If you’re a fan of either minor league baseball or independent league baseball, namely the St Paul Saints team, you’ve probably read the headline of this story (or a similar headline) before. “The Saints could be a minor league team.” “They’re so close to the Twins’ home stadium, it’s perfect.” “They have the attendance figures to do it.”
Over the past year, those thoughts have been louder and louder. Major League Baseball announced this winter that it plans to cut 42 teams from its Minor League Baseball system and re-align the remaining affiliates to be regional to their home team as much as possible. Not only that, but the Saints franchise was called out as being one that could be a new affiliate, most likely one for the Minnesota Twins due to its proximity to Target Field. So the Saints said “hell yeah”, right?
In mid-October last year when this was initially brought up, the Saints organization was “flattered... humbled”, but no.
In late January this year, Betsy Helfand of the St Paul Pioneer Press wrote about the MiLB contraction and what it means for the Twins. Elizabethton is on the chopping block and St Paul was mentioned like before. Yet again, the Saints commented that they’re humbled, but that they “take pride in their independent status”. Not only that, but they had not been contacted about becoming affiliated.
It’s brought up again in mid-April by Minneapolis Star Tribune writer Jim Paulsen. Again, the Saints commented, “We’ve had very little to do with this other than our name being mentioned.” So... no.
And once again, it’s brought up last week by John Shipley of the Pioneer Press. And once again, St Paul ownership said... wait... maybe?
Owner Mike Veeck said that the Saints could join the affiliate ranks - “with the right club”.
First, what makes the Saints such an enticing franchise to add to a major league organization?
The Saints have made the playoffs ten times since the American Association began play in 2006, winning their first American Association championship last season. Add nine times - four championships, including in their inaugural season - while in the now-defunct Northern League, and it’s easy to say with confidence that the St Paul is in the playoffs consistently. Independent leagues can be so volatile, and this consistency of making the playoffs is not often seen.
CHS Field is newer and attendance is fantastic. CHS Field is celebrating its fifth year of existence this season, even though the Saints are not using it as their home field right now. St Paul called Midway Stadium home since 1993 through 2014 beforehand, and it was still a decent place to call home. I haven’t seen CHS in person, but have heard that is a beautiful ballpark, which can certainly draw people to the game. Speaking of attendance, games have drawn an average of 8,000 fans per game. For the past five seasons. As in 8,000 or more tickets sold on average... per game... since CHS Field opened up the gates. The capacity of CHS Field is 7,210. The Saints drew more fans to a game than the Tampa Bay Rays’ lowest paid attendance figure one game - and that was without a hurricane barrelling towards Florida.
So what puts butts in seats in St Paul? The Saints are well-known for their promotions. Independent leagues generally do not have any television revenue to feed off of. It’s all about getting people to buy tickets, get in the gate to watch the game, buy hot dogs and booze, and - if you’re like me - a scorecard. Besides a baseball game, indy teams usually put on some type of antics during the game. Maybe they’ll bring in a semi-nationally-known act, like jugglers or balancing acts to entertain the crowd during inning breaks. Games where there’s a fireworks show afterwards are typically a sold out or over capacity.
This is where the Saints go above and beyond. Veeck is no stranger to crazy promotions. His father, Bill Veeck, was owner of the Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Browns, and the Cleveland ballclub during his life. The elder Veeck was known to introduce new ideas to baseball: names on the back of players’ jerseys, fancy scoreboards that lit up and had sounds, fireworks when a home player hit a home run, and more. He pushed Harry Caray to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, which became a staple of games at Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field.
The younger Veeck followed his father. The Saints have had many interesting promotions and gimmicks to get people to come to the game. Their mascot is a pig, and it brings out the game balls before each game. Have you had a pillow fight at a baseball game? And was it the world’s largest pillow fight? How about a food fight? Promotional giveaways have included neckties with Bud Selig’s face on them, poking fun at the result of the 2002 MLB All-Star Game; a rubber boat to jab at the Minnesota Vikings for their boat scandal; a promotional night for athiests; an exhibition game with a judge and jury made up of Little League teams instead of having umpires. The list goes on and as crazy as it is, it brings people to the game.
The Saints have proven themselves to be a great addition to any farm system. Would it hurt the American Association? Probably not. Although the AA has lost four teams in the past five years, they’ve added two new teams. (Off on a side note in case you want to check if I’m being truthful: one of the teams that folded, the Wichita Wingnuts, folded as the city did not renew the team’s lease. In fact, the stadium was torn down and the New Orleans Baby Cakes team would have started play this season in Wichita. Another team - the Joplin Blasters - folded and were replaced for one year with a traveling team, the Salina Stockade.)
With MLB’s plans to drastically change the minor leagues, the independent league landscape could also change drastically, and for the better. If 40-plus teams are removed from the MiLB ranks, that means hundreds of players are out of work. It would not be surprising to see new independent leagues forming or even teams joining existing indy leagues prior to 2021, depending if MLB follows through with its overhaul of the MiLB. If the Saints do choose to join the affiliated ranks, there would probably be a team (or five) to even out the alignment in the American Association.
Now the question begs: Which farm system would the Saints join? It’s not as easy a question as you may think. St Paul has to be asked first and, according to Veeck, they haven’t been contacted. Shipley’s article quotes Veeck as saying the he and former president of the Twins, Andy McPhail, “never got along”, but has had “great relations” with current president Dave St Peter over the past decade or so.
Of course, having the Twins’ Double-A or Triple-A club sit 20 or so minutes across the river from Target Field would be quite ideal. Can you imagine it? Grab an afternoon matinee of the Twins beating the New York Yankees and then travel over to St Paul and watch the younger Twins beat the younger Yankees would be quite a day.
But is it something that we’ll see in the future? We’ll have to wait and see if the Twins knock on the Saints’ door and if the Twins are that right team.
Will the Saints join the minor-league ranks within five years?
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