SCVBL: Saints draw great crowd
RIVER FALLS -- What do you get when you take 2,300 people, put them in a ballpark built to hold 350, throw in the St. Paul Saints and all their bells and whistles, on an 80-degree day in May?
One heck of a good time.
That was the consensus from players and fans after the Saints played their first-ever barnstorming exhibition game outside the state of Minnesota at First National Bank of River Falls Field Saturday. The independent minor league team defeated the St. Croix Valley Baseball League All-Stars, 10-0, but that didn't put a damper on the day.
“This was great,” Glenwood City native and River Falls Fighting Fish pitcher T.J. Wink said after the game. “This is a great baseball town, so to have the Saints out here and make it even more special is awesome. I've never seen it like this before. You can't beat it.”
Fans started lining up at 12:30 p.m. for the 4 p.m. start, and Saints pitcher Mark Hamburger said he knew it was going to be a special day even before the team bus got to the park.
“We came in and looked down from the road and saw the ballpark and it was already filling up, and it was four hours before the game,” he noted. “I mean look at the turnout, 2,300 people? That's beautiful!”
Forty-six year-old Tony Garner of the Plum City Blues got the start on the mound for the SCVBL All-Stars against Hamburger, and after surrendering a home run on the second pitch of the game proceeded to strike out the side.
“What a great time,” he said. “Everybody enjoyed it. I enjoyed it after the second pitch. A little bit of a hanger there and he deposited it where he should, but after that it was a lot of fun.”
Garner, who has been playing for the Blues since 1996, said pitching against the Saints was one of the highlights of his baseball career.
“At my age, to be able to still throw against these guys and only give up a run, and strike out the side; it rekindles the old spirit to get fired up for the rest of the summer,” he said.
Like Garner, most of the SCVBL All-Stars are long-time veterans in the league. Josh Eidem of the River Falls Fighting Fish, who managed the all stars Saturday along with Chris LeBreche of the Hudson River Rats, said it was a great way to honor the league's “hometown heroes.”
“If some of the college kids are back, maybe the roster looks a little different,” he said. “We had to strike that balance between playing to win and honoring those guys who have been long time players.
“What we do, and what these guys are dedicated to, are their communities and putting a nice product out there for the communities and just playing for the love of the game. And we were able to show that today,” he added.
Hamburger, who spent time in the Minnesota Twins organization in 2014 and 2015 and is known as The Mayor because of his popularity with Saints fans at CHS Field, gave First National Bank of River Falls Field and its fans high marks.
“What a pristine ballpark,” he said. “You could tell they made it with love. And I heard that they have a couple 80-year-old guys that come out here and help, and I heard that one of them was out here at almost sunrise this morning plucking dandelions. I honestly would love to sign that guy a ball just because I respect that a lot. That's how much I love this game too. It was an honor to come here and play.”