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Bob's Banter: Always more fun when you’re in on the joke

Ever share an inside joke with 8,500 other people?

If you’ve ever been to a St. Paul Saints game you probably have. And I did last

Saturday night at their beautiful new ballpark—CHS Field—in St. Paul’s Lowertown.

Not only was I in on the joke, I got to enjoy it while sitting next to Saints’ co-owner Mike Veeck -- the man who literally wrote the book titled “Fun is Good.”

“I’ve worked for four Major League organizations and been fired by them all,” Veeck says unashamedly. “But I’m having a lot of fun now.”

Veeck’s father, Bill Veeck, owned the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns at various times, and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. But he is probably best known as the guy who sent a midget to the plate while owner of the St. Louis Browns in 1951.

Eddie Gaedel, at 3-feet, 7-inches tall and wearing jersey number 1/8, walked on four straight pitches before being replaced by a pinch runner in the second game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers.

Can you imagine an owner doing that in this day and age?

I’m not sure why the Saints invited me to Saturday night’s game. Maybe it was “Small Town Hack Sportswriter Night” at the ballpark. But when I took my seat next to Veeck on what turned out to be “Atheist Night” at the ballpark I had to ask, “How do you get away with something like THIS?”

“We’re not doing it to offend people,” Veeck said. “I’m a practicing Catholic and it doesn’t offend me. It’s like we’re all sharing this big inside joke, and if people don’t get it that’s fine.”

Veeck and the Saints have been pushing tongue-in-cheek, snarky sarcasm since their first game at Midway Stadium in 1993 -- from “Randy Moss Hood Ornament” and “Michael Vick Chew Toy” nights to giving away Tweeting Weiner Boxer Shorts, featuring a picture of a bird snapping a photo of a hot dog with a Saints pennant.

Earlier this season the Saints set the record for the world’s largest pillow fight, an event that earned them a spot on ESPN’s SportsCenter. That same night they also honored the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live, with former cast member Joe Piscopo taking some liberties with the national anthem by singing it as Frank Sinatra.

“When he started I thought, ‘Oh, no,’” Veeck said. “He was doing it with that Sinatra swing. But when it was over people loved it. They really got it.”

Another former Saturday Night live cast member — Bill Murray — is a partner with Veeck in the Saints ownership group. I asked Veeck why Murray was listed at “Team Psychologist” on the Saints’ website.

“Well he’s talked me off the ledge a few times,” he replied.

Veeck said he borrowed $100,000 and put $50,000 on credit cards to get the Saints up and running back in 1992.

“My family was out at Midway painting railings,” he said. “We didn’t know what to expect.”

Twenty-three years later the Saints have become the most successful independent minor league franchise in the country behind a combination of high-quality baseball and Veeck’s motto of “Fun is Good.”

“People love minor league baseball,” Veeck said. “Look at Cubs fans; they’ve been watching minor league baseball for 100 years.”

Despite Saturday’s Atheist Night theme, the evening was far from blasphemous. Saints player jerseys were rebranded “Aints,” and were auctioned off with proceeds benefiting the Foundation Beyond Belief. And a “Leave Your Soles at the Gate” shoe drive collected shoes for the organization Soles4Soles and its fight against poverty.

By hosting Atheist Night, Veeck said the Saints’ goal is to provide Minnesota Atheists and the Foundation Beyond Belief the same opportunity the team has provided other organizations, including faith-based groups.

“All things to all people,” he said. “Let’s just make it fun.”

The 8,500 people or so in the ballpark were sure having fun, although there was one guy walking around with a big, wooden sign that read “Infidels!”

“Security asked me if I wanted him thrown out and I said, no, let him do his thing,” Veeck said. “He’s entitled to his opinion.”

I guess that guy wasn’t in on the joke. Then again, maybe it was all part of Veeck’s master plan for the night. 

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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