Organist Nancy Faust walked away from the White Sox with a World Series ring, a personalized bobblehead of her in action at the keyboard, a fan letter from President Obama and 41 years of great memories. Today, for the first time since 1969, Faust will take in the White Sox home opener from somewhere other than her organ perch at the ballpark.
"There is a great likelihood I'll be in front of the television set," Faust says from her home in rural Mundelein where she lives with her longtime husband, Joe, and a menagerie that includes their dog, Patches; Harold the rooster and his hen, Black Raspberry Jam Jenkins; perennial visiting Canada geese, Ringo and Starr; and Faust's beloved trained donkey, Mandy. An avid animal lover, Faust took home her first donkey after no one claimed the living prize in a contest hatched by colorful Sox owner Bill Veeck.
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Like most legends who retire from baseball on their own terms, Faust, 64, admits to being torn.
"Sometimes your heart and your head conflict with each other," she says. "Sure, I'll miss it."
She and her husband still operate Faust Organ Rental and Faust plays for private events ("I'm learning 'Heartbreaker' for a 40th birthday party"). She hasn't played her trademark version of the song she calls "Na, Na, Goodbye" since she wowed a Lions Club convention in Itasca a couple of weeks ago. But she can't shut off her baseball talent. When she hears the name of new Sox outfielder Lastings Milledge, her head and heart command her to play "This Will Be the Last Time."
As a cute, 22-year-old blond hired by Veeck at the start of the 1970 season, Faust reinvented the role of a ballpark organist by incorporating rock and pop songs into her repertoire.
"I remember sitting there, thinking, 'This is the greatest job in the world,'" says Faust, a psychology major and music minor with a great memory, quick wit and able fingers. "I had the right outlet for the one thing I could do."
She credits her husband and fans with helping her think of clever songs. Sometimes her song fit the player, such as when she serenaded Sox all-star Dick Allen in the early 1970s by playing "Superstar." Other times, Faust's tunes were riddles requiring the fans to play along. Fans laughed and felt in on the joke when they figured out the song "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" was a play on the name of player Pete Incaviglia, or that Faust's rendition of "I Could Have Danced All Night" for Chone Figgins was a "My Fair Lady" reference to the character Professor Higgins, which rhymes with Figgins. Faust drew bilingual chuckles when she greeted visiting Cub Henry Blanco with "A Whiter Shade of Pale."
Always available to fans, Faust took requests. Acquiescing to tastes beyond the literary library of most baseball fans, Faust once followed a fan's suggestion to welcome Detroit Tiger Brandon Inge with The Hollies' song "Bus Stop" in reference to the classic work "Bus Stop" by playwright William Inge. The next day, two fans excitedly rushed up to Faust to tell her that connection was brilliant.
"I guess I made three people happy," Faust says. "The fan who suggested it and those two."
The personal connections follow her into retirement. Fans turned into friends. Faust became part of their extended family.
"I saw generations of people come and go," says Faust, whose "office" at the ballpark was packed with photos of her fan family. "These families would come in with their kids, and their kids would come in with their kids. There are a number I'll probably always stay in touch with."
Faust and her husband recently spent time in Arizona with musician Roland Hudson, who has the distinction of filling in for Faust when she missed five games due to the birth of her son, Eric, now a 27-year-old engineer in Chicago. Eric, who also plays percussion in an orchestra, took his first baby steps on the outfield grass of the old Comiskey Park.
"They've always treated me beautifully," Faust says of the White Sox owners and management. She'll go to some games this year, but she doesn't want to cause added pressure for her replacement, Lori Moreland, the 52-year-old organist from Our Lady of Knock Roman Catholic Church in South suburban Calumet City. Faust remembers how, when she started her Sox career, some fans circulated a petition demanding the Sox bar a woman from being the ballpark organist. Now, she's a legend.
Or, as No. 1 Sox fan Barack Obama wrote in a letter sent in November to Faust's home: "Over the course of your career, you have demonstrated the ability of music to harness the energy of a crowd, capture the excitement of a moment and leave a lasting mark on our memories. Baseball remains our national pastime and I hope you take pride in the role you have played in enriching this American experience for players and spectators alike."
Faust says she hopes fans embrace the new organist. But it's clear that we fans aren't quite ready to sing "Na, na, na, na. Na, na, na, na. Hey, hey, hey. Goodbye" to baseball's greatest organist.