Mike Veeck Delivers a Movie Scoop
Mike Veeck is on the phone the other day. He’s telling me “you’ve been nice,” and that he has planned for awhile to give me something newsy. So now the part owner of the St. Paul Saints baseball team delivers.
“I am working on a full-length motion picture,” Mike announces. “It’s based on my daughter Rebecca’s struggles with her eyesight. It’s based on the Gary Smith Sports Illustrated story that he did 15 years ago, or 10 years ago, or whenever it was.”
The Smith piece was published almost 13 years ago, and much of the story focused on Rebecca’s blindness caused by Retinitis Pigmentosa. The lengthy magazine feature was headlined “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and the story began this way: “Mike Veeck, the wizard of the minor leagues, has passed on his love of baseball and penchant for comic spectacle to his teenage daughter, Rebecca. She has taught him a few things, too.”
The working title for the movie is also “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and a script is being written. Mike doesn’t know or care that much if the story turns out to be a made-for-TV movie or is destined for theatres. He has relationships, though, with TV network executives and that may impact the direction.
What matters to Mike is whether the movie happens, because it’s going to be a fundraiser to help with the fight against the disease that caused Rebecca to go blind as a little girl. The daughter of Mike and Libby is 26 now and occupies part of her time making pottery. There is even a shop in downtown St. Paul that sells her creations. She spends a lot of her time, though, in Charleston, South Carolina where her dad owns a couple of restaurants with Hollywood’s Bill Murray, who also has a financial interest in the Saints.
At times Rebecca feels the darkness of not only her blindness but depression. “Good and bad days, but she is a tiger,” Mike said. “She is her mom and dad’s girl. She’s got a tremendous attitude.”
The movie will help many who watch it to understand the courage needed and the difficulties those with disabilities endure. That’s a story that Mike wants to share about his daughter (he also has a son creatively named William “Night Train” Veeck).
Caring for others was on Rebecca’s mind a few years ago when CHS Field, the Saints’ new home, was being constructed. Federal guidelines require handicapped seating of one percent in stadiums but CHS is at two percent—and her dad explained that “Rebecca had a huge influence on that.”
Mike had his 67th birthday in March and after a life that includes surviving a heart attack and recovering from alcoholism there are a lot of miles on the body, but the brain is still going 100 miles per hour. That brain just might find its way into a reality TV show.
Joan Steffend Brandmeier, the former KARE 11 news anchor, and her husband Joe Brandmeier, have been talking to Mike about such a production. “Mike’s Brain” would be a 30-minute documentary on fun in the workplace and life—kind of whatever pops into Veeck’s head. The program is being shopped for a TV home.
Mike has seemingly hatched a million promotional ideas, most of them zany, some pure genius and a few disastrous. The Saints’ savant has been percolating ideas 24-7 for decades, including with minor league teams he has owned and major league teams that employed him. The popularity and success of the Saints has risen from a startup independent league franchise in 1992 that was worth nothing and now just might fetch over $25 million if put on the sales block.
When the Brandmeiers first called they wanted to know what is in Mike’s noggin. He answered this way: “…Well, there’s nothing in my head.’ They go, ‘Okay, we’ll take our chances.’”
When Mike wrote the marketing plan for the startup Saints the first three words were: “Fun is good.” Those words were first written by Dr. Seuss, the famous author of children’s books, and Veeck knew they were spot-on for his franchise that would field a team of players that MLB clubs had little or no interest in.
The Twins had won the World Series in 1987 and 1991. By 1992 interest in the Minneapolis-based MLB team was at an all-time high. Mike knew he couldn’t tell the public to come see his Saints so they could watch “great baseball.” That product was at the Metrodome where the Twins and their opponents played the best baseball in the world.
But what the Saints delivered was slapstick at the ballpark. From the beginning it was pure Veeck—a pig delivering baseballs to the umpire, a nun giving massages, mimes performing instant replays, and on and on and on. All the shtick for one purpose: have fun at the ballpark.
Fun is a word that defines Veeck. It goes to the core of his philosophy about life and who he is.
How does he live his commitment to that single three-letter word?
“Having fun is a job,” he said. “You have to wake up in the morning and you have to think to yourself, I am going to really have fun. Because it’s not some silly …everybody be happy (thing that just happens).
“That (attitude) would make you the village idiot. It’s a conscious effort, decision (to have fun)—because there are kids starving to death in the world. There are kids who can’t read, people who don’t have jobs. It’s a serious world and you have to make a conscious effort to infect everyone you meet with joy.”
Mike has made a career out of “infecting” others and those efforts have gone beyond baseball. He taught an undergraduate class for seven years at The Citadel, sharing his experiences and ideas about sports marketing. “I loved it,” he recalled. “I never had more fun, and it was because the interaction with the kids was so great.”
Mike and a partner do training with businesses to teach them how to have more fun in the workplace. It’s something he is passionate about and wants to do more of because of his commitment to spread the joy of life!
How could it be otherwise coming from a family like his? His mother Mary Frances, still alive and nearing 100, was once billed as “the most beautiful press agent in the world” working for Ice Capades. “She was (also) the most organized woman in the world,” Mike said. “When you had nine kids, you had to be organized. She kept the old man on earth. He would have floated to Pluto if it hadn’t been for my mom.”
Baseball had never seen an owner like Mike’s dad Bill who once sent a midget to the plate in a regular season game and made national headlines. It’s a publicity stunt that is still talked about more than 60 years later.
Bill Veeck, always the master promoter, put “Martians” on the playing field, staged the infamous Disco Demolition Night and innovated the exploding scoreboard that shot off fireworks when his team hit home runs. The 1979 disco night turned into a nasty riot caused by rowdy fans. It was a promotion that Mike had more than a hand in, but that was a long time ago and maybe a story for another time.
Tonight the Saints are at home and play the Gary SouthShore Railcats. There will be a Memorial Day celebration because tomorrow the club is on the road. The entertainment at the ballpark will include a postgame fireworks show. The Saints’ fireworks are special and it’s a big reason why people come to CHS Field.
“We spend too much money on our fireworks show,” Mike said. “I got that directly from my dad. He overspent.”
That’s what you do when “fun is good.”