Fun-first Saints challenged with serious work of Twins' Class AAA affiliate
Can the Saints do the serious work of developing Class AAA prospects for a big-league team while honoring their longtime slogan, "Fun is Good"?
Photo By: JEFF WHEELER • JEFF.WHEELER@STARTRIBUNE.COM
MAY 3, 2021
Who knows what sort of stuff the Saints will cook up as the Twins’ Class AAA affiliate when the evidence of hijinks is right there on owner Mike Veeck’s face?
On Tuesday in Omaha, the St. Paul Saints will play their first game as a Minnesota Twins farm club. On May 11, the Saints will play their first home game as the Twins' AAA affiliate, at CHS Field.
The franchise known for pigs delivering baseballs to home plate and nuns giving massages — or is it the other way around? — is becoming part of the machine it once took delight in raging against.
Can the Saints do the serious work of developing prospects for a big-league team while honoring their longtime slogan, "Fun is Good"?
"I think the change will make us both better,'' said Saints president and co-owner Mike Veeck. "Left to our own devices, I think we can monetize things and introduce things that will make sense to all of Major League Baseball.
"That's what's exciting to me. We need change, desperately, as an overall industry. We need to appeal to kids and we need to do it quickly, fervently and passionately. Kids want to have fun. If we had 40 Fernando Tatis Juniors, it would be a whole different game.
"We have to cultivate a culture where people feel comfortable just throwing their arms up the way we did when we were all playing on the sandlot and driving in the winning run or impressing Sally Lou. That's what is at the heart of the game — it's a game. It's a game."
When the Saints came to St. Paul in 1993, the Twins were beginning an eight-season losing streak in a dank, indoor ballpark, the Metrodome, that they desperately wanted to leave. The Saints capitalized on the Twins' woes, offering frivolity and a place to drink beer in the sun.
“You can't go through everything we've done with this franchise without feeling a little bittersweet about the change. But this will be good. This will be good for everybody involved.”
Veeck was also running the Twins' Class A affiliate in Fort Myers. Relationships between Veeck's group and the Twins were both productive and awkward.
The Twins' move into Target Field after a decade of winning made them less sensitive. The Saints' move into CHS Field made them feel less like underdogs, less like rebels. Both ballparks are exceptional, and Twins executive Dave St. Peter and Veeck have much in common. They work endless hours, run quality organizations and love the game.
"This is all due to St. Peter, I'll say that," Veeck said. "He's a good fellow. And of course everybody feels that way about him because he worked his way up from the bottom and knows all aspects of the business."
Last summer, Veeck spoke with Twins owner Jim Pohlad and came away thinking that becoming a major league affiliate was a possibility. "He said, 'I really hope that this happens, and that some of your stuff will rub off on us,' " Veeck said. "I said, 'Well, the best marriages are the ones where each side improves.' I came away from that conversation saying, 'Boy, they've really brought this to a point where it could be real.' "
Now that it's real, Veeck promises to fight the good fight, which for him means pushing baseball away from its staid, ultra-serious past, and toward lighthearted entertainment.
He's not sure whether the Saints' between-inning stunts will be relegated to the stands and dugout tops. He just knows that there will be stunts.
Veeck was speaking on Monday afternoon from Charleston, S.C., where he and partners Bill Murray and Marvin Goldklang own and run the Charleston RiverDogs, who also celebrate Opening Day on Tuesday. Veeck said he and his partners may buy an independent league team that would allow them to continue their tradition of unfettered on-field hijinks.
As for the Saints, he doesn't see why having big-league-ready talent on the field should keep the Saints' loyal fans from enjoying traditional minor league stunts. And he hopes that the kind of people who work for the Saints "16 hours a day without thinking much about money" will find a gateway to the big leagues.
"You can't go through everything we've done with this franchise without feeling a little bittersweet about the change," Veeck said. "But this will be good. This will be good for everybody involved."
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Jim Souhan is a sports columnist for the Star Tribune. He has worked at the paper since 1990, previously covering the Twins and Vikings.