Georgia baseball organist Sir Foster was front and center when the NBA’s suspension sparked an avalanche of professional and collegiate league suspensions on March 11.
He was nestled behind a circular keyboard at the Atlanta Hawks’ State Farm Arena with his fingers on the keys when the news broke.
“That was the most surreal thing,” Foster said. “I never thought I would see something like that.”
In tandem with fellow organist Matthew Kaminski, Foster has been a familiar name announced by the Foley Field PA system for the past six years. But the Fort Valley native landed his first stadium gig in 2009 when he became the resident keyboardist for the Hawks.
Now, as the coronavirus pandemic has infected virtually every facet of the sports world, Georgia baseball — organists included — has found itself treading water.
“Even during the crash of 2008-2009, people could say ‘Hey, we’re doing less of what we do because budgets are shorter, but we’re still doing it,’” Foster said. “But I’ve never seen it where it’s an open-ended crisis where we don’t know how long this is going to go.”
The lack of sports, while professionally threatening to Foster, has eliminated a reassuring extracurricular comfort. Like many whose TV habits veer strongly toward sports, he feels adrift in a March entirely vacant of college basketball’s March Madness, the MLB’s opening day and the NBA’s race to the postseason.
For the first time in his memory, Foster said the usual late-summer sports slump has arrived unnaturally early. And for the first time in a decade, he won’t be providing a home field boost to either his professional or collegiate employers.
Foster came to national attention at the 2014 NBA All-Star game, putting on a show “during which his innovative style took over social media,” Paige Kleffner, associate director of promotions for the UGA Athletic Association, said in an email.
Upon discovering Foster lives in Atlanta, the promotions department wasted no time inviting him to perform at a few Georgia baseball games that spring.
“The relationship just kind of went from there,” Foster said.
Foster went on to play at five consecutive NBA All-Star weekends from 2014-2018, all the while extending his talents throughout Georgia athletics.
After sharing some of the material he’d produced DJing for his alma mater’s football team, the Fort Valley State University Wildcats, Foster landed a job mixing tracks at Sanford Stadium and Stegeman Coliseum basketball games beginning in 2018.
Sold-out Saturdays attracted the largest and most thunderous crowds to experience a Sir Foster performance, but the slower pace and more low-key setting of Foley Field offered challenges of its own.
“I know the rules of baseball,” Foster said. “But knowing when to play music in baseball is a completely different science than just knowing ‘OK, that’s a home run, that’s a triple.’ … Once I got over that, I was able to find out how to be myself while still giving the game what it needed.”
Keffler said Foster’s eclectic style, informed by his non-baseball background, contrasts with “the traditional ballpark organ atmosphere” provided by Kaminski, whose other job is with the Atlanta Braves.
“Sir Foster is a great change of pace that provides our fans with some variety,” Kleffner said via email.
Trained in piano and saxophone, Foster has also recorded two hip-hop studio albums, “The Next World Record Holder” (2015) and “Stadium Music” (2019), which showcase the trap-rap and even reggaeton themes.
Foster said last year’s album was “almost 100% inspired by [his] jobs in sports” — jobs that, until further notice, have evaporated into the swelling cloud of the coronavirus pandemic.
While several of Georgia’s 2020 home games opened with Foster’s instrumental version of the “Star Spangled Banner,” filled with low bass tones and his own harmonic sprinklings, both the well-groomed diamond and the press box of Foley Field will remain empty as the spring semester proceeds off-key.