My dad came to visit in early March 2020, a couple months after our son Edison joined his two older sisters into the world. It turned out to be good timing; just a few days later came the COVID-19 shutdown that kept a lot of us apart for a long time.
With vaccines in arms and the semester over, Dad scheduled a visit from North Dakota over this past weekend. While the pandemic is not over, it did feel like a bookend of sorts.
On his last trip, we mainly stayed inside in the cold of March — with COVID concerns already creeping into our consciousness and a new baby around. This time around, there was plenty of outside time with all three kids — and this thought: Hey, why couldn't we go see a baseball game?
As it turned out, the weekend that worked best schedule-wise was one in which the Twins were out of town (and, shockingly, one in which they would actually win an extra-inning game, proving it is not prohibited by law).
But the St. Paul Saints were in town. If they've always been the next best thing for a Twin Cities baseball fan wanting to check out a game, that is particularly the case now that they are the Class AAA affiliate of the Twins. My wife offered to stay behind with the kids — who are neither vaccinated nor prone to sit still for longer than 15 minutes, let alone 2-3 hours — and so it was just my dad and I at Sunday's ballgame at CHS Field.
It was the first baseball game I've attended as a spectator anywhere since late in the 2019 season, and I have the sunburn to prove that I'm a little rusty at the whole getting out of the house and relaxing for long stretches at a time thing. It was the first time just the two of us had been to a baseball game together since the Metrodome days.
I was curious, as someone who had been to plenty of Saints games back in their Northern League and then American Association days, how this brand of baseball might look and feel different now that they were affiliated with the Twins.
First impression: There was still some of the old Saints "fun" brand on display. There was plenty of it for me, though it seemed like it was more on the edges than front-and-center.
What really felt different was to be expected, but having the experience to match expectations is important: The game itself meant more, knowing that some of the players for the Saints could be performing at Target Field very soon.
That's not to discredit the product the Saints put on the field for a quarter-century or the players who were striving — sometimes successfully — to make it out of independent ball for a crack at the majors. Current Twins pitcher Caleb Thielbar is a Saints alum, for example.
But if you like to play amateur talent evaluator, there's nothing quite like sizing up the crop that's one level below the majors to try to figure out who might be ready to contribute soon. It's fun at a random minor league ballpark. The intrigue increases when the affiliated major league club is the one that you pay attention to the most, and it's about 10 miles away.
Many of the Twins' best prospects have already been summoned from Class AAA in this nightmarish and injury-filled start to the season. But I will say this, as I already said on the Monday Daily Delivery podcast: Pay attention to 26-year-old righty reliever Tom Hackimer.
He came up to St. Paul from Class AA Wichita recently, and on Sunday he struck out three batters in the ninth inning — with a scratch single that went all of 15 feet mixed in — to preserve a 5-4 win.
Hackimer slings the ball from around his shoe tops, but it comes roaring out of there with mid-90s velocity on the CHS Field gun. From our vantage point near home plate but down the third base line, It was hard to tell what sort of movement he has on his breaking ball. But that sort of velocity plus a funky delivery gives him a chance to succeed in the majors.
My dad, in between bursts of chatter about how the Twins should try to trade both Miguel Sano and Alex Colome, thought the same about Hackimer.
Maybe it won't work out for him, but that's the beauty of watching a Class AAA game. You can sit back, see a few pitches, and just let the imagination run wild.
That's a new feeling at a Saints game — where fun is good, but suddenly meaningful baseball is even better.