3rd of Jun | Story

A Chicago original

GENEVA, Illinois | Another Sunday game is over and a couple handfuls of people stand in line clutching pens and paraphernalia, waiting their turn to ask, “Can I have your autograph?” Today, it’s probably the most well known signature one can take home from Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. And, after hours of playing, Nancy Faust looks at each fan, smiles, signs her name and chats.

For 41 seasons, Faust played the organ for the Chicago White Sox. Originally perched in the centerfield bleachers, the sound that reverberated from her organ provided a spiritual connection to the game and, for many fans, confirmed baseball is indeed a religion.

Faust’s connection with the White Sox brought her to the Kane County Cougars, the Kansas City Royals’ Low-A affiliate. Last season, the Cougars held a “Night of 100 Promotions” that paid tribute to master promoter Bill Veeck, who got his start in baseball with the Cubs and later owned the White Sox.

Faust was one of the promotions.

"There’s something very nostalgic about hearing the organ because so many people grew up listening to it." – organist Nancy Faust

Two weeks after that night, she received a call from the Cougars. This season, she moved her Hammond B3 organ – the same organ played on the sets of Saturday Night Live and the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno – into a production room to the right of the press box to play for Sunday crowds.

“There’s something very nostalgic about hearing the organ because so many people grew up listening to it,” she says. “It’s a dying interest with children, because now at most ballparks, it’s a keyboard, so it’s not as intimate any more.”

A handful of minor league teams still have an organ on hand to play the Star Spangled Banner, and some use digital files of organ recordings like Stadium Doo Dads, which most fans know as the six notes that precede the cry to “charge.” In most parks, the organ is a relic, even more than in the Majors, but the instrument has a unique tie to the sport and Faust is happy to continue playing in a minor-league environment.

Looking out over the stadium on a recent Sunday, Faust pressed keys and pedals, and noticed two girls dancing and singing in the stands. She smiled to herself – the enjoyment of a younger generation hearing and recognizing her music.

Of course, the songs have changed – now she pounds out pop favorites like Poker Face – but Faust continues to play a variety of music just as she did at Comiskey Park and, later, U.S. Cellular Field. “I’ve always played what I’ve enjoyed listening to,” she says. “As songs become popular, I find a place to put them. I try to pick something that satisfies everybody and something for every era of music.”

Her marks on the baseball experience include introducing rock and roll through stadium speakers and subtly connecting music with what’s happening on the field. She introduced the common refrain Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye, just a forgotten bridge of a song by Faust, when an opposing pitcher is pulled from a game, and later earned a gold record from Mercury for her efforts. It’s the highlight of her career.

She still scans the field and stands while her jukebox memory searches for the perfect song. When a bird flies close to a player, she swoops in herself and plays the Angry Birds theme song – one of her new favorites.

“I really enjoy hearing new music,” she says. “It’s a challenge to learn and it’s very satisfying to have an audience for it.”

Now 65, Faust watches American Idol and listens to the Billboard Top 40 to figure out popular songs and what receives the most radio play. Then she searches for the songs on YouTube, listens to the music to determine whether it would sound good on her organ. “That’s how I pick what I’m going to learn,” she says.

It takes a few days for her to dissect a song, learn it stanza by stanza, and put it all together. She recently learned We Are Young by the band Fun and Zombies On Your Lawn from the Plants Vs. Zombies video game. Both added to a musical memory bank that includes thousands of other songs she has learned to play over the last 60 years.

When Faust was 3, her parents bought her what she refers to as an “electric plug-in toy” that she quickly learned to enjoy. At 5, she was on a Chicago television show with other amateur acts playing Glow Worm. That same year, her parents bought an organ and Faust’s father rewarded her with horseback riding lessons – an incentive to keep practicing and learning.

She hasn’t stopped.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity for an outlet for my music,” she says of playing for the Cougars. “This was unexpected, but just delightful.”

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com  @CarolynLaWell  @AMinorLgSeason

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