Will St. Paul Saints Pay to Become Minnesota Twins Affiliate?
Image courtesy of Tom Froemming, Midway Stadium 2011The part of La Velle’s article (which I encourage you to read because it includes much more detail than what we’re going to go into here) that really struck me is that the Saints would have to pay to become a Twins affiliate. Perhaps as much as $20 million! La Velle did mention the Twins could ultimately pitch in to cover at least part of that cost.
This payment would go to Minor League Baseball, and is standard for new franchises, but this is not a typical franchise.
The Saints represent outlaw baseball. Behind owners Mike Veeck and Bill Murray, they established a quirky brand of minor league baseball and entertainment that has since been universally adopted across all levels of the minors. In addition to helping ballplayers continue their professional careers, they’ve even served as an opportunity for some amatures to stick it to Major League Baseball (most famously J.D. Drew in 1997).
The Saints also represented an opportunity for fans to stick it to MLB. Established in 1993, the Saints were well-positioned to embrace baseball fans who turned bitter from the 1994 strike. It also didn’t hurt that the Twins were terrible in the mid-90s.
It may be difficult to capture the original spirit surrounding the Saints these days, seeing as the team is such an established entity in the Minnesota baseball scene and plays in a gorgeous state-of-the-art ballpark in lowertown St. Paul. There’s nothing that really screams “outlaw” about that. Things have changed, and for the better. Midway Stadium (pictured above) definitely has its charms, but CHS Field is a gem.
Their brand of baseball and entertainment has always made the Saints a strong draw, but the new ballpark has really created a boom. In 2019, the Saints' average attendance was 8,061. Can you guess how many of the 160 affiliated minor league baseball teams beat that mark?
Taking a look at the Twins’ top two affiliates, the Red Wings averaged 6,846 fans and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, despite a jaw-droppingly beautiful stadium, averaged 4,354. These numbers are all from the excellent resource Ballpark Digest (affiliated attendance here, independent attendance here).
While the Saints are one of the most popular minor league baseball teams, most of their independent counterparts don’t have as much to boast about. Of the 40 indy league teams that operated in 2019, only five others attracted even half of the Saints’ average attendance, and four of those five play in a different league.
There’s no question the St. Paul Saints can stand on their own, but what about the rest of their current league? Will enough teams survive COVID-19 to keep the American Association afloat? I believe this will be among the biggest determining factors in whether or not the Saints will be interested in becoming an affiliate of the Twins, or any other MLB team for that matter.
At the same time, I’m not certain the American Association, which is based out of Moorhead, can survive without the Saints.
Veeck has expressed an openness to work with MLB, but is also keen to the fact that it may not be popular with some of their current base. Here’s what he told the Pioneer Press’ John Shipley in July:
“I think it would be fascinating to know, what do the fans think? Obviously, I would love to know the answer. What if you did a poll and said to the fans and said, ‘Would being a major league affiliate, aside from it being the Twins – with it just being a Double-A or Triple-A team – would it enhance the Saints or would it detract?’”
Outside of the fan perspective, I can’t imagine indy teams are looking at what MLB is doing to its current affiliates and thinking “gosh, I’d really like to go into business with them.” It all comes down to money, of course, but watching MLB ruthlessly cut 40 minor league teams out of affiliated ball has to make indy teams uneasy about aligning with them.
From the Twins’ perspective, this makes all the sense in the world. Having a minor league affiliate so close would be a great relief in terms of travel and transactions, and CHS Field has been lauded not only for the facility itself but also the playing surface. That may not sound like a big deal, but when you have guys on rehab assignments you don’t want to send them somewhere that has a sub-par field.
Aligning with the Saints would also effectively eliminate them as competition. You may not think of it this way, but the Twins and Saints are competing for attention from a similar fanbase in the same market. This is another thing that may be difficult to comprehend today, but it was definitely a factor in the mid-90s.
Personally, I’d love to have the opportunity to watch a Twins minor league affiliate without having to travel so far. I’m getting excited just thinking about it, to be honest. At the same time, I have to imagine things wouldn’t quite be the same with the Saints being an affiliated team. At the very least, they wouldn’t be able to do promotions like this one.
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