Hours before the antics began at CHS Field, George Tsamis sat at his desk and studied 48 pages of scouting reports.
For 13 years, Tsamis has managed the St. Paul Saints, a franchise known for Bill Murray and Mike Veeck, pigs and puns.
As a Twins pitcher, Tsamis once told pitching coach Dick Such, on a visit to the Tiger Stadium mound, “No kidding, Suchie.” Only he didn’t say “kidding.”
As Saints manager, he once left his shoes on first base, to prove that his player had been safe on a close play.
One of his favorite memories as a Twin was hearing a trainer telling Kent Hrbek to stretch, and Hrbek saying, “Whales don’t stretch before they go for a swim.”
Tsamis pitched in 41 big-league games, becoming known as a self-deprecating character with a quick wit.
Because he didn’t last in the majors, and because he became the manager of a franchise featuring the motto “Fun is good,” it has been easy to forget that Tsamis is a serious competitor.
Tsamis was a winner in college. He was a winner in the minors despite featuring below-average stuff. He became an athletic 1 percenter when he made it to the majors.
After his playing career, he managed the Waterbury Spirit and New Jersey Jackals to independent league titles. In 2004, Tsamis managed the Saints to a Northern League title.
This summer, the Saints opened beautiful CHS Field. Tsamis, the Saints manager and de facto general manager, took that as a challenge.
“We’ve had a really good season,” he said. “We’re 10 wins away from breaking the league record for wins in a season, which is something we’d really love to do. Going into this beautiful, brand-new stadium, we need to win. Anything short of winning a championship would be a disappointment.”
You can dress up a pig and watch nuns give massages, but for the manager the job is what it would be anywhere else. He ponders roster moves, works the phones, researches opponents, consoles some players, reprimands others, hears fans second-guessing him and sometimes finds the need for Ambien.
“I wouldn’t trade this job for anything,” Tsamis said. “We have the wacky stuff between innings and we have this great stadium, but it’s my job to win. I’m the one who’s responsible for bringing in the players. That’s what I was doing here, trying to improve this team for the stretch run.”
As a Twins rookie, Tsamis couldn’t see the manager’s door opening without wondering if he was about to be released. The worries of the sporting life often outweigh the joys.
“I got to the big leagues and it’s no secret I got whacked around,” he said. “It’s tough, man. From high school to college ball, to A ball and Double-A and Triple-A, you can be the best guy out there and you can be the best guy on your team and you get to the big leagues and it’s totally different. They’re pretty good up there. I had a tough time, but I had my chance. Being in the big leagues was the greatest thing you’ll ever go through.
“You’re sitting there every day wondering if they’re going to call you into the office, especially when you’re a rookie who’s maybe not doing too well. But you try to enjoy it when you can. What’s the saying — don’t worry about something you can’t control? It would be silly to not think of it every day.”
Now Tsamis works on the other side of the Twin Cities, on the other side of the manager’s door, and feels just as much pressure.
Sunday night, the Saints wrapped up a homestand with a 10-3 loss to Sioux Falls and left on the last road trip of the regular season. Fans laughed at a pig, and booed once in a while. Tsamis worried.
“It’s my job to win,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of rough years. We’re having a good year now. The organization deserves a championship. The fans deserve a championship. It’s my job to bring it to them.”