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.”
A Thursday notes column that includes medical news:
Sports Headliners is told by a club source Miguel Sano is expected to be available for the Twins tomorrow night in Seattle against the Mariners after being out of the lineup almost a month since being diagnosed with a hamstring strain. He has successfully been on a rehab assignment earlier this week with Minnesota’s Rochester Triple-A team.
There is lingering concern the 6-4, 260-pound Sano needs a more dedicated approach to his conditioning. It’s more than a good guess Twins management is hopeful the 25-year-old third baseman will develop a better conditioning approach to his body.
The Twins, 21-24, have played 45 games this season but Sano has participated in only 20. He is hitting .213 with four doubles, five home runs, 14 RBI and nine walks.
Sano has a history of injuries and weight issues during his professional career. He has never played in more than 116 MLB games in a single season. He has the potential to be among American League leaders in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. After joining the Twins in the summer of 2015 he even told Sports Headliners he welcomed a comparison with future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera.
Sano considered the Tigers’ star the best hitter he had seen. “I can be better than Cabrera, I think,” Sano said then.
Sano’s best of two-plus seasons in the big leagues came last year when he hit .264 with 28 homers and 77 RBI, but he is capable of better numbers and is a key to whether the Twins can qualify for the playoffs.
Joe Mauer, who replaced A.J. Pierzynski as the Twins catcher in 2004, is 19 base hits away from passing the now retired Pierzynski on the MLB all-time career hits list. Mauer has 2,025 hits and ranks No. 269, while Pierzynksi is No. 259 with his career total of 2,043.
Pierzynski, who was with the Twins from 1998-2003, was traded to the Giants (along with cash) for Boof Bonser, Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan. Although it was one of the Twins’ better trades, Pierzynski had an outstanding career with seven other MLB clubs before retiring in 2016.
Cretin-Derham Hall is promoting to its alumni a “CDH Day at Wrigley” on July 1 when the Cubs host the Twins.
Paul Allen didn’t do his KFAN morning show yesterday because of a colonoscopy. Allen, 52, tweeted, “I do not have colon cancer,” and the Vikings’ radio play-by-play man expressed no concern about the procedure’s results.
After hosting the Super Bowl here this year and having a successful experience, it seems likely the NFL will eventually host its annual draft of college players in Minnesota. The league announced yesterday Nashville will be the draft host in 2019, making that the fifth consecutive year the event has been in a different city.
Gophers’ football loyalists are talking five to eight wins on the 12-game schedule this fall. The nonconference schedule with New Mexico State, Fresno and Miami (Ohio) coming to Minneapolis is among the easiest for Big Ten teams. The conference schedule, though, is demanding including only one likely “gimme game”—at Illinois on November 3.
League road games also include Maryland, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Sports Headliners is told the Minnesota marching band will perform at the Nebraska game.
Minnesota plays four conference home games: Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern and Purdue.
Who is counting but the Badgers have won 14 consecutive games in the rivalry with Minnesota. Wisconsin figures to be included in numerous preseason national top 10 polls, and might have America’s best offensive line.
John Williams will be honored posthumously June 23 by the African American Legacy Project of Northwest Ohio. He will be inducted into the organization’s Sports Hall of Fame. The Toledo, Ohio native was an All-Big Ten offensive tackle on the Gophers’ 1967 conference championship team and first round draft choice of the Colts who won the Super Bowl with Williams. After football, Williams was a practicing dentist for 34 years in Minneapolis. He was a kind and generous man loved by former teammates and others. He passed away in 2012 and is still missed by family and his many friends.
Canterbury Park will offer more than horse racing on Memorial Day when the Shakopee racetrack entertains with the fifth annual Running of the Bulldogs, plus a lineup of Twin Cities barbeque vendors. There will be 72 bulldogs competing in six heats between live horse races on Monday afternoon. Fans can also vote for their favorite barbeque vendor.
Dave Mona is looking for auction items for the ninth annual Camden’s Concert on August 2 at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Restaurant dinners, rounds of golf, specialty dinners in homes, wine/spirits and concert tickets are among the ideas for auction items. Suggestions can be sent to: Davemona6328@gmail.com.The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation benefit event is named after Dave and Linda Mona’s grandson Camden. The guest artist in August will be Jimmy Fortune, the former tenor of the Statler Brothers.
On a gorgeous Sunday yesterday we got a reminder about our crowded sports marketplace. The Twins and United played outdoors, while the Lynx opened their season indoors at Target Center.
The Golden Gophers and our seven pro teams (add in the Saints, Timberwolves, Vikings and Wild) often butt heads on the same day. The winners are Minnesota sports fans who have a plethora of professional and Gopher teams to follow in a society that thrives on choices and variety in everything from autos to wieners.
This area’s sports smorgasbord is among the most diverse in the nation. We also rank at the top with our lineup of (mostly) modern venues: Allianz Field, CHS Field, Target Center, Target Field, TCF Bank Stadium, 3M Arena at Mariucci, U.S. Bank Stadium, Williams Arena and Xcel Energy Center.
Ask the business side leaders of Minneapolis-St. Paul teams how they view all the competition from one another, and then get ready for a politically correct answer. They will tell you how great it is to have a rich sports landscape and that all the teams can be successful financially. The stock answers will include how they cheer for each other and wish for success by all.
Truth is, if you eliminated several of the teams, popularity and box office success would increase for at least some organizations. Last Sunday the Twins drew 28,577 fans and the Lynx attracted 13,002, according to the Star Tribune. Despite playing in spectacular weather against border rival Milwaukee, the Twins missed a sellout by about 10,000 customers. The Lynx, in a seaon opener celebrating last year’s WNBA title and playing a top team in the Sparks, had over 6,000 seats that went unsold. The United reported a sellout audience of 23,117 at its temporary home at TCF Bank Stadium.
At 3.5 million, this is one of the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the country and that large population helps to support all of our entertainment options, but imagine if neither the Twins, nor the Lynx, or United, had box office competition in the spring and summer. What if the Gophers didn’t have to battle the Vikings, Timberwolves and Wild for football, basketball and hockey customers?
Some operations get hurt in this crowded sports marketplace that includes a battle not just to sell tickets but also to generate revenues from suites, sponsorships, venue and broadcast advertisers, concessions and merchandising. Despite four WNBA titles in seven years, the Lynx work hard to sell tickets including in the playoffs. The Timberwolves and Gophers, even with infrequent successes, have histories of disappointing their fans. Support for these teams can be iffy and conditional.
You can add the Twins to that list. They and MLB also face the problems of inclement weather, lengthy games and slow pace of play.
The Vikings win any and all popularity contests here. With a winning team and fabulous venue in U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings can withstand any number of competitors for the sports dollar in this marketplace. The NFL, despite its infamous reputation for head trauma, remains at the top of the American sports kingdom including in Minneapolis.
The Wild has produced competitive teams but little to cheer about in the playoffs. The organization, though, excels at customer relations and is in sync with the rabid hockey market in Minnesota. Hockey fans have a special passion for their sport and the Wild has never seriously broken the bond with its fanbase.
It’s niche loyalty that serves the Saints, too. The local independent baseball franchise’s shtick has branded the Saints as entertainment first, winning second. Comedian Bill Murray is an owner and there seemingly is no end to the gimmicks in the organization’s marketing plan. The Saints do it right, including dividing up their CHS Field seat allotment into thirds for season tickets, groups and individual sales.
Saints games are family friendly and tickets inexpensive compared with many of the offerings in this market. Affordable pricing is part of the United’s strategy, also. The second-year Minnesota MLS franchise is aiming to fill its stadium with what executives see as an unfilled opportunity to satisfy the existing and growing soccer interest in the state.
Part of what’s fueled the population growth in this area is an increasing immigrant population. Many of those newcomers love the “world’s sport”—soccer. A lot of immigrants are young and like other Minnesota millennials have grown up playing soccer.
Millennials, though, are an elusive target for some sport marketers. Baseball, football and golf all want to score with millenials who have a reputation for short attention spans. Ask a millennial if he watched a Twins game, or even the Vikings, and a predictable answer is he opted for a 25-second video recap.
For now at least there isn’t any downsizing in this busy sports marketplace that includes the Minnesota Whitecaps, the women’s pro hockey franchise that has been around since 2004. Leaders announced last week the Whitecaps are joining the National Women’s Hockey League. That’s the highest level of American women’s professional hockey, so we’re big league in that, too.
Expansion of the sports menu appears likely with Minneapolis-St. Paul trading the 3M Championship senior golf tournament for a PGA Tour event starting in 2019. More competition for the sports dollar locally but another option for the consumer.