Patrick Reusse
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There was a search for long-time followers of the St. Paul Saints before Friday night's Triple-A East contest against the Iowa Cubs.

The object was to receive a small sampling of opinion on this:

How do these well- established Saints fans judge the entertainment value of their favorite team as a Twins' affiliate in comparison to the 28 previous seasons as a model franchise for independent baseball?

The first strike against the 2021 Saints in this comparison is based on the imbeciles restructuring organized minor league baseball dumping league names that went back as far as 1884 (International) and went with classifications and directions.

The previous Saints first played in the Northern League. They then were in on grabbing the American Association title that became available when that ClassAAA league was dissolved by the majors in 1998.

And what a fine label was that compared to Triple-A East.

Becky and Layne Gabbert, Plymouth residents who are not furniture barons, were settled in the second level of seats behind the plate a half-hour before the first pitch.

This gem of a ballpark would fill up with the largest crowd of the season, but not many were early arrivers.

"Back in the day, when the Saints started, we were part of a group that went to Midway [Stadium] all the time," Becky said. "The tailgating was so much fun that my family would fly in from New York once in a while.

"This is our third or fourth game this season. Not as much craziness going on, that's for sure. I don't think we're going to be on the field sumo wrestling, as happened at Midway."

Layne took a short break from cracking shells and eating peanuts and said: "Yeah. We had the sumo match one night, and she was a pushover."

How about the current product?

"We're kind of hoping the Twins get healthy and they send some of the people back that were supposed to be playing here, like Nick Gordon," Becky said.

"We were here the first game [Byron] Buxton was here on rehab and ran out the triple. We thought for sure he'd be in center field for the Twins by now."

Join an entire state on that one, Becky.

Infamously, Midway Stadium had Section F, which was home to nightly regulars. They took over this second level behind home plate with the move to CHS Field in 2015, and remained the "Section F club."

A fair number of those dropped season tickets over the past two years, first with the limited schedule due to the pandemic in 2020, then with the switch to the Twins affiliation in 2021.

The ticket prices per game are basically the same, but the Class AAA schedule initially called for 70 home games, not the 50 of the previous Saints. That led to some sticker shock.

A few gents were drinking very tall beers and standing in the back of the grandstand. How much for that beer?

"Nine, 10 bucks, just like they were before," one man said. "They haven't jacked up prices."

What did get jacked up for 2021 were expectations for the quality of baseball that would be viewed.

Bob Bielenberg, a Saints regular since Day One in 1993, said: "The product we're watching is disappointing because the team up above is a disappointment. It starts at the top, and right now the top is terrible.

"Last night, we had a pitcher [Rob Whalen] give up five runs right off the bat in the first, and no one even was warming up. George would've had somebody warming up."

George Tsamis was the manager of the Saints for 18 years. He is now with Kane County outside of Chicago, the Saints' replacement in the American Association.

The Saints went into Friday with a .215 batting average and a 4.89 ERA. Only the fielding at this level has impressed Bielenberg.

"We see plays every night we never saw in independent ball," he said.

Bielenberg looked toward the dugout and said: "What's really missing is there's no association with the players. Ole Sheldon used to get signed by an organization, and he'd be back a month later, and we'd be saying, 'Ole, we were hoping to not see you back so soon.'

"We knew those guys."

Jim Sperl is another Saints lifer so far disappointed.

"I don't care about how much weight the pig has gained," Sperl said. "I'm here to see good baseball, and there hasn't been much of it.

"They have four pitchers here, when they come in, you don't want to watch."

Only four? Hardcore Twins fans would settle for that.

Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing sports@startribune.com and including his name in the subject line.