Mike Veeck pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of the Twin Cities sports market when he turned the independent St. Paul Saints baseball team into an immediate success at funky Midway Stadium, with its small parking lot, two permanent restrooms and often suspect on-field talent.
Yet that amazing feat in 1993, and for many summers to follow, was not his largest upset.
That would be his shocking victory — think Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson at 42-to-1 — in his campaign to get a splendid new ballpark to house the fatigued wackiness.
Veeck and Saints Vice President Tom Whaley were at the Legislature trying to create some interest in this ballpark idea at the start of the 2010s.
"They told Mike and Tom that they needed a lobbyist, so they got me," Julian Loscalzo said. "That made me a combination lobbyist and beer vendor for the Saints."
Veeck and Co. heard "no" a lot, and then in September 2012, the Legislature came through with $25 million for Veeck's ballpark.
St. Paul got on board, the Saints added $11 million, a few million were found here and there, and on May 18, 2015, the ballclub played its first exhibition at CHS Field.
Cost: $63 million. Reviews: Sensational.
On Friday, I was on the phone with Veeck at his home in Charleston, S.C., and repeated my awe over his getting this Lowertown ballpark, and added: "You managed to produce the only thing built in St. Paul ever to gain the approval of Sid Hartman."
Our guy Sid (RIP, Oct. 18, 2020) was a holdover from the days when Twin Cities sports were Minneapolis vs. St. Paul. "East Berlin," he called the rival city.
Yet he took the grandkids to CHS Field, was able to meet part-owner Bill Murray, and raved about the cozy grandeur.
"All of a sudden, Sid loved us," Veeck said.
Sid was not alone in his earlier skepticism. I took a fair number of shots at Veeck and the Saints' hoo-ha at Midway.
Time has allowed for Veeck, now 72, to be appreciated for what he is — a character. Which means he's going to be missed around here.
On Wednesday, it was announced the Goldklang Group that includes Veeck and Murray sold the Saints to Diamond Baseball Holdings, a private equity operation buying up minor league baseball teams with enthusiasm.
"This all started on Halloween, which seems fitting considering our history with the Saints," Veeck said. "It has been a five-month marathon, and I'm happy it's over.
''I really haven't been the same person since our daughter Rebecca died in 2019. We had her in a crib inside the gate at Midway as a 2-year-old saying 'hi' to everybody when the Saints started, and the spirit she retained through everything …
"Amazing memories, amazing fun, but it was time for me to step aside.|
Rebecca had a degenerative eye condition that was diagnosed at age 7 and eventually she became blind. Later in life, it was learned she had Batten disease, a rare genetic disorder that took her life at 27.
Veeck paused and then said, "My dad always knew when it was time to move on."
Dad was Bill Veeck, as in Wreck, Hall of Famer (eventually) as an owner. "Your dad always knew it was time to move on because he was out of money, right?" I said.
Mike Veeck laughed and admitted being no stranger to being busted as a baseball operator.
"Miles Wolff came to me, said he had several cities lined up for an independent Northern League to start in 1993, and wanted me to take a team in St. Paul," Veeck said.
"Everyone I talked to said, 'You'll be lucky to get 2,500 for a game,' but we decided to take a shot. Libby and I took everything we had out of the bank, put $50,000 on credit cards, and headed to St. Paul.
"The first day we put tickets on sale, there were gigantic lines wrapped around and down the street. We served coffee to people in line on a cold morning, and we counted to 948."
Thirty years. Creating long ticket lines for an independent ballclub. Getting a new ballpark built that gave the Twins the desire to put their Class AAA affiliate there.
Two miracles, Mike. It only takes three for Saint-hood.
"I'll try to contact Rebecca in heaven to see if there's room for me, if I can get one more," Veeck said.