Mike Veeck was standing in the nearly finished club level of the St. Paul Saints’ nearly finished new Lowertown ballpark, CHS Field, when he was asked his favorite feature. He pointed through the floor-to-ceiling windows toward the downtown Farmers Market just across the street.
“We wanted to make downtown, the Farmers Market, the star,” said Veeck, president and co-owner of the independent baseball team.
Well, that AND the urinals — there are more in just one of the ballpark’s five men’s restrooms than in all of Midway Stadium, the Saints’ old home near the State Fairgrounds.
“You think we’re not appreciative?” Veeck said, laughing. “Oh, yeah, we’re appreciative.”
On Friday, Veeck and other team officials took a couple of hours out of a sunny winter day to tour the $63 million ballpark that will be the site of 50 Saints games every summer, as well as 100 other events each year. And, yes, there will be a cat video festival.
As teams of construction workers put the finishing touches on the park, clad in black steel and western red cedar, Veeck weighed in on everything from his lack of an office (he gets a corner in a conference room) to a wall mural in one of four suites.
“I got no vanity, baby” Veeck said of not having fancy personal digs in the venue he plans to visit during every Saints homestand. “Just put me in a nice, neat space.”
While inspecting a restroom, Veeck recalled the time his dad, the late Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck, called a news conference to announce that the team had expanded the women’s restrooms at Comiskey Park.
“It was 1976,” Veeck said. “And they had just introduced Lite Beer. I thought it was brilliant.”
The Saints officially open their 2015 season in the 7,000-seat ballpark on May 21; CHS Field will also be home to the Hamline University baseball team, which is expected to play the first games there.
As Veeck walked the field Friday — from the party deck down the right field line to the picnic berm out behind the bullpen in left — a broad smile never left his face.
He was especially happy in the suite the team plans to rent game by game. On the wall was a mural, based on Michelangelo’s “Creation of Man,” showing a wizened deity (looks a little like Veeck) in a Saints uniform touching the finger of ... Adam?... also in a Saints uniform.
Team officials had wanted to display the mural, created several years ago by the late Andy Nelson, at Midway — without luck. Veeck was ecstatic to see it on the wall.
“On Atheists Night, wouldn’t it have been great?” he said, laughing. “I was so bummed when we couldn’t do that.”
In addition to the four suites, the ballpark features a club level that can accommodate 250 fans and open concourses ringing the field. That picnic area in left? Folks can bring a blanket and watch the game there for $5, Veeck said.
“Not bad,” he said. “Not bad at all.”
Some things that became tradition at Midway will stick. Sister Rosalind will get a spot to give massages. A pig will continue to deliver baseballs to the home-plate umpire, and the team’s tradition of gags and props will continue. In fact, that is about all the Saints will be moving here from Midway.
“What, not the furniture?” Veeck quipped.
The team is expected to mourn little about Midway, from the cramped clubhouse to the lack of urinals. At CHS Field, there will be three clubhouses for teams — including the home clubhouse carpeted with the team’s StP logo, indoor batting cages, an expansive training room, multiple concession stands and a kitchen where an executive chef and his crew will create all kinds of new foods.
There will even be a craft beer deck.
“We’ll have a potpourri of beer,” Veeck said.
At the end of Friday’s tour, there was only one area left to show the boss. Team Vice President Annie Huidekoper waved him into the lower level administrative offices. There, painted on the wall in big, blue letters was the phrase “Fun Is Good!”
“That’s Mike’s saying,” Huidekoper said.
“Yes, it is,” Veeck said, grinning again.