After 15 Years, Saints Still Know How To Surprise

ST.PAUL–When you walk into the St. Paul Saints’ Midway Stadium, you know you’™re going to be in for a unique experience. It’s been the team’s trademark for 15 seasons, and any doubts are quickly erased by the large number of tailgaters who show up an hour or more before the game.

For my first chance to see a Saints game, I expected some zany promotions. I knew there would be a ball-toting pig (Garrison Squealor) and a nun giving massages.

But I never expected “Challenge A Grizzly Bear”.So when a guy in a grizzly bear costume, a random fan and a Saints employee toting a rifle stepped onto the field, I, and everyone in the stadium, was stumped.

Were the bear and the fan going to fight? Did the fan have to hunt the bear? Since the Saints always tweak the conventional, would the bear turn the tables and hunt the fan?

It ended up that the bear and the fan competed in performing a drill routine with the rifle (the fan won). It didn’t make any sense at all, which is probably part of the reasons why it was so funny. But more than anything else, it summed up the Saints philosophy’"be original, be fun and a be zany. But most of all, don’t do anything you’d see at any other minor league ballpark.

So the traditional mascot race around the bases has been replaced by Challenge A Grizzly. Blades Of Glory On Grass (figure skaters performing without skates) is featured, but you won’t find sumo wrestling. The fan of the game doesn’t get to sit in a recliner behind home plate’"they’re hung from a parachute harness on a billboard in right field. If they can make it through the entire game they get a free weekend stay at the sponsoring casino.

If they catch a home run while hanging they win $10,000, although no one has pulled off that feat yet.

Take the unique promotions, add in a crowd that seems more like a big family than a random gathering and 20 trains streaming by the ballpark every night and you get what is still one of the better ballpark experiences in the country.

The trains illustrated another part of the Saints’ charm. They aren’t unique to St. Paul, ballparks and railroads seem to go together maybe because land around rail yards isn’t exactly prime property, but the Saints revel in the noise’"the fans yell train every time another locomotive rolls down the tracks.

There are no skyboxes at the 25-year-old Midway Stadium, so the team unveiled new “club seats” this year’"they’re a couple of metal benches placed on the field between home plate and the visitor’s dugout behind a couple of gates. The concession stands are limited and relatively inconvenient, so the ballpark emphasizes its large number of vendors wandering the stands’"in t-shirts that read FREE BEER in big letters and (tomorrow) in small type below.

The park is old and lacks many modern conveniences that fans expect these days, but instead of trying to cover up the flaws, the Saints have figured out a way to make it a part of the team’s charm’"the fans get the joke and wink right along with the team.

It might not work everywhere, but in St. Paul it does, which makes for a nexperience that’s fun and very, very unique.