ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Nestled in an industrial part of St. Paul, between noisy train tracks, sits possibly the ugliest ballpark in the country. But what Midway Stadium lacks in beauty, it makes up for in personality.
The last train to Midway is gone and the team is moving down the tracks to the trendy Lowertown neighborhood.READ MORE: MPD Officer Brian Cummings’ First Court Appearance Scheduled In Crash That Killed Leneal Frazier
It’s the place Joe Mauer became a champion in the state tournament. Since the year after Mauer was born, the field has been home to Hamline University.
Now, a new generation associates this place with a connection to a Hollywood star.
In the early 90s, Mike Veeck saw Midway’s potential for drawing a bigger crowd. Knowing the ballpark was good enough for high school and college baseball, he thought with a little work, it’d be good enough for minor leaguers too.
He bought the St. Paul Saints with three business partners, including his good friend, actor-comedian Bill Murray, who still remembers their first game.
“We advertised outdoor baseball and it drizzled through the entire game and no one left. They just stayed because they had waited so long for outdoor baseball,” Murray said.
The Saints have relied on shenanigans to draw a crowd. The first three words in their marketing plan are “fun is good!”
“There was a deal. We made a deal,” Veeck explained. “We kept prices low and kept entertainment and cheap theatrics high and they kept coming.”
From massage-giving nuns to mimes creating instant replays, the Saints experience is like none other. After all, it’s a pig that delivers the game ball.
With so much going on in the game, the team’s talent can fall to the bottom of the lineup. But the Saints are four-time league champions. 120 of their players moved on to the minor leagues.. 19 were called up to the majors.
Darryl Strawberry slugged out homers in a Saints jersey for part of the ’96 season.
After returning to the Yankees, the 8-time All-Star called his time in St. Paul “humbling.”
“It allowed me to find out who I really am as a person, it allowed me to have no pride, and it also allowed me to see that baseball was fun again,” Strawberry said in a 1997 interview.READ MORE: 'Purple Reigns In Minnesota': Minnesota Congress Making First Steps To Honor Prince
Also on the roster that year: Four time World Series champion and St. Paul native Jack Morris. He wore his hometown jersey while trying to impress the other ball club in Minneapolis.
“I was hoping the Twins would come back over and take a look at me,” said Morris. “I wanted to play another year with the Twins. It didn’t work out that way for me.”
Midway became the Field of Dreams for Ila Borders, the first woman to pitch in a men’s professional ball game.
While the Saints are infused with entertainment, concerts were a game changer for the ballpark.
“For the first time, people sat up and said ‘oh, there’s something happening there by the railroad tracks next to the state fair,” Veeck said.
Midway has hosted dozens of shows, from Hootie and The Blowfish to Blink 182. Even Minnesota’s most famous names like Bob Dylan and Soul Asylum took the stage.
The stadium officially closed Saturday on a local note. “The Replacements” reunited for a sell-out performance, all to say farewell
But this has always been a ballpark.
“I tell people all over the United States, this is the greatest baseball experience in America, this St. Paul experience,” said Murray.
So, what’s the new spirit of the St. Paul Saints now? They’ll just keep marching.
“You’re not going to replicate. It’s going to be a whole new experience with the same people that brought you the warmth and the joy that brought it here,” Veeck said.
The new $63 million Lowertown ballpark, called CHS Field, will have 7,000 seats. It should be ready for the Saints and Hamline University this spring.MORE NEWS: Minn.-Based Dairy Queen Takes Mass. Company To Court Over Use Of ‘Blizzard’ Name
Midway, however, will eventually be torn down and turned into new office and warehouse space.