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Music to their ears in Chicago07/15/2003 9:44 PM ET
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Listen to the music.
With sweet love and devotion,
Those mellifluous strains from a James Taylor song flowed from the Technics keyboard of the most renowned organist in Major League Baseball Tuesday night, and fans at U.S. Cellular Field waiting for the start of the All-Star Game had to think of Nancy Faust as the music filled the ballpark.
But to Faust, they were thinking about the players on the field.
"It's for the All-Stars, because they were loved enough to play today," she said, pausing from her impromptu arrangement. "Words that I hear usually trigger something. A name will trigger an association with a song. I always had a gift for music by ear, so I play songs based on whatever I hear or see."
Faust is one of the great traditions in baseball, and Tuesday night she is a great tradition within another one. She began playing the organ at White Sox games at old Comiskey Park in 1970, and the only home games she has missed since then were the five games she skipped for the birth of her son Eric, now 20.
This isn't Faust's first All-Star Game behind the keyboard in Chicago, but she said this has special meaning.
"It's quite a privilege, because unlike the last time it's a position to which I had to be invited," she said. "Even the P.A. man has to be invited by Major League Baseball now. They could have brought in another organist if they wanted."
Or they could have done without an organist. Faust is a throwback to a day in which ballpark organists were commonplace. Today there is a tendency in many places toward loud rock and hip-hop over the stadium speakers, a pop cacophony that keeps the mood charged before and after pitches. There is no way to describe the comforting feel that you got Tuesday night listening to Faust's music, reaching all genres in this sold-out setting.
"The climate has changed somewhat," she said. "I'm just delighted to still be around."
Fans here certainly are. There also is no way to appreciate how popular she is unless you spend a little time in her open-air booth on the main concourse right behind home plate. Fans stop by regularly, and they bring this animal lover pictures of their dogs to put on her wall. As MLB.com was talking to Faust on Tuesday, her dentist stopped by and took a photo of her as she smiled a toothy grin. Another longtime fan came by to regale her with a story about a "marvelous confab" with Ernie Banks and Tommy Lasorda a few moments before. Everyone wants to see the person behind the music.
"I've been playing since I was 4," Faust says, explaining how she got here. "I went to North Park College in Chicago and was a psychology major, but my friends were baseball fans. When I graduated, the Sox had an organist position open and they hired me. It turns out that my friends had been writing them letters saying, 'I'm Nancy Faust.'"
Her favorite players after all these games? "Carlton Fisk," she says right away. Then she adds a couple: "Jerry Hairston and Richie Allen. I've got a bunch of them."
And she has a bunch of songs. Never the same. Another fan rises up directly in front of her booth and oozes praise for her previous set. "You got all the nuggets," he says. "I'm waiting for a little 'Badfinger' later."
"I remember when Rob Ducey was playing," Faust recalled. "A fan came up to me and said, 'Play the theme from 'I Love Lucy.'" And so she did. Does she have music picked out for Tuesday's All-Star at-bats? Of course.
"When Barry Bonds comes up, I'll play something from James Bond," she said. "Or something about money."
After entertaining generations of fans at the ballpark, how does Faust want to be remembered?
"As someone who added enjoyment to the total baseball experience," she said.
We just want to stop ... and thank you, baby.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.