George Tsamis spent part of one glorious season in the major leagues, pitching for the 1993 Minnesota Twins. That was nearly a generation before Target Field opened, with the Twins still toiling in the dingy but uniquely lovable Metrodome.
Tsamis bounced around the minor leagues for a few years after that stint with the Twins before embarking on a managerial career that would land him, in 2003, with the St. Paul Saints. He spent the next dozen seasons in the equally dingy but uniquely lovable Midway Stadium.
Clearly this is a man not used to having the nicest things—and one who might appreciate, as much as anyone, just what the Saints’ new home at CHS Field in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood has meant for his franchise in their first season.
“The old parks—the Metrodome and Midway Stadium—they weren’t as bad as people want to make them sound. There was a lot of success at both places,” Tsamis says. “When the Twins left the Metrodome to [move] into Target Field, it’s beautiful and they were all happy to be there, but playing in the Metrodome was one of the best home-field advantages you’ll ever see. Maybe you miss the other place.”
Tsamis pauses. We’re in his office inside CHS Field on the Thursday before Labor Day. A Twins game is playing on the TV. In a few hours, his own team will take the field. He smiles. “But it’s great to be in the new park,” he says.
While again being careful to praise the atmosphere at Midway Stadium, which led to plenty of good times, Tsamis also knows a great thing when he sees it.
“There’s not one bad thing about the [new] stadium. It’s a beautiful locker room. There’s a beautiful indoor batting cage. There’s a beautiful field,” Tsamis says. “This stadium is as beautiful as you’ll ever see. It’s like playing in the big leagues. It has a big league feel every time you’re out there. It’s a big league stadium, just not as big. You love it when guys can’t wait to get to the park.”
In that sense, the new ballpark has set the stage for on-field success. The Saints made the American Association postseason on the heels of an eye-popping 74–26 regular season record, a pace that had them winning nearly three of every four games.
“Just because you have a beautiful new stadium doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful. Guys are playing the game the right way, they care about winning, and they work hard,” Tsamis says. “The guys are excited to be here, and they come out playing hard every day. The guys have been playing well since day one, and we’re having a terrific season.”
Fans, too, couldn’t wait to get to the park. The official capacity of CHS Field is 7,201, but the Saints averaged 8,091 fans per game this season thanks to overflow crowds.
Some of that is due to the natural curiosity of seeing a new ballpark. Some of it is an offshoot of being more easily accessible via mass transit; the last stop on the Green Line is just a fly ball away from CHS Field. And some of it is attributable to the revitalization of Lowertown, with the new ballpark serving as the centerpiece for new bars and restaurants.
Even Tsamis, who describes himself as “not the most exciting guy in the world,” says he has spent some time outside the ballpark. “There are some nice places,” he says. “It’s just a great place to be.”
Some of the attendance surge, too, could simply be traced to a winning team playing well. Whereas the baseball product at Midway Stadium was often of secondary interest to the fun-loving crowd, players say they could sense that fans were more into the games this season.
“We have a great ball club, and there are great ballplayers on this team. These guys can play at any level, and I think fans know that,” says Vinny DiFazio, the catcher for the Saints who was named the American Association’s Player of the Year after ending the season with a .361 batting average, 17 home runs, and 82 RBI. “[The fans] are not watching some recreational thing. These guys have talent and work ethic.” DiFazio played part of last season at Midway Stadium and says there’s no comparison between the two parks.
As well as things went for the Saints in the first year at CHS Field, though, is it possible next year could be even better? While it might be difficult to imagine the team winning 74 out of 100 regular-season games again, Tsamis says luring top players to St. Paul will be even more likely now.
“I think especially next year the new ballpark will help in recruiting players because now all the players have been through here and seen it and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is the greatest place ever,’” Tsamis says. “When you get a new stadium, guys are excited about it but it doesn’t do it justice until they actually come in and see it. A picture tells you it’s beautiful, but when they get in here, they’re blown away.”