The nun still provides free massages to fans. A pig still delivers game balls to home plate dressed in costumes. The promotional spoofs remain intentionally wacky.
In other words, the St. Paul Saints are still the St. Paul Saints, despite moving operations to a posh new ballpark that is nothing short of spectacular.
Saints baseball long has focused on being daffy as much as anything else. In a recent game, the grounds crew dragged the field wearing wigs and dresses, and a contestant had to guess whether certain quotes came from Paul Molitor or Jean-Paul Sartre.
In a broader context, a game’s final score never determined whether a summer night at the ballpark was a success, as long as fans laughed, socialized and enjoyed themselves.
That remains the Saints fundamental objective. “Fun is good” is their motto. But something else is entertaining this season, which deserves its own bumper sticker.
Winning is good, too.
The Saints are 29-7, have won all 11 of their series and own the best record in the American Association.
They sit atop the league in team pitching and runs scored and have a 13-game lead in their division.
That’s not lipstick on their pig.
The team’s new home, CHS Field, is a gem that’s added to the cool vibe in St. Paul’s Lowertown area. The best start in team history feels like the cherry on top.
The Saints are averaging 7,700 fans and counted overcapacity crowds in 12 of their first 15 games.
Their smallest crowd this season has been 5,639. They averaged 5,278 in the final season at Midway Stadium.
“We have a lot of the same people from Midway,” General Manager Derek Sharrer said. “But it feels like people are more into the baseball here than they were at Midway. I think at Midway people got used to it being about the carnival.”
Current Saints player Mike Kvasnicka knows all about the carnival. The 26-year-old grew up in Lakeville and remembers going to Saints games as a kid.
Like others, he didn’t really care if the team won or lost back then because … hey, look at that cute pig on the field.
“That wasn’t really their big selling point: ‘Come watch how good our baseball team is,’ ” Kvasnicka said. “Not that they were bad, but it was promotion after promotion after promotion, and they’ve mastered that here. It’s a good mix now.”
Sister Rosalind has become a symbol of Saints baseball. She’s provided massages to fans at games since 1993. She hears about the team’s success from her customers this season.
“I hear people say, ‘The Saints are doing real good, real good,’ ” she said from her spot down the right-field concourse.
Veteran manager George Tsamis credits a change in attitude within the clubhouse. The Saints brought back only eight players off a team that finished 48-52 last season.
“These guys are here to win,” Tsamis said.
How can he tell? They show up early for batting practice and workouts and stay late lifting weights.
That and beer requests.
“This year we’ve only had one guy ask for a beer,” Tsamis said. “Nobody cares about drinking beers. They’re here to play baseball. It’s pretty good when you have 22, 23 players and only one guy asks about beer.”
Guess they will leave the craft beer and IPAs for those milling about the park.
Catcher Vinny DiFazio, who entered the week hitting .400, noted that he has heard fans chanting his name before at-bats. And the autograph line after games is a little longer these days.
“George told us the day we came here, he said, ‘Hey, we’re the sideshow,’ ” pitcher Kramer Sneed said. “But I hope we’re kind of turning some heads a little bit.”
Nobody is fooling themselves into believing independent baseball is a preferred destination. Players are motivated to return to affiliated baseball with the hope of climbing the minor league ladder.
Most of them have tasted it and failed. Kvasnicka, a former first-round pick released by the Twins in March, has all but given up on playing Major League Baseball, but many of his Saints teammates are not ready to abandon that dream just yet.
Their current situation isn’t all bad, though. The ballpark certainly is a nice perk. Most games are sellouts. And they’re winning a lot of games, which makes everything more enjoyable.
Apparently, not even a cold postgame beer can top that.