As the Boston Red Sox battle for the chance to make it to the World Series, TJ Connelly has a bigger interest than most fans. As the team's official DJ, Connelly is responsible for all the pre-recorded music at Fenway Park—an organist handles all the live music—and consequently helps guide the mood of Fenway's 37,400 fans. The DJ talked to Fuse about getting his dream job, Neil Diamond's classic "Sweet Caroline" and deciding what to play among 75,000 songs.
A lot of sports fans would say you have a dream job. How'd you get your start?
[Laughs] I agree. I have an improv comedy background but I was more interested in was doing lights and playing the music in between bits. I've always been a theater guy. I got good at playing music to what just happened and working back and forth with the crowd. There was a friend who worked at Fenway who was a big fan of what I was doing at the theatre. It didn't even occur to me that the Red Sox even had a DJ. I was at Fenway and the DJ made a gag about a pitcher taking too long on the mound and I snapped up my head and said, "Whoa, somebody's doing this." And a dream job was born. In 2002, I started writing them one letter a year like, "Hey, just in case this person wants a day off or gets sick, I could fill in." Three years later, I got a phone call from my friend and became the backup DJ in 2005. In 2008, the other full-time DJ retired and I've done almost every single home game since Opening Day 2008.
What's your typical day like?
Let's say it's a 7 P.M. game. I get to the park around 3:30 for batting practice, find out if there's any special events going on or if someone special is going to come out on the field. The players come out and I'll rotate through all of their different tastes to the best of my ability. As a club DJ, you play to get the ladies to dance and then the guys go out and dance. So 25 dudes is a weird audience. But it's great. At the end of batting practice, [designated hitter David] Ortiz comes out and after eight years, I'm very good at playing music for him.
What's his favorite music?
Unsurprisingly, he likes heavy beats like Kanye West, Wu-Tang, Tupac. When I first started it was all about reggaeton, which was tough because in 2005, it wasn't nearly as ubiquitous as it became. I didn't even know what it was when I walked in the door. But he likes basically anything to nod your head to.
Any other surprises?
Dustin Pedroia only listens to West Coast hip hop. If you're playing NWA or Ice Cube, you're doing good.
It would seem you'd need a wider musical palette than club DJs.
Yes, for the players. I came into the job with the perspective of a life of listening to alternative radio. I've always had broad tastes in music. But i had to find out about the music I didn't know about. But i was already pretty well equipped for playing in a 100-year-old ball park. That's one of the best parts of the job. Families come just to experience the park. There's so many different things you could potentially play. It's the same thing as reading a dance floor; it's just more people. You can tell when they're into it. They're louder; they move a little bit. If you play a dud, you know it. There is not a worse feeling than that.
Do you ever get scared of playing a song at the wrong time?
I live in eternal terror of playing a song at the wrong moment. Not only is there a very rigorous fine structure for that, but it's terrifying to see umpires turning around and staring at you because they think you're playing too long. We were losing one game badly and I played a song the umpire didn't like it. He turns around, puts his hands on his hips and stares at me. How do you mime, "I'm terribly sorry. Please don't fine me 50 grand." There was one point where someone played Motley Crue in the middle of the pitcher's windup and he spiked the ball down. That's my waking nightmare.
"Sweet Caroline" has become ubiquitous at Red Sox games. Do you ever get sick of playing it?
There are a contingency of people who do not like "Sweet Caroline." I love it at Fenway. Any song that you play that makes 40,000 people sing along to is awesome by definition. Being part of that experience is completely fantastic. But in counterpoint, outside of that context, it can become a little overplayed. I've played that one song more than 500 times.
I raised the question at the end of last year when everything was terrible like, "Hey everybody, if we're ever going to not play 'Sweet Caroline,' this is when we do it. Nothing is on the line." We had a real conversation in the organization about whether to get rid of it or not and most people were like, "No, it's part of the experience and people love it." The only other song we play every day is the theme from Cheers. We play it at the very beginning of every game. I like the way the piano sounds.
How many total songs are in your rotation?
I pull from a library that's around 75,000 songs. At least half of that I would never play in a ballpark. It's my "weird music." But I'm the best jukebox you've ever hung out with.
Who do you think is the best band to come out of Boston?
Aww, that's not fair. I'll redirect and I'll tell you this: One thing we did this year that was great, particularly after the [Boston marathon bombing] in April when the city was really pulling together, was play more Boston bands. We started with early stuff from the 1950s and '60s all the way up to bands that were playing that week that weren't even on labels. It gives it this nice local feel.
Do you make any changes to your routine for the playoffs?
A lot of the stuff you have to change is simple mechanics, like the inning breaks are longer than the regular season. I try to do some variety throughout the season and as we were chasing the AL East I said, "My apologies for all of you who have been here, but I'm perfectly willing to spend 70 games trying out new things. But now that we're at the end, let us use the things that got us here."
Finally: Jock Jams. Helpful or harmful?
[Laughs] This is a new question for me. It's kind of funny; we still use a bunch of the stuff that's on it for home runs. I'll occasionally play something like, "Yeah, I'm going to unearth this gem," and later, someone will tell me, "Oh yeah, that was on Jock Jams." and I'll be like, "Dammit!"