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Behind the scenes at Target Field: an interview with Organist Sue Nelson

Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images

We all go to Target Field to see the players. We want to watch Eddie Rosario slap home runs, Byron Buxton make dazzling catches in centerfield, or Willians Astudillo just be Willians Astudillo. However, the on-field product is just a small part of what goes on at Target Field on a game day. Hundreds of employees within the ballpark are working to give you a great game experience.

During games, Target Field is a regular schoolyard as far as sounds go. It’s a beautiful melting pot of the noises of America’s pastime. Fans talking and cheering, the announcer announcing, the beer man shouting, the crack of the bat, and music fill the air. Some of the music you’ll hear on pop radio, but some of it is different. It leads us to stand up and yell “charge!” or clap our hands. Whether you know it or not, the Twins have a cheerleader and her name is Sue Nelson. The cheery organist has been a fixture for the Twins for 20 years, smiling on the organ even as players and managers and executives have come and gone. I had the chance to chat with the 74-year-old Minnesota native about her unique baseball job. Here’s some of the best excerpts from the interview.

Jonathan Gamble: “How long have you been playing organ for the Twins for?”

Sue Nelson: “I started in 1999.”

JG: “And you played for the North Stars before that?”

SN: “North Stars hockey, my first game was March 18th, 1981.”

JG: “How many games have you missed over the years?”

SN: “Well the first year I missed a few, and then our daughter got married on gameday, and she wasn’t the favorite daughter for awhile [chuckles], but then after awhile she was the favorite again—I mean, no, she’s not necessarily the favorite, she’s one of the favorites. I missed a few that first year—I kinda shared the job with Jeff Victor but then what happened was he found out it wasn’t a very good value for his time [chuckles]. The games sometimes take a long time and you can’t say ‘I have another job at 6:00’ because sometimes the games take awhile.”

JG: “Do you prefer the Dome or Target Field?”

SN: “The Dome was fine I guess- the Dome was good for one thing, and one thing in the world, and that was Twins Fest. It was really really good for Twins Fest. Did you ever get to a Twins Fest?”

JG: “Yeah! I went to a couple when it was in the Dome.”

SN: “That was really nice because you could do absolutely everything, and they had so many different things. That was just really cool. But, and it’s fine at Target Field, but it’s just harder. I just love it because you get to talk to so many people and in the middle of winter it’s so fun to have Twins Fest. But, I just volunteer, and go to whichever corner, you know, and get to talk to people.”

JG: “But at the Dome, you were back in your little room for the organ playing, right?

SN: “Yeah, and that was fine because, well, the organist before me didn’t ever have company. He really liked being on the headset and talking to the old guys and have a cigar- you know, it was just a different era. It was also when he was on the headset with Bob Casey, and some of the higher up guys on the Twins. When I started the next year, I had friends and relatives that always wanted to come up, and then pretty soon the ushers would say, ‘Oh hey, you’re walking around, you wanna go up and see the organist?’ or ‘Where are you from? Oh, you’re from Texas?! Do you wanna go up and see the organist?’ There were times in those years when they wouldn’t let people from the upper level come down to the lower level, and even in the football press box, I was still on the lower level. It was nice, it wasn’t big like mine is now, but it was a different view. When I moved to Target Field, I had to learn to look at it the opposite way, from behind home plate [Sue is now situated in the 2 Gingers Pub behind home plate]. Because in the football press box it was just like on TV. I would see just exactly that same view. I could call strikes from my room. But I just love Target Field, it’s so beautiful. I don’t care about the cold, the rain, the snow, or whatever, it’s just gorgeous.”

JG: “What are a couple of your favorite moments from over the years?”

SN: “The game that I remember the best was when we were playing the White Sox at the end of the year. Kansas City was playing up in Detroit- and we were gonna get in the playoffs, we won- but we were waiting to see whether Kansas City was going to beat Detroit, because we were gonna be the Wild Card [if Detroit won], so it was between that and the division title. We won the game, the team walked around and high-fived everybody, and they put the Detroit game on TV, and I played the organ to the game on TV, and people cheered along with me, which was just unreal. It was the most exciting game. The other two best games I remember are Opening Day at Target Field on April 12, 2010. We beat the Red Sox 5-2. Also the All-Star Game at Target Field on July 15, 2014. Way way fun games.”

On Joe Mauer:

SN: “Someday you’ll tell your grandkids you saw him play!”

On Joe Mauer coming out to catch in his last game:

SN: “I cried the whole time because I knew he was gonna do that, I heard that beforehand that that was what was gonna happen.”

Sue has been able to combine two of her greatest passions in her job- the Twins, and people. She is one of the kindest and happiest people you’ll ever meet, and she does what she can to provide a great gameday experience at Target Field. So next time you visit the ballpark, remember to yell “Charge!” at her prompting, and maybe spend an inning chatting with her in the 2 Gingers Pub behind home plate. She would love to talk to you. The on-field product may still be the big draw to the ballpark, but Sue Nelson is one of the ordinary people that make Target Field a special place.