The St. Paul Saints' opening season at CHS Field is officially underway.
On Thursday night, the minor league team showed off their new Lowertown digs to a sellout crowd, complete with much of the goofy, off-the-wall humor they were known for at Midway Stadium.
The sleek wood and brick stadium sits on the eastern edge of downtown St. Paul. It seats 7,200, about one-fifth the number at Target Field.
But unlike most stadiums, there's a grassy berm that's designed for people to sit on and watch the game for $5 and a dog park just outside the left field stands.
The opener drew many baseball fans, like John Moore of Maplewood.
"I have season tickets for the Minnesota Twins and this is just as good as Target Field," he said. "They did a really good job on developing this baseball park. This is a great baseball park."
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So what did the Saints bring over from Midway Stadium?
There's the mascot: This year, the piglet Pablo Pigasso.
"Got the haircut and got to enjoy a good ballgame. And I'll surprise my wife when I get home," said Bob Vanasek, who went out to explore the new ballpark and ended up in the barber's chair of Mr. B, who has given haircuts at Saints games for years.
And there's tailgating, in a parking lot at Lafayette Street and Kellogg Boulevard.
But the stadium also sells the requisite upscale food options and craft beer, too.
Longtime Saints fan Rona Devitt of Inver Grove Heights noticed a different vibe from Midway.
"It was a little bit more freewheeling there, but it's still got the relaxed, casual, kind of fun-natured atmosphere that it did at Midway," she said. "Hot tub and loveseat. We miss the hot tub and loveseat."
Saints co-owner Mike Veeck acknowledged that Saints fans "are very vociferous, very opinionated."
"So far, we're all caught up in this first fine careless rapture, they're just waving and this. So, starting tomorrow we'll figure out what the complaints are," he said.
Veeck worked for several years to secure the $63 million home for his baseball team. The Saints provided $11 million of the cost to build CHS Field; state and local taxpayers footed most the rest.
As Veeck watched the Saints win an exciting game against the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks 8-7, he became a bit emotional.
"The seats are filled. People are happy. I'm thrilled," he said. "I mean I feel like a kid waiting for Santa to arrive."
Team owners, Mayor Chris Coleman and some of the people who already live downtown hope the stadium might do more than be a home for the Saints.
Restaurant owner Pete Quinn is thinking of buying a condo in downtown St. Paul.
"First impression is that I'm amazed at what downtown St. Paul has done," he said. "There's activity everywhere, every street corner, lots of vibrant enthusiasm. It feels like what St. Paul should be."
Thursday was the first of 50 scheduled home games the Saints will play at CHS Field this season. The Lowertown ballpark also hosts a jazz concert with Dr. John in June and the Walker Art Center's Internet Cat Video Festival in August.