Michaels Works His Musical Magic at the Ballpark

Durham Bulls logo Michaels Works His Musical Magic at the Ballpark

Bruce Michaels has been performing since the age of six as a magician, actor, singer and musician, and is now in his ninth year as the DBAP organist.

Bruce Michaels
DBAP organist Bruce Michaels

While most ballparks use recorded music during games, Michaels plays amidst the box seats, serenading the fans and players with a seemingly never-ending variety of songs.

“I try to play a healthy mix that everyone, young and old, will appreciate,” Michaels said. “It’s difficult sometimes, but it’s more about what we like to call ‘ambiance.'”

He plays at the ballpark on weekends, and always has an alphabetized, roughly categorized list of hundreds of songs sitting atop his keyboard. As soon as the gates open to fans before each game, Michaels begins a 40-minute performance of about 14 songs.

“I create the list for every night based on nothing in particular. But sometimes there are special occasions,” he said. “Last year in May, it was the tenth anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s passing, so the night was filled with Frank Sinatra songs. And then two years ago, it was the thirtieth anniversary of Elvis’s passing, so it was Elvis night. I felt like the fans appreciated that.”

Jim Goodmon, CEO of Capitol Broadcasting Company, thought up the idea of a live organ player out in the seating bowl with the fans. In 2001, the Bulls found Michaels through a local piano store at which he taught lessons.

But Michaels lived in Greensboro at the time. However, he taught piano in Durham and agreed to help put Goodmon’s idea into action.

“Since I was teaching piano on Fridays at the time, it worked out where I was going to be here anyway and I played for 40 minutes to an hour before the games,” Michaels said. “But then they wanted me to play for at least part of the game. So the terms changed, and that was fine.”

During Michaels’ third year as the organist, the piano store went out of business, but he chose to continue playing music for the Bulls. He now lives in High Point, even farther away, but says he enjoys the experience.

He also performs the songs of the Rat Pack, singing out on the field as a one-man show.

“When we do that show, people love it,” he said. “I’m an entertainer. When I’m singing, there is a relationship with the audience that doesn’t exist when I’m just playing.”

Michaels’ contributions at the ballpark continue to add to the enjoyable atmosphere of the ballpark. And with his ninth year on the job just beginning, he is eager to play a part in the overall fan experience this season.

“I’ve got a great seat, I mean I’m nearer to home plate than the first baseman and not much farther than the pitcher,” he said. “I’m glad to be here, and the Bulls are usually an entertaining team.”

Thanks to Bulls Intern Jamie Richardson for this capcom story.



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