Believe it or not, today marks the four-week anniversary of the opening of the new CHS field in Lowertown, St. Paul (MN). Yes, it seems like a lifetime ago, when the first worthy souls were welcomed through the pearly black gates of the St. Paul Saints’ (Indy Pro, American Association) new heavenly playground, marking the beginning of an inaugural four-game home stand that saw 31,763 believers experience the second coming of Fun Is Good.
(Okay, enough of that sacred silliness – where is the Holy Hand Grenade when you need it?)
Because memories often fade and history is sometimes re-written as the years pass us by, I thought it would be the perfect time to flashback all the way to opening night on Thursday, May 21, to relive those memories with those who were there, and share the experience with those who couldn’t make it.
[Watch a pre-game interview with co-owner Mike Veeck]
For those who opposed the idea of bringing professional baseball to Lowertown, I have to believe they are now fully on board. Perfectly situated between I-94, Highway 52, the St. Paul (Metro Transit) Light Rail Operations and Maintenance Facility, and the Farmers’ Market, CHS Field is sleek, sophisticated, open and appropriately integrated. In fact, it is so integrated that you wouldn’t even know it is there unless you spotted it from the highway or finally realized the roar of the crowd you were hearing from your window at the nearby School of Rock was for the Saints, not for your rendition of “Jukebox Hero.”
Outside the stadium’s black/charcoal exterior walls, the Saints incorporated a couple nifty features, including a dog park with views of the open concourse and playing field, and the “Meander” sculpture consisting of lighted, blinking pillars to represent the twisting course of the Mississippi River.
Inside the ballpark is your pretty standard (nowadays, anyway) open, wrap-around concourse, a grassy berm, a state-of-the-art video board, and plenty of group gathering places for socializing. The most notable feature is the beautiful red cedar that adorns the stadium’s concourse and upper-level ceilings that show incredibly well, particularly at night. Architect Julie Snow gets huge marks for this unique design element, which, intentional or not, gives the facility a subtle warm, modern and classy Minnesota North Woods feel. The second-level Securian Club and adjoining outside patio also impressed.
Speaking of a sophisticated new ballpark, there are some who might have feared the Saints would lose their soul operating out of such fancy-pants, country-club digs. Not so! Make no mistake about it – the Saints’ irreverent antics are here to stay. For opening night, appearing were Pablo Pigasso (this year’s ball pig), the goofy and fan-engaging “ushertainers” (including those intentionally annoying mimes), shameless staff dragging the field in drag, and fan-favorite Seigo “Karaoke with a Real Japanese Guy” Masubuchi singing, “Feels Like the First Time” by Foreigner.
[Meet the Saints entertainment team]
[Watch/listen to a sample of Seigo’s work at old Midway Stadium in 2011]
Kicking off the evening’s inaugural festivities was the voice of a blues/gospel angel, Robert Robinson, and a back-up choir belting out a powerful rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In” at home plate. This was followed by a full-blown Mardi Gras parade along the field’s perimeter before St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman tossed out the first pitch.
THE WORK ON IT
Before I turn this over to my gallery of 85 photos from opening night, I want to provide one recommendation to the Saints to enhance the ballpark experience for fans. (We certainly can’t allow complete perfection right out of the starting gate, can we?) Well, when the sun went down, I found the outfield concourse, including the craft beer area, dark and uninviting. I would highly recommend lighting (string lights, for example, like I found at a rural Minnesota restaurant and Nationals Park in D.C.) and added texture (i.e., color, props, signage, plants, etc.) to make the area welcoming, festive and fun. It’s an easy fix, and I assume the always-creative Saints staff are already on top of this.
[Watch the Saints YouTube video covering the opening four-game home stand]
[Find yourself on opening night with Saints panoramic photo giant pixel magnifier]
With the “ahh” of an angelic choir, click below to begin the show:
Welcome to CHS Field!
Group from the nearby School of Rock performs just around the corner from CHS Field.
WCCO broadcasts live from outside the main-gate entrance of CHS Field.
Fun and games outside the main-gate entrance of CHS Field.
The Opening Day crowd gathers on the plaze outside the main-gate entrance to CHS Field.
The Mouldy Fiss entertain fans as they enter CHS Field from the main-gate plaza.
The Farmers’ Market just across the street from CHS Field.
A big dog puppet representing the Black Dog Cafe greets fans outside the main-gate entrance to CHS Field.
Fans enter the main-gate at CHS Field.
Grandstand seats filling up.
KSTP’s Joe Schmit interviews Saints co-owner Mike Veeck.
A view of the video board, grassy berm and Highway 52 overpass.
The St. Paul Saints players gather around the home dugout.
Robert Robinson and choir sing “When the Saints Go Marching In” at home plate to kick off inaugural festivities.
The pre-game Mardi Gras parade.
The Arborators perform as the Mardi Gras parade marches by.
A fire performer during Mardi Gras parade.
Chicks on Stilts take part in the Mardi Gras parade.
Mascot Mudonna’s close up.
The Saints lineup for the inaugural home opener.
The U.S. Army color guard presents the flag for the inaugural singing of the national anthem at CHS Field.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman throws out the first pitch.
Saints starting pitcher Pedro Hernandez fires off the “second”-ever pitch at CHS Field.
Now that everyone was inside, it was time to sneak out and take a few clean exterior photos of CHS Field.
The dog park outside CHS Field with views of the open concourse and field.
Let’s keep it clean and fresh smelling, folks!
Love the large and clean CHS Field signage.
An exterior view of the glassy Securian Club at CHS Field.
Outside the main gate of CHS Field with over 8,500 fans inside.
The Saints merchandise store, ticket office, and business offices from outside the park with giant lighted CHS Field signage.
The Saints Team Store just inside the main gate at CHS Field.
Merchandise inside the Saints Team Store at CHS Field.
Get your program here!
A capacity crowd .
The on-field emcee/correspondent dressed to kill.
Game shot. Nice views.
A view of downtown St. Paul from the Spire Home Run Porch at CHS Field.
A mime hawks imaginary ballpark treats.
The back gate at CHS Field with the Highway 52 overpass in the background.
A view from the grassy berm in the outfield at CHS Field.
CHS Field’s Craft Beer Corner offers multiple microbrew options.
What is your craft-brew pleasure?
While actor/comedian/Saints co-owner Bill Murray was somewhere in the house, this real-life-looking cardboard cutout greeted fans in the outfield picnic area at CHS Field.
Staff drag the field in drag.
A view from left field.
A view of the bull pens, video board and grassy berm.
And the game plays on…
One of several concession stands.
Let’s just stop and stare for a minute at the red cedar ceiling.
Mudonna stikes a pose.
More game action with a view of the upper-level luxury seating.
A mural of old MIdway Stadium adorns a wall along the covered concourse.
Check out the map of ballpark greeness.
Another crowd shot.
Love this old Minnie and Paul signage and pennants as viewed through the office glass.
The ushertainers try to get fans pumped up and out of their seats.
A view of the Spire Home Run Porch.
Starting pitcher Pedro Hernandez stares down a batter.
First baseman Angelo Songco challenges Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks runner/infielder Frank Salerno.
A night view of the grassy berm.
A view of the Treasure Island Resort & Casino Terrace down the first baseline at CHS Field.
A fan gets a trim from barber Bilal Saleem (AKA Mr. B). Now, where is our favorite massage therapist, Sister Rosalind Gefre?
Metro Transit light-rail cars just beyond the outfield parking lot.
A night view of the big CHS Field sign, concourse, and Securian Club porch.
A view of the field from under the covered concourse.
The busy concourse.
The second-level Securian Club porch.
A view from inside the Securian Club.
A night look toward downtown from the second-level at CHS Field.
More night views.
A night view of the Farmers’ Market just across the street from the CHS Field main-entrance plaza.
The Saints Team Store still open for business.
Fans still congregating along the Spire Home Run Porch.
A second-level view of the field from the Securian Club porch.
A giant baseball sporting its signatures under the covered concourse at CHS Field.
A night view of the beautiful red cedar ceilings.
A night view of the big CHS Field sign and Saints Team Store from outside the stadium.
The lighted “Meander” sculpture looking north up N. Broadway St. from the main-gate plaza of CHS Field.
“Railgating” signage at the Farmers’ Market just across the street from CHS Field.
Looking south down N. Broadway St. at a passing Green Line train just steps away from CHS Field.
The St. Paul Light Rail Operations and Maintenance Facility next to CHS Field.
Another view of the lighted”Meander” sculpture looking toward the main-gate plaza at CHS Field.
A night view of CHS Field across the corner from the School of Rock.
Goodnight, CHS Field. Final score: St. Paul Saints 8, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks 7.
Alan Poff is the founder of Ballpark Business (www.ballparkbiz.com), an online news and information resource for baseball industry professionals.