Sunday featured the kind of night they’ll miss in the industrial part of St. Paul.
As gray clouds hovered over an 80-degree day in the Twin Cities, Saints third baseman Joe Bonfe drove in the tying and winning runs in the seventh inning of a 3-2 victory over Sioux Falls. A 5,953-strong crowd took it in, some intent on the action, others amused by the team’s infamous "Usher-tainers," others happy to sip a beer in the outfield and catch up with old friends.
Afterward, fireworks lit up the sky as children ran the bases and people of all shapes, sizes and ages munched on food truck-provided fare.
The independent minor-league baseball club’s executive vice president and general manager Derek Sharrer soaked it all in, knowing there aren’t too many more evenings like this left on the Midway Stadium docket.
But he wasn’t melancholy.
"The nostalgia really leads to excitement," Sharrer told FOXSportsNorth.com. "It’s not the kind of nostalgia where you get sad and emotional about saying goodbye."
Midway Stadium has a capacity of a little more than 6,000 spectators.
Barring a hoped-for playoff appearance, Saints fans, players, coaches and staff have between now and the team’s Aug. 28 home finale to pay their respects to the old ballpark on Energy Park Drive. Once the season’s over, the fun-loving franchise will clear out and turn the property over to the St. Paul Port Authority, which in turn will begin marketing it to real estate investors.
The Saints, meanwhile, will prepare for life in their new, modern digs currently rising out of the ground in Lowertown St. Paul. The $63 million stadium project will feature all the trimmings of an up-to-date, amenities-aplenty venue that vaults the historical franchise into modern baseball times.
But it’ll never have the quaint, backward charm of Midway. No crumbling murals, no splintered wooden concession points of sale and themed group outfield seating, no trains passing behind the outfield wall.
Which is why the 22-year-old epitome of minor-league pageantry will spend the year’s hottest months honoring its longstanding home field in ways only the Saints can concoct.
"We’re just, in general, approaching the entire season as a celebration of Midway Stadium," said Sharrer, in his 11th year as the organization’s general manager.
They’ve branded it "The Last Train to Midway" in recognition of the engines that roll through behind left field, to which fans have customarily yelled "train!" during the Saints’ 22-year tenure at the stadium. It began May 16 with a reincarnation of a "Mime-O-Vision" promotion first deployed in 1993, St. Paul’s inaugural season, where mimes served as an instant replay mechanism by standing on top of the dugouts and re-enacting the previous play on the field.
Saints lore says the fans that night grew so fed up with the mimes they began hurling hot dogs at them. "It was the top-selling hot dog night in ballclub history," Sharrer cracked.
Fans this time around were more amicable — no wiener slinging.
Unless they make the postseason, the ride will end with the Saints’ final home stand Aug. 26-28. Pig mascot Mudonna will be joined by other Minneapolis and St. Paul teams’ costumed characters to help her move into her new pen Aug. 27, and another food truck rally and fireworks show will coincide with appearances from local politicians and dignitaries for the team’s last home game at Midway on Aug. 28.
In between, promotions from years past will be resurrected. New ones will be promulgated.
Most of them, Sharrer said, will have a Midway-type theme.
On July 12, they’ll honor the 2004 Northern League championship team. Aug. 16, they’ll give away a vinyl compilation of original, Midway and Saints-inspired tracks by local musicians. Aug. 27, the first 1,500 fans through the gates will receive a lithograph of the 1993 Any Nelson mural that graces the ballpark’s outer facade.
Nelson painted the stadium scene shortly before St. Paul began play at Midway, built in 1982 and originally known as Municipal Stadium. More than two decades later, the building’s charm has faded against a backdrop of run-down facilities, long bathroom lines and outdated amenities.
Construction of its replacement, Sharrer said, "is right on schedule."
Located on Fifth and Broadway Streets in the heart of Lowertown, the site now reveals the shape of the seating bowl, dugouts and the general shape of the diamond and outfield. Turf will be inserted by this fall, Sharrer said, and the team will move into its new home in February if everything goes as planned.
By this time next year, the Saints will be gathering fans at a new Mecca of minor-league shenanigans.
About 350 people that have held season tickets since the club’s inception were given first priority for seats in the new ballpark. The team’s ticket office recently finished taking care of all previous season ticketholders — with about a 99-percent retention rate, Sharrer said — and next month will begin marketing season-ticket packages to potential new members.
But the club hasn’t "checked out of Midway Stadium yet," Sharrer said. "We wanted to be sure that we did things here at Midway and with Midway that make people feel like we’re still investing in their experience."
So on the zany in-game festivities that define this franchise will go. It even added a Von Hanson custom bratwurst stand and a drink menu featuring part-owner John Schumacher’s "beer shakes" this season.
Because in the end, Sharrer said, it’s the people that have made Midway what it is; not the other way around.
"This is a special place when it’s full," he said. "It’s a special place when it has thousands of people in it laughing and conversing and having a great time. There’s definitely some nostalgia that comes with the experience, but we’re also excited to see that experience translate over to the new ballpark.
"The new ballpark is going to deliver the same experience, because it’s going to be the same people walking through the gates."