Tailgating was a “foreign concept” to Sean Aronson until 2007, the year he starting working for the St. Paul Saints. Aronson, the team’s director of broadcasting and media relations, remembers opening day that season, wondering why at 5 p.m. — two hours before first pitch – the team’s Midway Stadium parking lot already was filling up.
He asked Saints GM Derek Sharrer if there was a promotional giveaway about which he didn’t know.
“He said ‘no, all these people are here to tailgate,’” Aronson said. “To see people two hours before the game having a giant party, when it was probably 50 degrees out, I’ll never forget that.”
It stands out to Aronson as the most memorable moment he’s experienced at Midway Stadium, which is probably fitting. The venerable ballpark’s time is almost up. The Saints, who have called Midway home since 1993, play their final game there at 7:05 p.m. Thursday vs. Winnipeg; in 2015, they will move into a brand new park in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood, while Midway is slated to be demolished.
The tailgating scene played out night after night at Midway Stadium — as it did Tuesday, when this writer took in his first Saints game in a few years — with many fans lingering in the parking lot until the middle innings, if they made it into the ballgame at all.
It helped create an atmosphere that was a party, a side show and a baseball game rolled into one — quite often in that order, and unapologetically so on the Saints’ part. Eat, drink, see a pig deliver baseballs, get a massage from a nun, and maybe see the home team win — all in the name of fun.
Aronson promises the team will bring that same atmosphere to its new 7,000-seat ballpark, but he also acknowledges that plenty of patrons consider Midway’s quirks and lack of amenities to be endearing.
“This is a ballpark that offers kind of a unique perspective on the game of baseball. We’re one of the last ballparks around with the metal bleachers. The restrooms are such that there are two main men’s and women’s restrooms and the rest are porta-potties,” he said. “I think our fans have become accustomed to that, and I think they almost look at it as part of the charm of going to a Saints game.”
Those Midway fans have been treated to plenty of on-field moments along the way as well. Darryl Strawberry played for the Saints. So did a host of other Major Leaguers, including J.D. Drew, Kevin Millar and current Twins reliever Caleb Thielbar.
More often than not, though, fans have come for fun. And they’ve found plenty of it. Thursday night will offer one more chance for a baseball party at the old yard. Among the simple crowd-pleasing promotions for the finale: $1 beers and fireworks, a can’t-miss combo.
“This last home stand is for the fans,” Aronson said. “They’ve made their own memories. They’ve made the friends they now hang out even in the offseason. We’re just providing the backdrop and location for them to reminisce and get nostalgic.”