Between them, Anne VanderMale Tuuk ’75 and Michelle Buteyn VanGeest ’80 have logged more than half a century as church organists. But almost nothing about church playing prepared them for their most recent gig: co-organists for the West Michigan Whitecaps.

To celebrate their 25th season, the baseball team bought a classic Lowrey theater organ and advertised for organists. Both women auditioned on a lark, “to try something different,” according to VanGeest. “It was certainly that.

First, there was playing outdoors. On opening day the temperature was 35 degrees. Tuuk wore mittens and a stadium blanket on her lap. Three months and 60 humid degrees later, VanGeest was toweling sweat from the keys.

Michelle Buteyn VanGeest ’80
Michelle Buteyn VanGeest ’80

Then, there was the music. No Bach preludes—although, Tuuk said, “We could have played Bach. The promotions manager told us we could play whatever we liked.”

During the “prelude” time, the hour before the game, she and VanGeest played pop music from several decades, to appeal to fans of all ages. Both found that songs by The Beatles translated well to the organ—and won them many compliments.

“Musically, playing for ballgames was remarkably simple,” Tuuk laughed. The challenge was the unpredictability—“so unlike a church service. During the game the man upstairs gave us cues over a headset: ‘Please play for the next foul ball.’ We’d watch carefully, and when a foul ball was hit, we’d play a short snippet, like a charge.”

“We never knew when they’d cut the sound, ending the snippet,” VanGeest added. “Also, we couldn’t hear ourselves. The organ was piped through the stadium speakers, so fans heard it better than we did. Especially when the smoothie blender behind us was on!”

There was one predictable moment each game: the seventh-inning stretch, when they played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Thousands of people swayed and sang loudly along. “That was different, too,” Tuuk said, “and a lot of fun.”