ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — In the 1990s and into the new millennium the St. Paul Saints were, in many respects, the only outdoor game in town.
But times have changed with the Minnesota Twins going outdoors at Target Field. So is there still a reason to journey to St. Paul for baseball?
The pied piper of St. Paul baseball is still excited about his team. But even Saints president Mike Veeck realizes there is competition across the river.
“The one thing that the Twins definitely have done is they took every group in Minnesota that we had counted our own for years and had them come out and see the new building last year,” Veeck said.
But you have to have context to understand it. By minor league standards, St. Paul is still a peril.
“It’s probably the best place I’ve played so far in the minor leagues. I mean, just keep doing what they’re doing here,” said Saints pitcher Caleb Thielbar
The fans still come out. Maybe not quite as many but they come for the same reasons that made this game work in St. Paul.
“I think it’s just a better atmosphere overall. I’ve been to a few Twins games and Twins are good, they’re fun to watch but things are a little expensive and there’s something just nice about minor league ball,” said Saints fan Jim Howland.
It seems this group of fans has matured with the times — no longer is a hot dog and nachos considered gourmet.
“We do a lot of smoothies … non-fat lattes,” said concession worker Phil Condon.
Adjusting to life for a kid who grew up without roots, living in 17 difference places during his childhood, is nothing new to Veeck. Each day a different challenge but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
“It’s not hard to compete against. That would be easy to say and I’d be copping a plea. I mean the Twins have the best ballpark in the country and that’s a formidable task but we market a whole different product. We sell fun, they sell major league baseball,” said Veeck.
His long-term solution is to change Midway Stadium; he’d like his own new ballpark. He, like many others, is having a difficult time getting a listen from a capitol that is now shut down.
“It suddenly makes the ballpark pursuit not as important … we’re the only operators in the country who have no leverage. It’s not like we’re going to threaten people, ‘Hey, we’re going to move to Burnsville if we don’t get a new ballpark,” said Veeck.
For many the natural is partnering with the Gophers, a program that wants its own digs with schedules that don’t conflict.
“We spent two years courting them and never say never, it’s never too late. It makes the most sense. I think maybe they’re too far down the track, we’re certainly not but it makes more sense than anything,” said Veeck.
On this day, the world feels right with blue sky and baseball — the way it’s supposed to be with a decent team and a decent price.
But the reality is it’s a new day and the Saints hope they have a future that resembles the past.
“We had 18 glorious years of being the only game in town outside and now we’ve got to earn our stripes and I like the challenge. I think its fun,” said Veeck.