When the Minnesota Twins and St. Paul Saints introduced their new partnership last December over a Zoom call with the media, both sides made one thing abundantly clear: The “Fun is Good” mantra that has guided the Saints wouldn’t be changing, and nobody wanted it to.
The Saints may no longer be independent, having joined the Major League Baseball umbrella as the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate, but they were still going to be the same quirky, fun-loving team that had endeared them to fans in the Twin Cities for decades.
A season into the partnership, the Saints remained themselves — just with Twins prospects and occasionally major leaguers on rehab assignments out on the field — and the Twins reaped many benefits from having their top affiliate nearby.
“There were a few different aspects to it, right?” Saints executive vice president and general manager Derek Sharrer said. “There was the relationship here locally with the Twins from a business perspective, there was the player personnel partnership as the Triple-A affiliate and then of course there was the relationship with Major League Baseball and being part of the 120 affiliated teams. (We) couldn’t be more happy with the way things went in this first season.”
Same goes for the Twins, who had the benefit of extra time when making decisions on player transactions and were able to provide players headed back and forth between the majors and minors with some stability away from the field. Instead of going from hotel to hotel, players were able to find a place in the Twin Cities that they could stay in all year no matter which team they were playing for.
The proximity also made things more convenient for the Twins’ front office, with more of the organization’s player development staff and coordinators around more frequently.
“I think the unanticipated part, at least for me, was to stay relatively connected to staff members,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “I know we didn’t have our full coordinator travel this year because of the nature of that. Seeing those people pop into our office and around to some degree, I sort of anticipated it, but seeing it live in action, knowing what that looked like, was a real positive.”
With Target Field and CHS Field less than 20 minutes apart, the Twins are the closest major-league team to their Triple-A affiliate, and all the advantages they expected to reap from that, they wound up receiving.
“I think it’s probably hard to even put into words just how important and how impactful it is for us to not just have an affiliate at the Triple-A level in such close proximity, but to be able to work with just a class organization and well-run organization the way we have,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It’s a luxury that nobody gets. Nobody. And we’ve been able to lock in and form this relationship that I hope lasts indefinitely.”
And why not? The relationship has been a win-win for everybody so far.
While Sharrer said there was an adjustment period for the players — the Saints’ in-game presentation offering something different than they’ve seen at other parks around the country — he credited Saints manager Toby Gardenhire and his staff for helping make that transition seamless, especially during a year in which front office and player interaction was limited because of COVID-19 concerns.
While attendance was high for the Saints while they were an independent team, Sharrer said there was a new energy in the ballpark, especially when major-league players — like Byron Buxton — came down to rehab. The Saints finished their season with a 67-63 record.
“(There was) a new level of buzz about the baseball that didn’t exist as much when we were an independent team,” Sharrer said. “There was always a buzz about the experience of coming to Saints games, but you could feel the buzz about what was happening in between the white lines, and that was a lot of fun.”
And after all, fun is what has come to be expected at CHS Field.
“I know that the people that come to the games have responded to what the Saints do and they’ve been responding to it in a big way by showing up for so long that you know people love it,” Baldelli said. “Is it an adjustment for guys that have been in professional baseball at the Triple-A, big-league levels to go in and see things like that? Sure, it’s different. But I think our game could use some things that are different and some shakeups and get people enjoying themselves. I mean, that’s really the point of all this.”