The Saints: Our Best Baseball

The Minnesota Saints ballpark in Saint Paul is nestled among railroad tracks, the wreck of a building where the fire department trains its novices to quench fires, and the viaduct that lifts Snelling Avenue over Bandana Square. Not a great spot, you say? Au contraire. There is no dome overhead. A brindled pig scampers onto the field between innings. Trains pulled by old engines tootle past. It’s one of my favorite ball parks.

I know: this is not the opinion of a true afficionado. My glance strays far too often from the field. I inspect families with children: a baby with a pink skull cap under a pink hood looks like a laughing pretend-monk, eating a crust. Two boys are gifted with sudden glory: Saints t-shirts, half on, half off, threatening to drown them. I study men’s faces–deeply indented or flattened; rising out of necks into lozenges or siting like balls on their shoulders; their expressions–smug, serious or snide, smiling or rapt with anticipation. I listen to men shouting at the field; women laughing at each other.

OK: there is a game going on. After initial flubs, the Saints seem to be winning. There are some dynamite throws from home plate across the pitcher who bends down just in time. The ball put out runners stealing first to second. There are some excellent ground balls whacked far enough into the outfield to allow runners to gain first or second. But the sky is clearing. A second train chugs past with “Canadian Pacific” and “Burlington Northern” cars. I’ve been in love with trains since my mother took me and my sister on two-night-three-day trips from Charleston, South Carolina to Hankinson, North Dakota, her hometown. Trains signal the romance of unfurling landscape, stops in cities where puffing and huffing “I Think I Can, I Think I Can” engines gather their resources. Railroads, far more than highways, made the fortunes of this region. You can sleep on trains.

The Saints put on laugh-a-thons between innings: two portly young ladies dressed in animal costumes place their foreheads on bats standing upright on the field, then they twirl themselves silly, and stagger across a bit of field, to retrieve something or other. Soon they’re rolling on the grass. We can see this all close-up. No one sits far from the field. We love it that our “friends and neighbors” are willing to entertain us. Once or twice, years ago at the Saints, my husband and I saw “The Chicken,” but really, the Saints’ rendition of an pig in a tutu is as flirtatious and silly as Ted Giannoulas in his saucy beak and tail.

Threatening clouds have cleared. OK: it’s chilly. But the sky is now streaked with pink horsetail clouds. That soft magical light of sunset bathes the scene. Another train passes and toots. The silly pig, no more than a toddler who still drinks from a bottle, scampers out on the field again. This time the pig is wearing bunny ears. We love it that a farm animal, who’s likely smart and no-question adorable, is willing to come visit with us. We remember a Baltimore pork-butcher grandfather whose pet pig followed him to school. There’s a moment of remorse: pigs are as smart as humans, they just don’t have opposable thumbs. We’re ready to swear off pork chops, at least for one evening when the world seems made to order for amusement and charm.

The Saints want a new ballpark, my husband mentions. Phooey! They couldn’t find a better location than this. Heaven forbid they’d end up in the suburbs. We want an urban experience, spiced just right with Minnesota nice and tom-foolery. We like to remember that there used to be a ballpark at Lexington Avenue and University where minor league teams played including the All American Girls Professional Baseball Team with a team called the Minneapolis Millerettes. We like remembering the book I wrote about them: Up to the Plate, published by Lerner in 1995.

All in all, we couldn’t be happier than this one evening with the Saints.

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