While a cloud of doubt remained stubbornly in place over the denizen of Minneapolis’ Target Field, a much brighter outlook could be found across the river, where the St. Paul Saints got underway Saturday with their first workouts of the season at CHS Field.
Under a splendid blue sky nearly as deep as their uniform color, optimism was everywhere. And why not? The Saints had a remarkable 2015 regular-season campaign in which they went 74-26 – an American Association record for victories – before losing to Sioux City in the league semifinals. They’re settling into a their second season at CHS Field and will host the 2016 American Association All-Star game on August 2. And they just re-signed one of their top players from 2015, infielder Angelo Songco (.339, 17 HR, 82 RBI in 2015) who is back after having spent spring training with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I’m always excited,” said Saints manager George Tsamis. “We had an unbelievable year last year – 60 wins is a great season, but 74? It didn’t end the way we’d have liked it to, but we’ve got a pretty good group coming back.”
Among the new Saints are Caleb Thielbar, who appeared in 109 games as a relief pitcher for the Twins from 2013 through 2015 with a 5-3 record and a 2.74 ERS; former Mounds View pitcher Mark Hamburger, who went 6-8 record with a 3.26 ERA for the Saints in 2013 and spent the last two seasons pitching for the Twins’ minor league teams in New Britain and Rochester; and Apple Valley native Aaron Gretz, who had one at-bat last season but is expected to challenge for the starting catching position.
“Who wouldn’t want to be here?” Gretz asked. “Everybody in independent ball knows about St. Paul and talks about how great it is to play here.”
Not everyone is back from 2015, however. The biggest loss is catcher Vinny DiFazio, the reigning American Association MVP who signed with the Dodger organization in the off-season. DiFazio is playing for Oklahoma City of the Pacific Coast League.
The Saints open the 2016 season on May 19 with a four-game home stand against the Gary Southshore RailCats.