade's work of stride piano playing, and all the team does is lose. Swell. It's like galloping 50 miles through a sandstorm to a battleground only to find that the Band-Aids you brought don't have any adhesive.
But the trip hadn't been a completely disappointing experience. It had been fun practicing Take Me Out to the Ball Game every morning on the grand piano in the lobby of the Pittsburgh Hilton, where throngs of women from the Daughters of the Nile and the Order of the Eastern Star dressed in billowing taffeta gowns made so much noise that no one could hear me. The first couple of games it was great to sit next to Vince, to look down at the field and throw a note or two into whatever he was playing, like dropping extraneous ingredients into a soufflé he was whipping up. When he played G-E, G-E imitating a cuckoo for Mike Krukow, I echoed with flocks of cuckoos in the upper octaves, filling the bleachers with birds. Vince would move over and let me play a charge, rag, or a little riff. When I played rags on the top keyboard he would turn the rag out on the lower keyboard. We'd cross arms, meet at unexpected intersections, get into brief brawls, dueling rags, little conversations, and take off again. Sometimes he'd play a mirror image of what I played so it seemed the lower keyboard was a pool of water reflecting my hands. Once he got down on the floor and played the foot pedals with his hands.
And from our situation 70 feet above home plate, there was a wonderful view. It felt as if we were in a hot air balloon, drifting over the game, being directed by the various currents of energy whizzing around below. But even though we had a good time, ate a lot of pretzels, set off fireworks, cursed bad plays with the superiority of those who find themselves geographically higher than others, and played belly-dancing music for a dancing Mideastern woman who was eventually thrown out of the stadium, the Pirates were still losing.
"Vince," I said suddenly, "Vince, you've got to let me play the Cum Bac Rag. Now."
"Wait a sec," he said. "I gotta do an ad," and he played Fostoria crystal's ad while the memory board twinkled with pictures of crystal. When he slid into Don't It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue, I said it again. He was just kidding around and the Pirates would soon be up at bat.