A hot rumor in Twin Cities baseball circles has the St. Paul Saints possibly going affiliated if a new downtown ballpark opens. Forget it: the chances that happens are slim and none.
Not that there’s no precedence for a market switching from indy to affiliated in the wake of a new facility: it’s happened in Aberdeen, Allentown and Pensacola, to name a few. And the $54 million budgeted for the Saints ballpark is a pretty hefty sum for an independent facility — much more than what top-rate new Atlantic League facilities have cost in recent years. By comparison, a new American Association ballpark in Laredo cost only $18 million and looks to be a great facility. (Though, in defense of St. Paul, the $54 million covers much more than just the ballpark: it covers site prep and remediation of a brownfield site.)
But after asking around among both indy and affiliated owners, we don’t see any evidence that such a move is in the works, nor that any actual discussions of a move have ever occurred. During legislative lobbying for state funding of a new downtown ballpark, the issue never came up. The Minnesota Twins would need to sign off on such a move because of territorial interests, and we can’t see the Twins front office too eager to see a competitor just 20 minutes away, especially with attendance declining somewhat at Target Field this season. (An indy team can be ignored; an affiliated team must be sanctioned on some level.) The only affiliated league with a footprint near St. Paul is the Low Class A Midwest League, and adding a St. Paul team would be a stretch: the closest team, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, is almost five hours away, and the two closest Iowa teams (Clinton and Quad Cities) more than five hours away, with the heart of the league much, much farther away. A Class A circuit running between St. Paul, Bowling Green and the Cleveland area makes for some hefty travel times.
And then there’s the weather. It stays pretty cold in St. Paul in April and even through the beginning of May. The Twins have addressed this with heated areas at Target Field, but we’re already seeing the team being less of a draw in early-season games. A Midwest League team in Minnesota would face some serious financial challenges — worse than those already experienced by the Iowa and Wisconsin teams in that circuit.
So, unless something utterly unexpected happens, don’t anticipate seeing anything but an independent team playing in downtown St. Paul if a new ballpark happens.
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