KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When Joe Mauer was a young child, Midway Stadium loomed like a big-league ballpark in his imagination. When he got to high school, it became the site of some of his greatest achievements. And now that he’s in majors?
“It’s a place I’ll never forget. Midway was a big deal to us kids,” Mauer said Thursday, shortly before the St. Paul Saints played their final game in the stadium. “It’s part of my childhood. So it’s sad to hear it’s going away.”
Mauer grew up less than a mile down the street from the St. Paul ballpark, which opened one year before he was born, and it soon became a constant part of his life, like his personal home field. “It seemed like we were there all the time. Even when I was really young, I remember getting to be the batboy for my cousins’ Hill-Murray teams, things like that,” he said. “My brother Billy worked there on the grounds crew.”
When Joe Mauer got older, he served as batboy at Saints games, too, and even played high school football games in the stadium. “Early on, I watched my brothers play a lot of [high school] games there, and then I got to play, too. That’s where they used to play the high school tournament before Target Field” was built.
Those tournaments provided one of Mauer’s sweetest baseball memories. In 2001, the All-America catcher led Cretin-Derham Hall to the state finals, first by helping power a late rally against Bemidji in the semifinals, then by leading CDH to a 13-2 rout of Rochester Mayo in the championship game. Mauer’s favorite memory of Midway Stadium? Dog-piling in the infield after the final out.
“Funny enough, I caught the last out of the game at first base,” Mauer said, because the team wanted his backup, also a senior, to take part in the title game. “That was a great day. It was a fun place to play.”
That’s Caleb Thielbar’s dominant memory of the ballpark, too. The reliever spent three months playing in Midway Stadium after signing with the Saints in 2011, and his success in the American Association led him to a contract with the Twins.
The Randolph, Minn., product smiles at the notion of being nostalgic for Midway’s aging grandstand, which will be torn down next year once the Saints move to their new ballpark in Lowertown. “I don’t think anyone gets attached to Midway anymore. It’s pretty old,” Thielbar said. “They play football on it in the fall. There are a lot of hills in the outfield, a lot of divots in the grass. But the promotions and the fans are unbelievable there — that’s what makes a stadium, more than the actual playing surface.”
Thielbar turned his career around in the park, after being released by the Brewers organization in 2010, and remembers how much he enjoyed the rowdy atmosphere.
“They packed the place every single day. I mean, I had a great time playing there, it was awesome,” he said. “We had a good team that year, and they just made it a lot of fun. The stadium itself, well, it was a little rough, but the things going on there made it a great time.”
So did some things going on outside it, too. Glen Perkins only played a handful of games at Midway Stadium as an amateur, but the former Stillwater High School and Gophers pitcher recalls it well for what was beyond the outfield wall.
“The thing I remember most is the fire department setting buildings on fire to practice putting them out,” Perkins said.
“Not many stadiums can say they’ve got that.”