The new College World Series organist has been playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” about as long as the series has been played in Omaha.
The song was a favorite sing-along some 50 years ago, when Jerry Pawlak began playing in Chicago organ and piano bars. The crowd will be a little larger Saturday when Pawlak, now of Lincoln, plays for his first CWS seventh-inning stretch in 24,000-seat TD Ameritrade Park.
“I'm a little nervous right now,” Pawlak said Tuesday in his organ booth high above home plate. “But I'll get over it by the seventh or eighth game.”
It's a dream job for Pawlak, 70, a theater pipe organ aficionado and retired accountant. It's also an unenviable task: succeeding the beloved, long-time CWS organist Lambert Bartak, who retired last year at age 91, after the last College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Bartak had played more than 50 years for the CWS.
“There's a lot of pressure replacing Lambert Bartak,” Pawlak said.
Organizers tried to talk Bartak into coming back, but he held steady in his resolve to retire, said Dan Morrissey, vice president of marketing for CWS of Omaha, Inc.
The group reconditioned the ancient Hammond organ Bartak played at Rosenblatt and built a booth for it into a TD Ameritrade Park production room. That's part of bringing the history and heritage of Rosenblatt to the new stadium, Morrissey said.
Event organizers worked with a musicians union to identify candidates. They identified five to audition.
“Jerry's audition just blew us away,” Morrissey said. “He was very professional, right from the start. We knew right away he was the one.”
It helped that Pawlak owns a 50-year-old Hammond organ he plays in his home. The stadium's 1947 organ is a little quirky, Morrissey said.
Pawlak moved to Lincoln in 1988, relocated by his day job with the Burlington Northern Railroad.
He has performed on theater organs at the Rose Theater and the Orpheum Theater in Omaha. He is secretary and treasurer of the River City Theater Organ Society.
Pawlak has played at a ballpark before — for a Chicago White Sox game in the old Comiskey Park.
While nervous, he's confident about playing for the CWS. He's working on his repertoire, which includes a lot of show tunes and standards from the 40s and 50s, as well as some rock and roll and other newer music. He's not sure what he'll play, but fans can expect some “Hello Dolly,” “Mame” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“My signature song is ‘Everything's Coming Up Roses,' “ he said.
• Video: Meet the new organist