Monday, August 27, 2012

Midway Stadium

All photos of Minneapolis and Midway Stadium available on Flickr.

One thing I've learned in the past month is that if there's something in your life you're meant to do, ignoring that inclination is fooling nobody but yourself.  For Erik, I know one of those things has always been moving back to Minnesota.  I know that he loved it there and has really missed it since college.  This past weekend was finally the moment when he got to reunite with the Twin Cities, and I helped him move up there.  Erik and I have both lived as nomads since The Tour, but hopefully he can settle into a nice life there now, and I wish him the best of luck.

Now, when I say "I helped him move," really it was just dragging a mattress and a suitcase up the stairs.  Most of our time was filled with ballgames, and a healthy amount of beer.  A lot of the details of Friday night are blurry, but I do remember that it was the most fun I've had in a long time, and that we identified many key watering holes near his apartment that we will be frequenting upon my next visit.  Saturday was a more standard E & P day - Food Show eatery, brewery, ballpark.  After trying to recollect the evening, we eventually stumbled to Kramarczuk's, the Eastern European deli that provides the sausages for nearby Target Field, and has also gained national notoriety from its appearance on Diners Drive-Ins & Dives.  There is both a restaurant part and an actual delicatessen, and it was pretty spectacular.  A lot of the foods there I remember from my German and Polish heritage, just with different weird Croatian names.  We then made our way to Fulton Brewery, across the street from Target Field.  This is a local brewery that just opened this year; it was started by four guys who homebrewed in a garage and decided to take their passion to the next level.  I didn't really enjoy the beer fully because I was still in pain from the night before, but the space has a lot of potential.  At this point, we figured since we were gradually inching our way towards the ballpark anyways, we might as well take a lap.  We noticed a few new subtle additions around the exterior and then hit the team store.  You can't go to the ballpark in Minneapolis and not go to Hubert's, so we paid our respects there for a drink, and then headed east to Saint Paul.

Midway Stadium is one of a handful of ballparks that we attended in the dark "pre-blog" days, and this weekend was our first visit back together since 2006.  It was built in 1982 and apparently derives its name from being "midway" between the Minneapolis and St. Paul city centers.  I always thought it was because it is near the Midway of the Minnesota State Fair, but not according to Wikipedia.  The St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association are in their 20th season as a tenant of Midway Stadium.  It is not a stretch to say that the Saints pretty much put independent league baseball on the map, and helped create the template for the family-fun atmosphere of baseball as it is today.  This is due in large part to the famously wacky yet visionary ownership group of Bill Murray and Mike Veeck, son of Bill Veeck, who still own the team today and helped revive several dying independent leagues.  Another reason the atmosphere is crazy is to compensate for factors that would run just about any other team into the ground: awful stadium, crappy site, surprisingly higher prices, and a big league team with a beautiful ballpark 10 miles away.  The Saints have always been able to draw well because of their good humor and fun promotions, because certainly nobody is going out there to experience Midway Stadium.  It's cramped, it has poor circulation, and it is well beyond its functional life as a modern ballpark.  In fact, Veeck has proudly proclaimed that Midway is the "ugliest stadium in America" and they have promotions celebrating this fact.  A good example of St. Paul Saints humor is that the PA guy makes light of the fact that the stadium is inconveniently wedged 20 feet from an industrial rail line by yelling "Train!" as one passes by, which is often.  The St. Paul franchise truly is one of the innovators, and all the antics and promotions you've ever witnessed at a minor or independent league game are a dumbed-down version of the Saints. 

The Saints played a 4-game series with playoff implications against the Winnipeg Goldeyes, formerly of the now defunct Northern League, and Erik and I went to two of those four games.  Saturday night was a tribute to "20 Years of David Letterman" to coincide with the Saints' 20th season.  It was a matchup of staff aces, and unfortunately the Goldeyes' pitcher had the better night, nearly tossing a complete game.  Long-time Saint Ole Sheldon had a homerun for the hometeam and has developed a ridiculous Craig Counsell ca. 2007 batting stance since I Iast saw him play in 2010.  The most memorable part of the game was that Michael Coles of the Goldeyes got hit by pitches twice on the same hand and somehow stayed in the game.  Erik and I were both very surprised that there were not fireworks after the game, we've come to expect that now, but as I said before the Saints really go by the beat of their own drum.  Sunday's match was a hot one and we had to keep cool with several frosty Killebrews following our tailgate in the street.  Winnipeg won again to take a 2-1 lead in the series.  The starting pitchers were about average and there was a lot more offense in this game.  The Goldeyes hit a lot of high fly balls to the outfield, and two of them left the yard, including Barbaro Canizares' first of the year to dead-center.  The Saints staged another threat in the 9th as they did on Saturday night but fell 8-2.  Sunday's loss left the Saints 2 back of the Goldeyes for the wildcard spot as the season comes to an end on Labor Day.

Despite everything fans love about the unique atmosphere, in the end it's still about turning a profit, so the team is pushing to procure financing from the state to build a new ballpark in downtown St. Paul to make the team a little bit more viable.  So, to experience the real atmosphere of a Saints game, you might want to get out there in the next couple of years. Because, as we've seen with new parks like Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, it is often difficult to recreate the experience when moving into a new facility - although the Saints do definitely deserve an upgrade, and the schematic design looks amazing.  I look forward to dragging Erik out of the library during a potential return visit to see the new stadium.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 2
views from park - 4 (increases to 10 when fire dept test building is on fire)
view to field - 4 (lots of foul ground)
surrounding area - 2 (Minnesota State Fair)
food variety - 5
nachos - 3
beer - 5 ($5.50 for 16 oz, local brews, souvenir cup)
vendor price - 5
ticket price - 3 ($13 box seat)
atmosphere - 9
walk to park - 3 (lawn next to train yard)
parking price/proximity - 4 (adjacent lot $6, street is free)
concourses - 1
team shop - 6 (only a tent but cool stuff)

best food - steak sandwich
most unique stadium feature - trains rolling by during game
best jumbotron feature - PBR ad
best between-inning feature - "Karaoke with a real Japanese guy"

field dimensions - 320/400/320
starters - Andrew Walker (WPG) v. Robert Coe (STP); Chris Salamida v. Luke Anderson
opponent - Winnipeg Goldeyes
time of game - 2:50; 2:56
attendance - 6041; 5070
score - 5-2 L; 8-2 L
Brewers score that day - 4-0 L; 7-0 W

Brewers 59-67, -16.5 (4 @ Cubs, 3 v. Pirates)
Reds 77-52, +6.0 (3 @ Diamondbacks, 3 @ Astros)
Twins 52-75, -19.5 (4 v. Mariners, 3 @ Royals)

Erik - 28
Peter - 38

No comments: