Dave St. Peter is the president and CEO of a first-place major league team he listened to on the radio as a child in North Dakota, a team that plays in a picturesque ballpark he helped build.
He ranks as one of the longest-tenured sports executives in the Twin Cities, having purchased his positions with sweat equity that astounds even the workaholics who populate baseball.
St. Peter is an American success story. He hopes no one emulates him.
Growing up in Bismarck, N.D., St. Peter invented games in the basement when the diamonds froze. He’d pencil in statistics for teams real and imagined, and when his modest athletic career ended, he volunteered for the sports information department at the University of North Dakota.
After interning with the Minnesota North Stars, he interned with the Minnesota Twins and rose rapidly and improbably through the team’s hierarchy.
St. Peter has proved that if he gets one foot in the door, he will kick it open with the other. Sometimes, the door swings back hard.
“I’m praying and working hard every day to ensure that part of the legacy of my leadership will be transitioning from that old-school, workaholic approach to one that emphasizes more of a work/life balance,” he said. “Maybe that will save some marriages. I hope so.”
Intern to president
Visit Twins spring training or walk through the clubhouse and you’ll have to swerve to avoid bumping into a former player.
A half-dozen Twins standouts serve as instructors in Fort Myers, Fla., and anyone from Tony Oliva to Rod Carew to Justin Morneau is at the ballpark regularly, making Hammond Field and Target Field feel like interactive museums.
That wasn’t always the case. St. Peter repaired relationships with Twins greats even when admittedly neglecting his personal life.
“If it wasn’t for Dave, I would be at home, not doing anything in baseball,” Carew said.
Carew starred for the Twins and the Angels. He has no relationship now with the Angels and had none with the Twins even though his friend, Twins announcer Dick Bremer, had “pestered” him for years to become a team ambassador.
“Dave asked, and I was like, ‘I don’t know,’ ” Carew said. “But we became really good friends, and I could see what he was trying to do.”
The most important relationship in St. Peter’s life began, not surprisingly, in sports. He met Joan Preston when he interned for the North Stars. She was the team’s public relations director. They later married and had three boys. They divorced after the opening of Target Field, perhaps St. Peter’s signature moment.
“In essence, I went from Twins intern in 1990 to president of the team in ’02,” he said. “I’m proud of that, but I’m not sure I worked the smartest, just the hardest. That took a toll on me and some of my relationships over time.”
Former manager Tom Kelly and longtime executive Terry Ryan prided themselves on long hours. “We had that ‘everybody here’ attitude,” St. Peter said. “I want a work/life balance to not only exist but be mandated here. That might sound corny, but I feel strongly about that.”
Balance was never St. Peter’s rallying cry, and if it had been he might not be where he is today.
Whiffle ball to World Series
In his Target Field office, St. Peter is surrounded by the mixture of merchandise and nostalgia that defines his job. The oversized bat Kirby Puckett held for a Sports Illustrated cover shoot. Photos of current and former players. Trophies, framed articles and autographs — the stuff of dreams and the roots of baseball commerce.
St. Peter helped decorate Target Field, and takes pride in its many homages to Twins and Minnesota baseball history. He’s become part of that history.
In an industry defined by change and with a team that has become willing to fire even its most beloved figures, St. Peter is the rare sports executive who survives franchise slumps. He was named president in 2002 and added the title of CEO in 2016. St. Peter has seen the Twins transition from their loyalty-at-all-costs approach and jettison such favorites as Ron Gardenhire, Paul Molitor and Ryan while transitioning to an analytics-driven approach led by a young management team.
St. Peter embraced a children’s version of analytics while growing up in his family’s modest house. “It was a rural environment with a strong quality of life,” he said. “I think there is something about growing up in North Dakota. There’s a bit of an inferiority complex. We feel as though we have to outwork people.”
The son of an accountant and a homemaker, St. Peter grew up the middle child of five siblings. He’d play wiffle ball and tennis ball baseball in the backyard, unless his aged neighbor was home and yelling at the kids — “I’m not making this up,” St. Peter said — to get off his lawn.
“One summer we played 72 games of softball together,” said boyhood friend Bill Kopp. “He kept everybody’s batting average and on-base percentage. I think he’s the reason I went from batting second to batting ninth. Now when he comes back here, he’s a big celebrity.”
At 6, St. Peter spent winter hours in his basement, playing imaginary basketball seasons, keeping statistics and stapling papers together. “I didn’t realize it then,” he said, “but I was creating media guides.”
“My wife and I used to say he was the only 80-year-old first-grader we’d ever known,” said St. Peter’s father, Dom, who moved to the Twin Cities after his wife died last summer. “He had everything all planned out. He got his administrative skills from his mom and his hairline from me.”
At 9, St. Peter idolized the St. Mary’s High baseball team. He’d keep score and ask players for autographs. “I had this desire to chronicle,” he said. “The records were fascinating, the history was fascinating, and I felt more passionate about sports than I did anything else in my life.”
While attending St. Mary’s, he got cut during tryouts for the varsity basketball team. He also got cut from American Legion baseball. “I remember him coming home dejected,” said his brother, Bill. “I think that motivated him for the rest of his life. It motivated me, too.”
At UND, “I had no idea what I wanted to do,” St. Peter said. “I was pretty immature. I had a lot of anxiety early on.”
He found himself paging through a friend’s football media guide. “I thought: This is just like those things I used to put together in the basement for my imaginary teams,” he said.
He majored in communications with an emphasis in public relations. He volunteered in the UND sports information department. He worked as a copy aide at the Grand Forks Herald and wrote for the school paper.
After moving to the Twin Cities, he finished his degree via correspondence courses while sleeping on the floor at the home of his sister Jane Brill. “I wanted to have fun and party,” he said. “I sent out résumés blindly.”
The Timberwolves, Twins and Vikings rejected him. The North Stars called. “My internship ended after six months,” he said. “I didn’t get a job, but I got a wife out of the deal.”
“He’d eat those Hungry Man dinners,” Brill said. “Maybe that’s why he advanced. He didn’t do much other than work. He certainly didn’t cook. I’ve never known anybody to work so hard.”
The Twins hired him as an intern in their promotions department in February 1990. “He never hit like Tony Oliva,” his father said, “but he found a way to get to the big leagues.”
St. Peter’s first job was managing the Leaf Confectionery inventory. “You talk about putting on a freshman 15,” he said. “I put on an intern 20. I ate a lot of Milk Duds and Rain-Blo gum.”
Contest winners would become a Leaf batboy or batgirl, and St. Peter would usher them onto the field. “I’m on the field on Opening Day and I’ve got Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett right there,” he said. “I’m pinching myself.”
That summer, the Twins offered St. Peter a full-time job, managing their pro shop in Richfield. “I didn’t have much interest in going out and managing a retail store,” he said. “I said yes, and I think if I had said no there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have stayed with the Twins. In some ways, it was the best year and a half of my Twins tenure.”
Learning to deal with customers, hiring and firing employees made the job a training ground for his future roles. During the ’91 championship season, St. Peter would manage the store all day, then rush to the ballpark. When the Twins won Game 7 of the World Series at the Metrodome, St. Peter celebrated, then rushed to the store to set up displays for the next morning.
He became the Twins communications manager and helped with the team’s first attempts to win approval for a new ballpark. “That was a colossal disaster,” he said. “And I was a part of that colossal disaster.”
After the Twins changed course from veiled threats to dreamy promises, the ballpark was approved in 2006. “Dave made himself indispensable,” said Jerry Bell, who preceded St. Peter as team president and spearheaded the stadium push. “I hate to say somebody was old for their age, but he kind of was. He was dogged, and I’m sure his family life suffered because of that.”
St. Peter is one of the most accessible team executives in the Twin Cities. One night last summer, as his team fell out of contention, he met with season-ticket holders in the Champions Club. “I don’t take your investment lightly,” he told them.
St. Peter answered one complaint by saying, “We’re going to find a way to be a perennial contender, and we won’t be satisfied until that is the case.”
The next day, he made his traditional pregame walk, greeting ushers and vendors by name. “They are as important to the Twins as our players,” he said. “Our holiday party with them is one of my favorite events of the year.”
St. Peter wandered through the third-base concourse, through the right field gate and out to the oversized bronze glove where fans sit for photos. A child dropped a baseball, St. Peter returned it. He posed for photos, then said, “You look at people’s faces out here, it reminds you why we do this. We’ve got to find a way to make going to a Twins game affordable for these people. The model for concessions is not sustainable. We have to find different ways to drive revenue.”
He’s looking for different ways to manage a franchise, encouraging employees to work more efficiently. “Dave’s connection with every person in this organization is special,” Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said. “His care for this organization and the people and the Pohlad family is extraordinary. He’s there for the person walking in on their first day as an intern, and he’s there when I need help.”
These days the 52-year-old St. Peter exercises more, eats healthier and avoids 80-hour weeks when he can. He spends time with his three sons: Jack, 22, and twins Eric and Ben, 21. He remains friends with his ex-wife. “She’s a tremendous person,” he said. “I wish I had been a better husband.
“These jobs come with a tremendous amount of angst. They can be lonely. Going through my divorce, I learned the value of your inner circle, the people you’re really going to lean on and be vulnerable with and share with. I learned these things too late in life, but I’m better for it now. And I want this organization to be better for it, too.’’