Mike Veeck, president and part owner of the St. Paul Saints, said that a number of years ago then-Mayor Norm Coleman offered to help get a downtown ballpark built. Veeck polled fans at Midway Stadium and told Coleman to forget it, his followers preferred status quo.

Then came Target Field and Xcel Energy Center.

"The beginning of the end," Veeck said. "People didn't want to use portalets anymore."

Next year, Saints fans won't have to. Veeck will move his 22-year-old independent league team into a new downtown St. Paul ballpark that Twins President Dave St.Peter said will "be as good as any minor league facility in the nation."

The new Saints home will be a 7,000-capacity park that Veeck describes as "a Frank Lloyd Wright 1912 really interesting prairie design."

One thing that won't change, Veeck said, is the irreverence the Saints incorporate into the ballpark experience — "silly things, a lot of which don't work," he said. "It's important in this transition to really stay humble, to stay true to what got us here."

Veeck said the key to the Saints' enduring popularity — they have averaged about 5,000 fans a game even after the opening of Target Field — has been the ability to become part of St. Paul's community. He said last year the Saints donated to roughly 2,000 charities "and that's what I'm most proud of."

Veeck, son of legendary former major league owner Bill Veeck, who once used a dwarf as a pinch-hitter in a White Sox game, admits with some reluctance that the Saints have crept toward baseball's establishment. The franchise has sold at least one of its players to every one of the 30 major league teams.

There was even some talk in June that the Twins might be interested in taking in the Saints, with their shiny new ballpark, as a minor league affiliate. Veeck said there's no way that will happen, at least while he remains in charge of the team.

"I don't have any interest in that at all," he said. "I've already got a farm club [in Charleston, S.C.] that's a an affiliate of the Yankees, and you have to get approvals for everything you try. It's kind of fun this way. I want no part of that.''

Dennis Brackin