ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- There’s a lot going on at the St. Paul Saints’ home of CHS Field, in addition to whatever may be taking place between the white lines. For a representative tableau, consider this: A pig delivering balls to the umpire in the midst of a dizzy bat
ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- There’s a lot going on at the St. Paul Saints’ home of CHS Field, in addition to whatever may be taking place between the white lines. For a representative tableau, consider this: A pig delivering balls to the umpire in the midst of a dizzy bat race, all while a team of costumed, prop-wielding “ushertainers” dance and lead cheers from atop the dugouts.
It’s Andrew Crowley’s job to provide the soundtrack for such idiosyncratic and ever-shifting scenes, perhaps making sense of the chaos, perhaps contributing to it. It’s a fine line. The Des Moines native and longtime Minnesotan, now in his 20th season as the Saints' musical director, plays keyboards and controls the in-house sound while nestled down the third base line in his open-air, second-level “Crow’s Nest.” From this perch he toggles between a setup that includes a Hammond SK1, Yamaha MX49, laptop, mixing board and walkie-talkie.
“It’s a pretty cool thing. It’s creating an underscore and being a cheerleader at the same time,” said Crowley, during the course of an interview punctuated by frequent auditory obligations and interruptions. “It really depends on the energy of what’s going on. You try to interpret the game itself, get a feel for the crowd, pump them up. I’m also deejaying here and I’m running sound, so I’ve got quite a few things going on.”
In addition to his work with the Saints, Crowley runs a recording studio, works as a composer and remains active in the Twin Cities music scene. He has a long background as a professional musician, which has included, as he puts it, “lots of bands.”
“Definitely rock, punk rock, alternative, metal and some jazz, believe it or not,” said Crowley. “One of them was a short-lived thing, Fat Tuesday. We wound up on Columbia for two albums. I was the lead singer. It was the early ‘90s. It was mildly successful. Someone just made a Wikipedia page for us, out of nowhere. It was a nice surprise.”
The Saints, established in 1993 as an independent team, are in their second season as the Twins' Triple-A affiliate. Crowley came aboard in 2003, when the team still played at Midway Stadium. (CHS Field opened in 2015.)
“I was involved in a lot of different things. For film, for documentaries, as a composer or an engineer,” he said. “But sports was something I had my eye on, was interested in, and I hadn’t been there yet. … I knew this guy who was the [Saints] PA announcer and we just got to talking. I just said, ‘Have you guys thought about adding an organist?’ It just kind of went from there.”
Live musical accompaniment is a comparative rarity in today’s Minor League Baseball landscape, as most teams use prerecorded songs and audio clips pumped over the PA via a press box control room. Crowley, who says that organ music is “almost as classic as a baseball bat,” enjoys improvising on the keys while interacting with fans and taking requests.
“It’s a good exercise in concentration,” he said. “I’ve always got to keep an eye out for a couple of things, but all in all it works out fine. It’s great to have visitors.”
The Saints, appreciative of Crowley’s contribution to the franchise’s aural fabric, staged a promotion in his honor this past May. In an accompanying video, executive vice president Derek Sharrer said that “The ballpark doesn’t feel complete without you doing what you do.” The team’s “Ballpark Music” page goes even further, claiming that Crowley’s “festive attitude makes players relax on the diamond and that relaxation has enabled them to play better, leading the team to a championship in both 2004 and 2019.”
Crowley isn’t about to take credit for the Saints' pair of titles, but he is proud of what he’s been able to contribute.
“Anything that’s helpful for the game, for the crowd, that’s great” he said. “Whenever we can connect, that’s my favorite riff of the moment.”
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.