Midway Stadium will soon be gone and so will Bob Klepperich, ending a 58-year career at St. Paul ballparks.
Bob Klepperich recalls how his heart sank in October 1960 when he heard on the radio that the Washington Senators baseball team was moving to the Twin Cities, pushing the minor league St. Paul Saints out of town and all the way to Omaha.
Midway Stadium was losing its main tenant, which meant Klepperich would be losing his job as equipment manager for the Saints’ visiting teams, a position he had held since the summer of 1956 at old Lexington Park.
“That’s the end of the dream,” a devastated Klepperich thought.
Instead, it was just getting started.
Klepperich continued to work at Midway, moonlighting as assistant equipment manager for the fledgling Minnesota Vikings football team while at the same time launching a career as a St. Paul high school teacher. In 1982 he became manager of the city’s new Midway Stadium, which before long became home to a new and quirkier collection of Saints.
Now, after nearly six decades working at St. Paul’s municipal ballparks, the dream job is ending for good. The Saints’ season ends Thursday, and when they take the field next year it will be at a $63 million ballpark in downtown St. Paul. Klepperich won’t be with them; the management model for the new ballpark doesn’t have a place for him.
Few people will miss Midway, an aging park with funky charm but few amenities. But everyone at Midway, it seems, is going to miss Bob Klepperich.
“He was a second dad and mentor and inspiration to a whole group of people,” said St. Paul police commander Axel Henry, who started working on the grounds crew for Klepperich as a teenager in 1985 and continued there in college. “He was my first exposure to the outside world which confirmed and supported my dad’s words about hard work.”
Klepperich encouraged the Saints in 2004 to sign Jason Verdugo, a former minor league pitcher who was coaching Hamline University’s baseball team at Midway. Verdugo, now Hamline’s athletic director, went on to pitch the Saints to the league championship.
“A lot of that opportunity was because Bob stuck his neck out there,” Verdugo said. “What made Midway special to me was to see someone as good and caring and passionate as Bob Klepperich.”
Klepperich, a wiry 74-year-old who relishes getting out of his cluttered stadium office to drag the infield or sweep the stands, shrugs off the praise. “The joy of this job is the wide variety of people that you work with,” he said.
‘A really good run’
Klepperich worked his first season at Lexington for tips, selling visiting players cigarettes, candy and soda for a slight markup. If there was laundry to do, he’d take it home for his mother to handle; the old ballpark had no washers.
It wasn’t glamorous work, but his friends envied him. He met minor leaguers before they became major league fixtures, players like Maris and Killebrew and Gibson. His favorite visitors were the Denver Bears, a Yankees franchise. “They showed class all the way around, including how they tipped,” he said.
When the Vikings made Midway Stadium their practice field, Klepperich worked five seasons for the team in between finishing college at St. Thomas and getting his first job at Monroe High School in St. Paul, where he taught social studies and journalism.
“Literally every game was an away game, because we had to pack everything up and move over to the Met [Stadium] or to the airport,” he said.
Before one gameday kickoff, Viking defensive back Ed Sharockman waved his crutches from the car to direct traffic as they raced back to Midway to retrieve a player’s shoes.
Although Klepperich continued working at the ballpark, life quieted down a bit after he left the Vikings. He married his wife, Judi, in 1967 and had two children, David and Kathryn. Monroe closed in 1977 and Klepperich moved to Humboldt High School on the city’s West Side, where he remained until he retired in 1999.