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St. Paul Saints set to become Twins’ Triple-A affiliate

Twins’ Double-A operation will move to Wichita, Kan.

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Saints manager George Tsamis (22) gives fans the thumbs up before the start of the 2019 St. Paul Saints home opener at CHS Field in St. Paul. (John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press)
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The St. Paul Saints, the city's independent-league baseball team since 1993, is giving up independence to become the Minnesota Twins’ Triple-A affiliate, an industry source confirmed Tuesday, Dec. 1.

An official announcement is likely to come this month after Major League Baseball completes an overhaul of its minor league affiliates, cutting the total from 160 to 120 and aligning them regionally with big-league clubs. The Twins severed ties with their longtime Triple-A partner the Rochester Red Wings in November after nearly two decades in upstate New York.

CHS Field, the Saints’ Lowertown park, is 11 miles east of Target Field in downtown Minneapolis, a straight shot down Interstate 94. The Twins are moving their Double-A franchise from Pensacola, Fla., to Wichita, Kan., and expected to keep their Class A affiliates in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Fort Myers, Fla.

The Twins and Saints both declined comment Tuesday.

The Saints have been an independent team since 1993, first at the former Midway Stadium near the Fairgrounds, and since 2015 at CHS Field, a state-of-the-art stadium that officially seats 7,210 — although before the pandemic limited the Saints to 1,500 fans during a shortened season this summer, the team was averaging about 8,000 a game. They won their first American Association championship in 2018.

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The new affiliation allows the Twins more flexibility with roster decisions, and will let them keep rehabbing players close to home and give Twins fans a chance to see the stars of tomorrow play in person. The Twins and Saints appear to be the closest Triple-A partnership in baseball. Seattle and Atlanta are also within an hour of their top affiliates.

The Saints’ ownership group also runs a minor league team in Charleston, S.C., and one in Hudson Valley in New York. In an interview with the Pioneer Press in July, Saints co-owner Mike Veeck was asked whether he was opposed to being an affiliate. “Not with the right club, I’m not,” he said.

St. Paul Saints to become affiliate to Twins

The Twins and Saints partnered this summer with the Twins using CHS Field as their alternate training site during the COVID-shortened season. Throughout the summer, the Twins had consistently good things to say about the arrangement.

“It’s a really good setup for us for a lot of different reasons,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said of CHS Field and St. Paul in July. “… The Saints over there, the organization, the ballpark itself, it’s a very professional operation. They have taken care of us; they have been very open-minded to things we have asked them for.”

Following the lead of co-owners Veeck and actor Bill Murray, the Saints have developed a reputation as a maverick in professional baseball. Veeck’s mantra “Fun is Good” has informed many, if not all, of the club’s decisions, from employing a baby pig to bring baseballs to the home plate umpire to bringing in former major league stars such as Darryl Strawberry, Leon Durham and Jack Morris.

Veeck, the son of iconoclastic MLB owner Bill Veeck, worked in the majors for many years but helped start the Northern League after butting heads with MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent over giving Minnie Minoso, then in his late 60s, an at-bat in a minor league game.

“The Commissioner’s Office said it was not in the best interest of baseball,” Veeck told the Pioneer Press in July. “They said it would make it a farce. And that’s when Miles Wolff called me and said, ‘Hey, you want to start an independent league?’ And I said, “I’m in!” I moved in November of ’91, and we opened in St. Paul in June of ’93.”

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The Saints put together their teams through tryouts, one open to anyone who wanted to audition, and became a stepping stone to the majors for several players, including current Twins reliever Caleb Thielbar. In all, the Saints sent more than 130 players back into affiliated baseball in 28 years.

Now the roster will be filled with Twins prospects, some of whom will become star players in the majors. It’s unclear how Class AAA baseball will shake out, but it could make sense for the Saints to join the West Division of the International League with teams in Indianapolis; Louisville, Ky.; Columbus, Ohio; and Toledo, Ohio; and maybe Houston’s new team in Sugar Land, Texas, another independent organization becoming a Triple-A affiliate.

The Twins’ Double-A affiliate is moving from Pensacola, Fla., to Wichita, where they will be the beneficiaries of the brand-new Riverfront Stadium. The stadium was built to house a Triple-A team beginning in 2020, but that never happened as the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 Minor League Baseball season.

Beginning next season, the Midwest League (Cedar Rapids Kernels) is expected to become High-A and the Florida State League (Mighty Mussels) to become Low-A.

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