The only thing better than a beautiful night at the ballpark is a beautiful night at a beautiful ballpark. The St. Paul Saints now can offer both.
Thursday night, the Saints played their first game at CHS Field. The ballpark, tucked into the Lowertown section of St. Paul, feels like an extension of the nearby warehouses.
What stands out most are the views of the ballpark from the left field berm, highlighting the St. Paul skyline, and the view of the upper deck from the lower concourse behind home plate.
If you look up, you will see hundreds of rows of pristine cedar planks.
If you looked toward the field Thursday, you saw a different kind of lumber.
Cleanup hitter Ian Gac went 4-for-4 with a home run, and Minnesota-born Willie Argo hit the game-winning homer in the seventh inning, giving the Saints an 8-7 victory before a packed house of 8,592.
"He didn't go to spring training with a team this year," Saints manager George Tsamis said of Argo. "We didn't even know if he was going to make our team, and here he is, hitting third for us, and hitting the big home run. It's awesome, man."
Argo said his parents lived in St. Paul briefly after he was born. He grew up in Davenport, Iowa, and, like most independent league players, he's looking for another shot with a major league organization. "But right now, it's all about winning games," he said.
His first impression of the ballpark during a game?
"Unbelievable," he said. "Loud. Beautiful. Awesome. I can't find enough adjectives."
Noting the artistic, exposed cedar, Saints owner Mike Veeck used a different word.
"Staggering," he said. "Our architect, Julie Snow, said, 'We're going to take one of those warehouses and turn it inside-out.' She did it, and that's my favorite touch."
From the Securian Deck on the upper level, you can see the Mississippi River. Every seat is close to the playing field.
"I've seen a lot of minor league ballparks," Tsamis said. "I've never seen one as nice as this one."
Veeck's motto is "Fun is good," so the Saints held a pregame parade replete with performers on stilts and flaming batons. "This ballpark will help our caliber of play," Veeck said. "But this is still the fun-and-games department. You know, 35 percent come to see baseball and 65 percent come to see how stupid you can be, and I've got that part down."
The Saints introduced their new pig, "Pablo Pigasso." They're serving foods named "Kim Lardashian" and "Garrison Squealer." Legendary comedian and Saints part-owner Bill Murray attended after appearing on the last two episodes of David Letterman's show.
"Now, he's coming to an event," Veeck said, smiling. "Letterman? That's fine. But an opener in St. Paul? This is big news.
"It took about 6½ years to end up here. You know what made this happen in the Capitol? The fact that we had gone on the road every year for 20-plus years during the high school tournament. There were people in the Legislature who hadn't ever heard of the Saints, but they knew that we got out of Midway Stadium for the high school tournament. People voted for his project because we had the decency — which I think is the only way to be — to leave town."
Veeck was sitting down the right-field line as the gates opened. Fans stopped to shake his hand. One wore a Hawaiian shirt. "When you're done with that shirt, we can smoke it!" Veeck said.
"I was at the Saints' first game, in '93," said fan Jack Stahlmann after he entered the gates. "I'm one of the 1.4 million people who claim they were at Game 7 of the World Series — but I also saw Jack Morris walk off the mound for the last time as a Saint. This team has had some great landmarks, and this is a special one."
St. Paul has produced Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield, Joe Mauer, Morris and now a ballpark worthy of the city's baseball tradition.
"That was awesome, man," Tsamis said. "I mean, could it have been any more exciting?"