HILLARY SMITH: The RailCats need silliness like the Saints

2013-05-12T20:15:00Z HILLARY SMITH: The RailCats need silliness like the SaintsHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
May 12, 2013 8:15 pm  • 

On Saturday, the RailCats participated in an exhibition game that drew more national attention than any other before the start of the American Association season begins.

The 'Cats played in St. Paul against the Saints in a game that featured no umpires. Instead, the players called their own balls and strikes, they made their own decisions on the basepaths, and in case there were any disputes, the tie breaker went to a "jury" of Little Leaguers to decide who was safe and who was out.

The promotion was the brain child of a franchise that is notorious for schemes that keep people who don't know about independent baseball thinking about the leagues.

The Saints are the franchise that spawned dueling bobbleheads (John Kerry vs. George Bush in 2004, fans picked their favorite and the winning bobblehead gave a "speech"), a bobble foot on National Tap Dance Day to honor former Senator Larry Craig, and a boxer shorts giveaway on National Hot Dog Day of a hot dog having its picture taken by the Twitter logo bird in reference to former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner.

There isn't a baseball aficionado in the country that doesn't know the St. Paul Saints and there isn't a player who doesn't either.

RailCats manager Greg Tagert, who said he was contacted by the Saints before they announced their "no umpire day," uses the Saints in his recruiting speech to players who haven't heard of the American Association.

"We use the Saints when we're trying to sell the RailCats," Tagert said. "I don't know if there's a more recognizable name in independent baseball than the St. Paul Saints. When they were in the Northern League, and now that we're with them in the American Association, I tell players that they're going to play against the St. Paul Saints. Even when they left the Northern League, I told players they'd play in the league the Saints used to play in."

For the uninitiated, the Saints are owned by an ownership group that includes Mike Veeck, whose grandfather owned the Cubs and whose father was a part owner of the White Sox, and actor Bill Murray, who is listed as the Team Psychologist.

The Saints profess a philosophy based in fun.

It's that simple, and they haven't swayed from it.

In 2003, the Saints suited up Minnie Minoso to let the former White Sox left fielder hit in a game at age 77. The team he faced? The RailCats.

Tim Byrdak, who has pitched for seven major league teams, pitched to Minoso as the lineup card was sent Cooperstown for posterity.

There are teams that have tried to duplicate the success of the Saints and have failed in doing so. (The now-defunct Joliet Jackhammers billboard quote from God asking for ticket buyers comes to mind, or the Kansas City T-Bones' Michael Vick night promotion that was dropped almost as soon as it was announced.)

Independent baseball needs the Saints to try something fun like umpire-less baseball. It starts a national discussion and keeps people thinking about independent baseball.

 

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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