Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 12. St. Paul Saints; St. Paul, MN. Zach Finding True Love, Karaoke With a Real Japanese Guy, and Justin Bieboar Combine for the Best Overall Fan Experience Yet

We drove from Lincoln, NE to St. Paul, MN today, our longest pure burn of the trip. For those of you from the Midwest, you know this pretty much took up the entire early part of the day. But that's totally OK, because this will still be our longest post of the trip courtesy of the greatest all-around fan experience to date.

I should note, though, that we stopped at a Culver's for lunch. This was Ben and my first time at one of these establishments, which it turns out is, according to Ben, a low-rent Friendly's. I call it the illegitimate lovechild of a Hardee's and Dairy Queen, but either way it's pretty epic.

Also, Iowa has the best rest stops ever. Free wireless, a clean energy theme for some reason (oh right...ethanol and wind, 'cause if it's one thing Iowa has its corn and empty spaces), and vending machines that function as an oasis after three verdammten states of PepsiCo.

Coke Cherry Zero? And I don't even have to get off the highway? Iowa, I'd drive through you to get to my real destination that's not in Iowa any day. 

I will also say this for Minnesota: there are a lot of lakes. And even in June, the weather feels bizarrely pleasant, like October in Atlanta. So that's been a nice break.

Also, huge ups to my friend Sarah, her stepbrother Dan, and especially his colleague Chelsea (as well as the entire Saints organization) for hooking us up with an amazing night neither Ben nor I will forget for awhile. Many of the tidbits under the highlights section were courtesy of Chelsea's guided tour.



Highlights:

1.) Announcer: “REMEMBER FANS: MIDWAY FIELD IS A NO WAVE ZONE. Why? Because it's STUPID.” Mama...I'm home.

2.) A Tuesday night, and both the outfield reserved and general admission seats were sold out (though admittedly due to a large corporate party). Still, bravo, St. Paul.

3.) Along those same lines, the tailgating we saw was spectacular. It looked like people had been out there all day: tents, kegs, fried tacos, ribs...am I at a Gators football game? Unreal. The best tailgating we've seen since the Royals, and that was MLB!

4.) “Grill the Manager” - submit questions to the Saints manager for your chance to win a...I'll just give you guys one guess.

5.) The Saints certainly have the most frugal fans we've ever seen. Parking is $6 or $7, and people were lining the street for a mile for free parking. That's...dedication, I s'pose.

6.) Hot tub? Oh yeah, you can totally rent a hot tub to watch the game. We got what you need. At least 6 unique luxury-type suites, including two right on the field, one built on top of a broken down van the city just left out back of the stadium (the S.S. Porkchop! Love the name), and one decidedly less luxurious spot on top of a sign in right field.

7.) The park was old. Only 29 years old, but it felt very Fenway-esque. Entirely concrete and steel, very narrow aisles and ramps, and everyone felt very close together. The concession stands were squeezed into the couple open spots between restrooms, but the vast majority of food, beer, and merchandise was coming from freestanding booths or mobile stalls. Virtually all the seats were bleachers. Ben and I both dug the vibe. 

The inside felt kinda like a carnival.

8.) Vidalia burger, my first ever cheese curds, an RC Cola and a jumbo pickle for dinner. Win? Win.

9.) The vendors' T-shirts: “Really, Toby? Beer for Your Horses? What a Waste!” Um...where do I get me one of those?

10.) The child selling chocolate chip cookies for $5. In Minnesota, we know the value of a hard day's work.

11.) The usher-tainers. These guys contributed immensely to the fan experience, leading cheers, riling the crowd up, conducting contests and promotions, and just generally all around riling us up. Characters included Coach, a Biker, and Segu (sp?).

12.) Turns out Segu was there primarily for an inter-inning entertainment segment called “Karaoke With a Real Japanese Guy!” He sang “We Are Family.” I had to give him a hug afterwards.
His song left my eyes aglow...

13.) Bill Murray is apparently a part owner of the franchise and randomly shows up to games. I bet that is one gopher-free field.

14.) Matt the vendor, who stopped by to chat with Ben and I after he saw our Braves caps. Apparently he was a Braves fan back in the day (though now a Twins fan, long story). Anyway, he told us about a horrible Twins promotion, and Ben and I both got very upset. I bought a frozen Reese's from him to soothe my pain. It's always good to meet fellow fans in the strangest places, and it was extra awesome to come from a vendor.

15.) Freight train rolling right past your outfield wall? Don't worry, the announcer is there to make sure you don't miss out by deadpanning: “Train.” I can't do it justice with a verbal desription, but it was delightful in contrast to his usual exuberance, and gave both Ben and me quite the chortle. Trust us, though, this was one of the funniest things we've seen all trip. It happened five times during tonight's game. Way to embrace your park's foibles, Saints fans!

16.) The Saints have a pig mascot. Like, a real pig. That we got to see and pet. He delivers balls to the umpires, who feed him from a bottle in return! He also receives unlimited cheese curds and fries as part of his contract. I hope I have some really good karma, 'cause I'd choose to come back as him.

17.) Did I mention any new umpire is forced to kiss the pig? Lips to snout?

18.) Oh, and his name this season is Justin Bieboar. Thanks, Saints interns.

19.) Their other mascot (costumed) is a pink fuzzy...I don't even know what to call it, kind of a female Phanatic mixed with a pig? Anyway, I bet Ben (thankfully he didn't hear me) that it absolutely had to be a guy in that costume strutting around. Apparently I was wrong. A female mascot? That's outstanding!! Absolutely outstanding. Can we get a drink sometime?

20.) No, seriously: are you single?

21.) The combo dizzy bat-burrito roll. Get really dizzy, then run, fall down and wrap yourself in a burrito shell, and roll back to the start? Sign me up.

22.) The “5th inning drag” - Saints interns were dressed in drag to go out and rake the infield. Lovely.

23.) You can get massages...from a nun. Like, a real nun. Holy smokes!

24.) Three straight botched double play balls from Fargo-Moorhead. Great job, guys!

25.) When the crowd was supposed to make noise, they put up clips of old monster movies (King Kong, Godzilla) to get the crowd riled up.

26.) This was the most spirited rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame we've heard from a crowd yet! The whole stadium was standing and singing, loud and proud. I'm sure the free peanuts they were chucking into the crowd didn't hurt.

27.) We were on our feet the entire top of the 9th. Not just the last strike. The whole inning. Awesome, awesome crowd spirit.

28.) During the 9th: Crowd chanting "CHA-LU-PA! CHA-LU-PA!" Umpire: Steeeeeeeeerike 3! Announcer: "VICTORY CHALUPAS FOR EVERYONE!"

29.) The fattest coach in professional sports I've ever seen. Fatter than Andy Reid! Thanks for setting a new bar, Fargo-Moorhead, and your head coach Wilford Brimley!
Is your diabeetus under control?
Hang on, just gotta catch my breath on the way to 3rd...

30.) The oddly PG-13 balloon popping race between two girls and two costumed folks: the odd pink mascot (Muddonna, I think her name is?) and a grizzly bear. I mean, obviously. Who else would you team up?
Announcer: "I think I need a shower."

Lowlights (With This Many High Points, There Had to be a Couple Lows):


1.) Is this entire damned city under construction? We got detoured like 6 times on the way to and from the park.

2.) Guy in front of us reading LOTR at the ballpark. Look, none of us is there because we have girlfriends, but you don't have to rub it in.

3.) Marlins, Phillies, and Cubs fans all in the house. BOOOOOOOOOOOOO. BOOOOOOOOO.

Regularly Scheduled Metrics:

Price of Beer
4.75 pts: $5.25 for the cheapest pint I could find, but honestly, we weren't looking too hard. Everything else was too awesome.

Most Caloric Concession Item
3 pts: No single item was that bad, but the cheese curds could add up. I saw one guy walk off with 3 plates of them.

Minor League Personalities
4 pts: Teenagers on a Date? Actually, they were in elementary school, it looked like. How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Karl Hungus, eh? Families Out for a Nice Night Together? Oh yeah. Minor League and Major League Diehards? Tons and tons of Twins and Saints gear everywhere. Drunkard? Not really, this was a fairly tame crowd. No Local Celebrities or Minor League Groupies were spotted

Willingness to Give Random Bloggers Free Seats
10 pts: BOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Oh, crud, sorry, force of habit. What I meant was, WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

Tailgating
9 pts: Epic for an independent professional baseball game. Absolutely epic.

Funniest Roster Name
3 pts: Jonatahan van Every. He was named player of the game, but I wanted him to be the Jonathan van EveryMan of the Game.

Promotion Quality
4 pts: Victory Chalupas? I'm thinking we'll just collect all the free Taco Bell coupons we can at these games (they all have them), then cash them in the last night and have a binge a la Harold and Kumar.

Diversity
0 pts: It's no coincidence Minnesota and Monochromatic both start with an M, is it?

Men's Room
 10 pts: Zach: “Hmm, this ballpark does seem pretty old. I wonder if...” (Opening door to men's room) “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! (Jumping up and down, to the utter consternation of the two other men in the restroom) BEN! BEN! DAY 12 AND WE FINALLY HAVE IT! (Pause) Oh, hang on, I gotta hit the head.” Man, just like old Atlanta-Fulton County.

Bonus points
Sweet zombie Vishnu, where do I even start? OK, deep breath, everyone...

+3 for NO WAVE ZONE, +1 for Grill the Manager, +2 for the hot tub, +2 for Matt the vendor Braves fan, -3 for Phillies and Marlins and Cubs fans, +5 for the general old park vibe, +1 for my first cheese curds, +2 for the Beer for My Horses shirts, +1 for ignoring child labor laws, +5 for all the usher-tainers (these guys work hard, folks), +1 for Bill Murray as part-owner, +3 for “Train.”, +2 for a girl mascot, +3 for Justin Bieboar and everything related to him, +1 more for getting to pet him, +1 for Dizzy Bat-Burrito Roll, +1 for groundscrew (read: interns) in drag, +1 for nun massages, +2 for crowd spirit in general (but especially during Take me Out to the Ballgame and standing for the entire 9th), +3 for three straight botched double-plays, and finally +2 for VICTORY CHALUPAS!

Total: 88. Remember, guys, this is an incredibly subjective scale that strongly favors ballparks providing free tickets and troughs for peeing.

Final take: Chelsea said they're seeking to build a new stadium downtown, but I say...why? I know, I know: more accessible (light rail), more space, ability to serve more people and expand the business. But man, it's gonna be a shame to see that park go. Saints organization, please heed me: if you're moving, take careful steps not to lose an ounce of the atmosphere you have at that stadium. That's the most positive baseball energy and the best fan experience – despite the park's infrastructural foibles – we've seen this trip. And the best part? You achieve it without being assholes like Cubs or Red Sox fans. 10/10.

4 comments:

  1. If you watch Space Jam, Bill Murray is wearing a Saints cap. Man, you really made me miss the Saints... I haven't been there in forever!

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  2. I knew Minnesota could pull off an impressive minor league experience. YEAH!!
    Signed, a Minnesotan (aka. Saba)

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  3. Zach, two years ago Kerry Lightenberg was on this team. You and people who like sideburns are the only people who would appreciate that knowledge

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  4. Ouch. Total dethrone for STL. Sounds a crazy good time though!

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