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Zulgad: Saints becoming Twins’ Triple-A affiliate will give CHS Field the tenant it deserves

Royce Lewis
Minnesota Twins shortstop Royce Lewis plays during a summer camp intrasquad baseball game Friday, July 16, 2020 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

CHS Field opened as the St. Paul Saints’ new home in the spring of 2015. The ballpark in the Lowertown District of St. Paul proved to be a gem, a boutique venue with a capacity of 7,210 and plenty of other spaces, including a left field berm, and areas for fans to wander around, grab a beer and, maybe, even watch some of the game.

This was a long way from the Saints’ original home, Midway Stadium, which the team had occupied since its inaugural season in 1993. That was when the independent league team introduced fans to pigs delivering baseballs to umpires, nuns providing massages and countless other off-the-wall promotions. The Saints’ timing was perfect. The Twins were entering a downward spiral that would last the remainder of the ’90s, and the Saints offered baseball and beer in the sunshine.

It wasn’t the quality of the on-field product that made the Saints special, it was the experience of going to run-down Midway Stadium and enjoying an experience the Twins could not offer playing under the Metrodome’s Teflon roof. The Saints and Midway were a perfect fit for many reasons, including the opportunity to tailgate in the parking lot before games just as Twins, Vikings and Kicks fans had done in the 1970s at Met Stadium.

That’s what made the first trip to CHS Field so eye-opening. This ballpark deserved a better tenant than an independent league baseball team that was more into gimmicks than player development.

On Wednesday, that issue was rectified when it was announced that the Saints will become the Triple-A affiliate for the Twins beginning in 2021. There had been plenty of speculation about this in recent weeks as Major League Baseball worked to revamp and downsize its relationship with minor league teams. It already had been announced that the minor league team in Rochester, N.Y., no longer would be affiliated with the Twins.

That means instead of having players at the highest minor league level make the flight between Rochester and Minneapolis, they can now jump in a car and make the 10.6-mile drive on Interstate 94 either from St. Paul to Minneapolis or vice versa. More importantly, the Twins’ top prospects will be on display for much of the spring and summer for Minnesota sports fans to watch. You might have to wait to see Royce Lewis, Trevor Larnach and Jordan Balazovic at Target Field, but will still have the ability to watch them at CHS Field.

As the Twins made their way through the pandemic-shortened season, the one thing that was made easier was the ability to summon or send players to what amounted to a minor league base at the Saints’ facility in St. Paul. There were no minor league games being played so each team had a group of prospects working out nearby. The Twins’ other minor league affiliates in 2021 will be in Wichita (Double-A), Cedar Rapids (high-A) and Fort Myers (low-A).

There will be some Saints fans who won’t like this change, who loved the fact that for years Saints co-owner Mike Veeck relished in fact that he wasn’t beholden to organized baseball and stuck it to the guys in suits every chance he got. The Saints say not much will change but we shall see. There is no question the Midway Stadium days were great fun, both in the stadium or drinking a cold one (or two) in the parking lot. And, if you watched some of the game, all the better.

The move to CHS Field altered that. This ballpark deserved a team where the game on the field mattered and wasn’t simply part of the show. That now will be the case.