2022 Freitas Awards: St. Paul Saints (Triple-A)
When St. Paul decided on that as their slogan for the 2022 season, it was more to reinforce that, after nearly three decades as one of the gold standard franchises on the independent circuit, the parent Twins were letting them be . . . well, them.
But it could also certainly apply to yet another honor for an organization that has won more than a few of them. The St. Paul Saints are the Triple-A Freitas Award winners for 2022.
After thriving in the Northern League and then the American Association, the Saints continued to thrive in their second year as the Twins’ International League affiliate. That’s something that many in the organization credit to the fact that Minnesota did not want to change a unique brand that had been entertaining fans for nearly three decades.
“ ‘Fun is good’ is us, and we’ve stood on that rock for 30 seasons now, and it’s what we’ll continue to do,” said Chris Schwab, the Saints’ executive vice president of sales and operations.
“(The Twins) told us that, ‘Hey, don’t change because of us. We want you to be you.’ And we went back to the fans and said, ‘You’ve got to trust us on that one.’ ”
That they most certainly have.
The Saints finished 10th in the minor leagues in attendance with 473,911 fans in 2022, good for an average of 6,582 per night, a modest 9% increase over 2021.
It should come as no surprise that under Mike Veeck’s ownership, a franchise that has long prided itself on providing a different experience that can be a little edgy, a little mischievous—and often a lot silly—has continued to do just that with great success. The Saints have found a minor league niche in a major league market where there is no shortage of sports entertainment options.
“This fanbase has been willing to let us do some pretty stupid things and play along with us, and laugh along with us,” said Derek Sharrer, the Saints’ executive vice president and general manager.
“We’ve been fortunate that this community, this market, this fanbase has been willing to take risks with us.”
Now, as the organization looks to improve on yet another banner year, it just needs to find a way to get those same fans to come out in April, when the Minnesota winter is still in effect.
According to the team’s vice president and director of broadcasting and media relations Sean Aronson, from May 13, which was the traditional start date in the American Association, through Sept. 5, the team averaged 7,462 fans per night.
For a deep and customer service-focused staff that never seems to just rest on their successes, the new schedule that comes with being a Triple-A affiliate has presented challenges they’re willing to take on to make a 2023 campaign even better despite the conditions.
“Each year, we’re going to chip away and find ways to potentially partner on different things we can utilize to bring more fans in and bring more awareness to the game,” said Sierra Bailey, the Saints’ vice president of brand marketing and experience.
“There’s always things you can build on and improve upon. We’ve already started brainstorming, and I don’t think that will ever stop on how to sell April baseball . . . Is it heat lamps? Is it hot cocoa? Is it free this or that? But we’re going to keep throwing things out there and see what sticks.
“Whatever does, we’ll build on that year after year.”