Thank You, St. Paul Saints
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier laments the loss of the St. Paul Saints to AAA-baseball and shares his thoughts on what the team has meant to him.
I Will Miss You St. Paul Saints
On Wednesday, I was honored to be a part of a joint press conference officially announcing that the St. Paul Saints would become the AAA-affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. This was something that had been rumored about for months, but seemed unlikely until the pandemic changed the landscape of baseball for good. Now, the reality is that the American Association and independent baseball in general have lost an icon; a team that was one of the founding members of independent baseball.
I will be honest with you. Until July of 2014, I knew almost nothing about independent baseball. I had just moved to Minnesota when the vision of Saints co-owner Mike Veeck and Myles Wolff became a reality. However, I did not pay much attention to the league or the team.
It was not until 2014 that I climbed on board the Saints train at Midway Stadium. At the time, I was the Chief Copy Editor for an online news site (whose name I have omitted as it was literally one of the worst places on earth to work). I went to a game to discuss the “Saints Experience,” and what an experience it was.
I enjoyed my time there very much and appreciated the hospitality I was shown. I sat in the press box at Midway Stadium and was kind of surprised that I was the only media guy there. It was good baseball, and they had a packed house. I must admit that I was a little confused at the lack of media attention.
I Found a New Home
A few weeks later, in a dispute over how writers were being treated at the site, I was fired. To be honest, it was a great example of “punish me with something I want.”
That opened the door to me starting Minor League Sports Report, and my first call was to the St. Paul Saints to ask if I could cover their games. I will say up front that I could not have been better received. Saints VP of Media Relations and Broadcasting, Sean Aronson, was very welcoming to me. He always allowed his intern to broadcast the game in the fourth through the sixth innings, and he would come over and chat with me each time I was there.
He taught me about the American Association and the Saints franchise. Sean and I are both Southern California kids, although he is much closer in age to being a kid than I am, so we talked about growing up, our love of the Dodgers, and baseball in general.
To be honest, I was a nobody, who had 25 people reading posts about the Saints, but I was always treated like I came from ESPN. The Saints helped to make me “a thing” in the league. I will never forget that the first time I met Winnipeg Goldeyes broadcaster Steve Schuster was because he wanted to meet me to find out who this guy was who was covering the league. He helped me to feel welcome in my new gig, something I am eternally grateful to Steve for.
Welcome to the Taj Mahal
In 2015, the St. Paul Saints moved into CHS Field. This was a huge deal for the team, and for the league in general. After all, a brand new $60+ million stadium had been built for an independent baseball team. Historic is not an exaggeration.
What amazed me was that Sean included me in every release, every press conference, every special moment of the building of the stadium. In early 2015, the team had a walk through to show local media the stadium and to highlight many of its features. Sadly, I got lost trying to get to the ballpark, and did not make it. When I reached out to apologize to Sean for missing the event, he invited me back for a special one-on-one showing of the park.
The amazing part about it was that Sean greeted me when I got to the park, but Saints Executive Vice-President and General Manager Derek Sharrer was the one who showed me around. He answered all my questions, talked to me about life and baseball, and treated me like I was part of the Saints family. It was just typical of how things were done in St. Paul.
A few weeks before the Saints opened their new park, I reached out to Sean to ask if I could speak to someone about doing a feature on the Saints and the new ballpark. Sean did not just find “someone” for me. He got me an interview with co-owner and legendary baseball figure Mike Veeck. There were no tables or chairs in the offices yet. In fact, they were still finishing up construction in the office area. So, Mike sat with me on the floor and talked to me for nearly two hours.
I will admit that there were a few times during that conversation that I thought to myself, “I know this guy has better things to do than to talk to me all of this time.” In fact, it was the same thought I had when Derek was showing me around. “I am not Fox Sports. Why am I getting this royal treatment from the owner and Vice-President?”
The truth is that this was just the Saints way. Mike Veeck is famous for his saying “Fun is good,” but the Saints motto could very easily be, “You’re one of us.”
On opening day 2015, the Saints had 14 different media outlets sitting in a press box designed for no more than five people. They set up a platform so that five people sat up front, five people behind on the platform and four stood. Where was little Rob Pannier from Minor League Sports Report? In the middle of the front row at the press box table. I was probably the least “important” guy there, but Sean gave me the best seat in the house.
I had interviewed Saints Manager George Tsamis a week before the season to do a story on him, and so I had about an hour duration of time in our relationship. However, he made sure that he went out of his way to shake my hand before the game, introduce me to his staff and several players, and even took me across to the dugout to meet the opposing manager.
George was and has continued to be amazing. He did a weekly podcast with me for five seasons, and would talk to me about player moves. Over the years, I could walk into his office and he would ask me if there was anyone I wanted to talk to. If I had a name, he had that person drop everything to come and talk with me. George Tsamis became my friend, and I was honored he thanked me for my coverage of the team when he won his 1000th game as a manager. He made me a part of that celebration, something I will never forget.
Too Many Memories to Share
In these seven seasons, I have been able to witness some incredible baseball, write features on some terrific players and, more importantly, meet some amazing people. I could give you a thousand memories to share, but these ones mean the most to me.
Because of George Tsamis, I am friends with almost every manager in the American Association. His coaches, Ole Sheldon and Kerry Ligtenberg, are amazing, and his staff has made me feel like I am part of the team, even letting me sit in the dugout during a game once.
Every time I have been at the ballpark, Derek Sharrer and Assistant GM Chris Schwab have gone out of their way to come and greet me. Derek may be 15 years younger than me, but he is the person I want to be when I grow up. There is not a nicer, better leader on the planet.
I have never sat down and had a long conversation with owner Marv Goldklang, but he gave me a moment I will never forget. During the 2016 season, the Saints had battled back to win a game late. It was an exciting finish, and the team was really fired up. After the contest, I went down to take to George and Marv was in the Manager’s Office. To be honest, I did not even know who he was. However, he knew me.
When I came in, I apologized for interrupting and George waved me in. He always made me feel welcome. Marv came over to me, put his arm around me and said, “Rob, that was a big one tonight wasn’t it?” He knew my name, and I did not even know who he was. After George educated me about who I had been talking to, I was a little embarrassed, but I also knew that this was just another great example of “You’re one of us, even if you don’t know that you are.”
Marv has always made me feel…well..the most appropriate word is loved. When I have been in his presence, he has talked to me like I always had one guy in my corner. I am not sure if he comes across so fatherly to everyone else, but I always have felt like I mattered to him.
Chris Schwab is amazing. The nicest guy and the most real person you will meet. It is easy to see why Derek chose him. I could say the same for Tom Whaley as well. I know I am using the word amazing a lot, but that is the only word to describe the people in this organization.
The Saints experience has brought me many friends. Kelly, who is responsible for all of the graphics that appear during games, has been great to me. Seigo has become a great friend, and I always enjoyed his enthusiasm for the songs he sings each night. Andy Crowley is a real professional and it is easy to see why games are so entertaining with such a creative genius at the helm.
Belle of the Ballpark and Mudonna are awesome. They have always made it a point to come and see me when I was in the press box, which is very cool. I mean, who doesn’t want to be hugged by a six-foot tall pig and the prettiest woman to ever grace a baseball stadium? I have enjoyed both.
I Must Not Forget
My apologies for being a little verbose, but there is a lot to love about St. Paul Saints baseball. For me the most important of which is Sean Aronson.
If you spent 10 minutes with Sean, you would likely think he was abrupt, maybe even a little arrogant. However, there is no person I have come to respect more in this game than Sean. He has a great heart underneath that biting wit.
From the first moment I walked into the Saints press box at Midway Stadium, Sean has been the most gracious of hosts. When I was a complete nobody (some would say I still am) Sean treated me like his most important guest.
A few years back, Sean broadcast his 1000th game. I got to be a part of that. His family came in for the broadcast, and he honored me by introducing me to them. I got to be a part of three of those broadcasts as he allowed me to sit in and be his “color commentator” for the contest. He did not need someone to be his sidekick. Sean is a sensational broadcaster and commentator all rolled into one. He did it because that is just Sean Aronson.
I am sad to see the Saints head for AAA, but I could not possibly be happier for him. Sean Aronson will be calling AAA-baseball and is just one step from the Majors. He has a great voice, a fantastic knack for telling stories, and a way of welcoming fans in that will make him a great broadcaster on FoxSports Game of the Week. I know that day will come someday soon.
I Will See You Down the Road
In seven seasons, I have grown from a goofy red-headed guy trying to get a new site up and going to a goofy red-headed guy recognized as sort of “authority” about American Association baseball. The St. Paul Saints made all that happen. They did not just allow me to come – they invited me to stay.
There are many great men and women who make up this organization. J.W. Cox, Jordan, Lee Adams, and Sierra Bailey are just a few of the many of the great people I have been able to know. The Saints not only opened the door for me to meet my partner on This Week in the Association, Kevin Luckow, and my stadium “son,” Stevie Larson, but they introduced me to great super fans, like Bill Tyler and Jennifer Andreachi. It is not hyperbole to say that the St. Paul Saints changed my life.
It will be sad that they are not part of the American Association any longer, but I will still go to games and keep up with how they are doing. I know they will continue to be a success and bring joy to hundreds of thousands of fans each year. Yet, I will still miss chatting with Sean about an upcoming series in Cleburne or shaking the hand of Derek. The Saints have always made me feel like one of them. I want them to know that they will always be a part of me.
Thank you, St. Paul Saints.
By Robert Pannier