The St. Paul Saints’ Mike Veeck is in hog heaven whether or not team mascot Pablo Pigasso is present.
The team’s first season at sold-out CHS Field has been a winner for Veeck, which is great because he hates losing. His team has royally inaugurated its new home in downtown St. Paul, having clinched the North Division Title in the American Association. The other thrill for Veeck is how beautifully the ballpark designed by Julie Snow turned out, nestled, unassumingly in the eastern part of downtown.
We talked about all the things Veeck loves about his new ballpark in this Q & A, which wouldn’t be complete without a story or two about his most famous co-owner, Bill Murray.
And as if we needed another story about how unHollywood Murray is, Veeck told me the actor who plays clueless so well in movies knows how to operate appliances, specifically the commercial grade washers used by the Saints.
“He’s got six boys, so he knows something about laundry,” said Veeck. According to Veeck, Murray once drove to Midway Stadium, the old Saints location, with his sons and personally handled an urgent matter: washing boys’ clothes.
Murray’s down to earth and even considered cool, but I’m guessing none of his boys has a middle name as distinctive as Veeck’s son William Night Train Veeck.
You’ll read stories about Night Train, as he addressed, were there are quote marks around his middle names. Superfluous because it’s not a nickname, it’s on the birth certificate, according to Night Train’s dad, who named his son after Dick “Night Train” Lane, the former NFL cornerback.
“I was never picked for any team,” said Veeck. “I was always the new kid. So I vowed when I had a son that I was going to give him a name so even if he wasn’t any good … How could you not pick a kid named Night Train for your team?”
Being known as Night Train means never being confused with any of baseball’s other famous Veecks. Night Train’s grandfather was Bill Veeck Jr., owner of the White Sox, the St. Louis Browns or the Cleveland MLB team and the owner who integrated the America League, invented the exploding scoreboard and was first to put players’ names on their uniforms. His great-grandfather was William Sr., president of the Cubs. You’ll never believe what line of work Twitter’s @VeeckAsInWreck pursued, making his dad burst with pride.
In my startribune.com/video with Mike Veeck there might be footage of us taking batting practice at the 1 minute mark. And yes, Tim Cook, I am still having problems with the volume control on iMovie.
Q: First your dad, then Charlie Finley and now you. Who’s next, when it comes to being a baseball showman?
A: I’m hoping it’s going to be my son Night Train, who’s currently with the White Sox. He broke my heart; went to work for the White Sox. I said “You know after I blew up their disco records, they don’t like me so much in Chicago.” He said I don’t care. He didn’t get the internship the first year. He went right back and got it the second. I said “OK” [the way you said it when you’re impressed with tenacity].
They invented a job for him. He’s in charge of social media and on field. I think he’s going to make everyone forget I was here. I think he’s going to be that good.
Q: But does he have a great goatee?
A: Ah, no, he doesn’t because he’s 29 and handsome. He’s got nothing to hide yet. [Guffawing]
Q: Give me a PG13 story about one of your Bill Murray escapades?
A: Ah, an escapade. [Story #1] In 1993 over at Midway we won the championship, the first year. We didn’t even know if we were going to survive and not only did we survive, we flourished. So I said to Bill, “Let’s go down to Gabe’s and celebrate.” And we took the team and all the fans and it was just like everybody moved from one place, which would be Midway, to Gabe’s, a whole three-quarters of a mile, down there with Giggles. We stayed until 4 o’clock in the morning. And I said to Bill, “I’m in good shape, I had coffee for the last hour. I’ll drive us home.” Sitting in the parking lot, I went to sleep and Bill said, How about if I drive? [Guffaws] And that’s the kind of guy he is. I heard this giggling from downstairs. I go downstairs and my daughter [Rebecca] who’s 8 or 9 [at that time] is playing Candyland with Bill. We’re standing in the doorway watching. It’s 6 o’clock in the morning and she’s just giggling and he looked up and goes Girls.
Q: Your daughter’s beating Murray, I assume?
A: She cheats. There was no question. She was beating him like a rented mule.
Q: A girl would be a new challenge to a father with boys?
A: He doesn’t have a clue. They are so different. [Story #2] Another time we went to Winnipeg and we won the championship. Now when you rent a car and you’re a movie star they don’t care how you return it. Except in Winnipeg, we win the championship, we carry the trophy all around Winnipeg. We don’t know what a gold eye is, we’re from Chicago. A gold eye? It’s like a gold tooth or something. So they put the championship trophy in the trunk of our car, along with a gold eye. The next morning we discovered that a gold eye is a fish and that fish sitting in the trunk all night started to stink. And he said to me, Why don’t you return the rental car? I said, “’Cause my last movie wasn’t that good. [Guffawing] How about YOU return it!”
Q: Did Murray tell you anything about the George Clooney wedding?
A: No, he didn’t, except he loved being in those gondolas! He said there was more security than there was attendees. I said, “Well, it’s like a ballgame with the White Sox on the South Side in the ’70s when we were there.”
Q: What advice does Murray offer you about showmanship when it comes to marketing the team?
A: Yes. He says whenever I’m on television I think I’m Italian, I talk with my hands. I’m constantly doing this. [Waving hands] He said, Can you just be a little more reserved; not move so much? Try to have some control of your body, rather than looking like a marionette going. [Guffawing and gesturing.]
Q: I’m surprised to hear that advice from him.[Even though now that I think about it, Murray personifies the economy of movement.]
A: I asked him what the best training was, and this was the only serious conversation we ever had about acting. He said, Sit in the airport and remain perfectly still for five minutes; just sit and watch everyone go by so that you practice having this control. I’m so nosy. I’m making up little conversations. I sat there and tried it. It’s hard.
Q: If you’re Bill Murray everyone is looking at you, but you’re supposed to just sit there?
A: You’re supposed to just sit there.
Q: When aren’t you such a nice guy?
A: I don’t like to lose. Several times during the process of getting the ballpark, I found myself doubting myself. I was occasionally cranky about that because I thought we had been good citizens and I thought that getting a ballpark would be easier. But it was 6½ years to get this wonderful ballpark and occasionally, I wish I didn’t have to say it, but I was cranky.
Q: What does cranky look like when it comes out of you?
A: Oh, it’s very simple. I get sullen and I don’t say anything. I’m one of nine so we pouted; nobody cared if you talked more. There was constant chaos in my house, so if someone suddenly went quiet, that was unusual.
Q: I don’t know the restroom situation at CHS Field, but if the lines are too long for the women’s restrooms are you OK with women hitting the men’s restrooms?
A: Absolutely. We used to shut down the men’s room in the sixth inning at Midway when we were there and women would take over and use it. But we have [ringmaster voice] 140 restroom stalls and it’s a wonderful ratio; we’ve had virtually no lines.
Q: As you look around this ballpark, what’s your favorite aspect of it?
A: It’s the view from right under that tent. Right on the left field where the drink rails are, above the Treasure Island sign. I love the berm and the tickets that are $5. Ninety percent of the ticket prices are the same as Midway or less. But when you look back from left field, at the city scape, I just love that. The second is if you stand up in the Securian Club, you can look right down 5th Street all the way to the St. Paul Hotel. You can’t see this ballpark two blocks away. You can see the sign but you can’t see the ballpark. That’s the way it should be. It’s integrated into the neighborhood, not rising up like some … We’re not Major League Baseball; we are the St. Paul Saints and an independent league. Major League Baseball can build a monolith. We have to show a certain humility, and I think the building reflects the way we market ourselves. The only direction I gave Julie [Snow, the architect] was “I don’t want to be able to tell where the farmers market ends and the ballpark begins” and dog gone it [if she didn’t accomplish this effortlessly]. You have this continual feel of community.
Q: Do you see MLB park creations that are signs of the Veeck legacy?
A: Yes. [Guffaw] Here’s where I get a little cranky. I’ve worked for four major league teams. You can hear people whisper when a Veeck comes in: Oh wait’ll you see the stupid things this guy’s done. As soon as you can monetize it, as soon as you can make money at it, then we’re not as stupid as when we first came up with it.
Q: Players who took steroids should or shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame?
A: It’s going to be really interesting. Coming up is Mike Piazza; he’s going to be eligible for the hall. The problem I have with steroids: EVERYBODY’S USED during a different period — uppers, downers, things to say awake. The problem is the people in the Hall of Fame. Those 50 Hall of Famers [who] sit on the stage don’t want guys in who used steroids. That’s where I think the rub’s going to be. So Piazza’s going to be a real test. I think ultimately they will get in by way of the veterans committee. But I don’t think they’ll necessarily be voted in.
Q: Where do you come down on Pete Rose?
A: Pete Rose has made one dastardly mistake and whether you like Pete Rose or you don’t, he belongs in the Hall of Fame. The problem is he hasn’t given the Hall [of Famers] a hook to hang their hat on. And by that I mean if he just came out and said, I am a gambler. I have a problem gambling. I’m going to go get some help, I believe they would have let him in 10 years ago.
Q: Is there a more disgusting place in the stadium than the dugout after a game when players have spit out chew and sunflower seeds?
A: You can’t ask somebody from a family of nine. A dugout looks just like the dinner table when we were finished. I feel right at home. It doesn’t disgust me at all! [Guffawing]
Interviews are edited. To contact C.J. try email@example.com and to see her watch Fox 9’s the “Jason Show.”