It is the ballpark that put independent baseball on the map, the place where Mike Veeck and crew honed their skills at turning a minor-league baseball game into a three-ring circus. Oh, and some pretty good baseball has been played here over the years as well. Here’s a look at Midway Stadium, the home of the St. Paul Saints.
Year Opened: 1982
Dimensions: 320L, 400C, 320R
Playing Surface: Grass
Ticket Prices (2010): Killebrew Box Seats, $20; Lower Infield Reserved, $16; Infield Reserved, $12; Outfield Reserved, $8; General Admission, $5
League: American Association (independent)
Parking: $7 for adjoining parking lot, which fills a half-hour before game time with diehard tailgaters; several $5 lots are close to the park; no-parking areas on Energy Park Drive are strictly enforced by the city.
Address/Directions: 1771 Energy Park Dr., St. Paul. Coming from the east or west on I-94: take Highway 280 north until you reach the Kasota Avenue/Energy Park Drive exit. Take Energy Park Drive east (to the right) for approximately two miles; the ballpark will be on your left.
When the Northern League was resurrected as an indy circuit — the first in a long, long time — it was mostly smaller cities in the mix. Organizers assumed that these smaller cities would carry the most popular drsws; they weren’t as sure about St. Paul being a good place for a team. And Midway Stadium wasn’t necessarily the best of venues.
Since then, of course, multiple independent leagues have popped up across the country. (Of course, multiple leagues have failed.) Several teams from the Northern League split off to form the American Association, and in general most indy teams are in relatively good shape.
One thing that hasn’t changed much, however, is Midway Stadium. It’s still basically the same place it was when Mile Veeck and Marv Goldklang opened the doors for business. The same between-innings shenanigans ensue, Sister Rosalind Gefre is still a fixture down the third-base line, bless her heart, and a ball-bearing pig still trots out balls to the home-plate umpire between innings. It’s a lot of shtick, but it’s a good shtick.
That the Saints are a continued success flies in the face of one inconvenient fact: Midway Stadium is one of the worst ballparks in the American Association. There is no theater-style seating in the grandstand (only metal-backed seats), no skyboxes, and the bleachers are awkwardly configured for baseball. (Midway Stadium was built by the city of St. Paul as a replacement for the charming original Midway Stadium, which housed the original Saint Paul Saints in the 1950s. The new Midway has a weird configuration because it was designed to host high-school football games as well.) The right-field bleachers are particularly brutal on a sunny evening. If you can score some grandstand seats, by all means do so; if not, head for the left-field bleachers.
Midway Stadium has a pretty simple setup. There’s a main grandstand, with concession stands tucked underneath. There are two sections of bleachers (head for the left-field bleachers for an evening game), with another set of alcohol-free bleachers in right field reserved for families. In recent years the Saints have added premium seats in front of the grandstand; they’re mostly for group sales.
Three main concessions areas serves the masses at Midway Stadium. The biggest is right behind home plate in the concourse area. Avoid it, as it’s usually clogged with long lines. There are two smaller concession stands down the first- and third-base lines, and these are less busy. (All three stands offer basically the same food.) The offerings are not fancy: hot dogs and brats, pizza, candy, peanuts, popcorn, pop, beer, and more. There are also auxiliary specialty concessions stand. Behind third base there’s an outdoor drill serving hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as a Dippin’ Dots stand.
FOR THE KIDS
Besides the ball-toting pig and other between-innings diversions, the Saints put in an extensive play area down the left-field line.
Parking in the adjoining parking lot costs $7, but you need to get to the game early to claim a spot, as they’re filled with tailgaters about a half-hour before gametime. Two businesses adjacent to Midway Stadium offer parking in their lots for $5 as well. There is street parking on Energy Park Drive, but watch the signs closely — the city of St. Paul will tag you if you park in a no-parking zone. In addition, there’s a lot at the corner of Snelling Avenue and Energy Park Drive.
WHAT TO DO BEFORE THE GAME
Saints fans are active and hearty tailgaters, who arrive hours early to game for the privilege of staking out an area in the parking lot in order to stoke up the grill and tap the keg. So head out early, quaff a few, and enjoy the summer weather before the game.