Wednesday night at CHS Field in St. Paul, his team played Game 2 of its first championship series in seven years. Mike Veeck watched on his phone, 1,500 miles away, from St. Augustine, Fla.
“I’ve learned a lot about pet-friendly hotels,” Veeck said. “Too much. Gracie is a rescue dog, She was very nervous coming to St. Augustine because that’s where we got her. She was worried we were taking her back.”
Veeck made the long drive down I-95 to move his daughter out of the path of Hurricane Florence. Veeck lives in Charleston, S.C. His daughter, Rebecca, requires the use of a wheelchair.
“I had a bad feeling about this one,” Veeck said of the hurricane. “I thought we’d better get somewhere safe and ride this out.”
The team he helped found and remains part-owner, the St. Paul Saints, sent a baseball bouquet his way, beating Kansas City 6-0 to even the best-of-five series at one game each. The stories in St. Paul seemed almost as dramatic as Veeck’s.
Starting pitcher Eddie Medina, playing in the championship series for the third consecutive year, pitched eight shutout innings to get the victory. The Saints’ brass told the story of Medina guaranteeing a victory in exchange for the team getting his parents a free hotel room. Medina didn’t want to delve far into that, saying instead, “My job is not to be in the spotlight, it’s to get off the field. Dante told me before our big inning, ‘Hey, throw up a zero and we’re going to get a bunch of runs for you.’ ”
That’s Dante Bichette Jr., son of the former big-league star, and he hit a solo homer in the sixth after second baseman Zach Walters hit a two-run shot that made it 4-0.
Walters, 29, played for three big-league teams. The muscular second baseman will finish his baseball career this weekend, then finish the process of becoming a Navy SEAL.
He’s so fit that he leaves the rental car the team gave him to run the 3.7 miles from his apartment to the ballpark, so jogging 360 feet was not a challenge.
“Becoming a SEAL would mean more to me than anything I’ve ever done in baseball,” he said. “My family is military. I knew I wanted to serve. I wouldn’t mind my last games winning us a title.”
Saints games remain as goofy and lighthearted as ever, but management cares about results. Veeck sweats ever game. Executive vice president Derek Sharrer was named the American Association’s Executive of the Year for the fourth straight season. Say hello to manager George Tsamis and he’ll tell you how badly he craves another title.
The threesome has been together for 15 years, and wants to draw fans with what happens between the between-innings gags.
“I know this is the last thing that the prince of cheap theatrics should ever say,” Veeck said. “But winning is still the best promotion. Winning is what makes all of the work worthwhile.”
And the Saints have won, surging late in the season to make the playoffs and qualifying for the finals. “I’m missing it,” Veeck said. “But I’m happy with my choices.”
Veeck visits St. Paul regularly during the season. He might call Sharrer or text Tsamis after a game. “I can assure you I didn’t text George after Game 1,” he said, referring to a 11-4 loss. “It was ugly enough on paper — I didn’t need to hear about it. When you’re 10 games out and it’s the last game of the season he takes the losses hard, so I can’t imagine that he didn’t rip a few things off the walls after that game.
“I love that intensity, and this year he’s definitely been our MVP.”
Tsamis removed Medina after the eighth inning and Medina protested, but Tsamis told him he wants him ready to pitch on Sunday if there is a Game 5. “He tried everything to stay in,” Tsamis said. “But we have a plan.”
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org