ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The St. Paul Saints closed their 22-year run at Midway Stadium Thursday night, marking the end of an era for the minor league team known for quirky entertainment and promotions.
The game against the Winnepeg Goldeyes drew a franchise record 9,455 fans, looking for one last chance to soak up the atmosphere of a venue that has become known for cheap beer, cheap thrills and spontaneous serendipity.
The team will leave the industrial strip on Energy Park Drive and move to the new Lowertown Ballpark in 2015, a stadium being built with a mix of private and taxpayer funds.
"It will be good for Saint Paul to have a ballpark downtown," actor Bill Murray, a Saints co-owner, told reporters, "When you see how it's going to affect thing, I think it's going to be a very good thing."
Murray greeted fans before the game, when he played the part of ticket taker at the stadium's main gate. People stopped to pose for snapshots with the veteran comedian and thank him for their favorite Murray movies.
"One of the problems when you have Bill taking tickets is he jams up the line!" principal owner Mike Veeck told KARE. "I don't know what that's about!"
And, as Mayor Chris Coleman prepared to throw out the first pitch, Murray changed the script by pushing the would-be catcher out of the way and assuming that role.
It was a role reversal from Murray's first appearance in Midway Stadium in 1993, when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day for the first Saints inaugural season. It was a rainy night.
"I remember the first night we opened here it drizzled through the entire game, and the fans just stayed because they'd been waiting so long for outdoor baseball," Murray recalled.
"Everyone was drenched, and I remembered our announcer in the seventh inning said, 'Don't forget tonight is fireworks night,' and the crowd just rose as one and screamed!"
Fans have come to appreciate the team's crazy antics and the quirks of the neighborhood itself.
"The fact that the trains go by all the time. It's just got that small town feel," Bonnie Francis of South St. Paul explained.
Sure enough, as freight trains rumbled past on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line just beyond the outfield, the announcer shouted, "Train!" evoking the crowd to repeat the exclamation.
Murray, pointing to the St. Paul Fire Department's training grounds nextdoor to Midway shared a memory of one of the stunts the team pulled.
"There was a fire up over there broke out and a body flew out the side. That was one of our bits. It was just a dummy but it was pretty funny!"
The entire idea of starting a professional team in a market that already was home to the Minnesota Twins had its share of skeptics, including Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman.
"That first game I remember my mom in the third inning saying, 'You might have something here!' and I said, 'Not according to Sid!" Veeck reminisced, with a big laugh.
Midway will give way to a business park, with the help of the St. Paul Port Authority and its partners.
"A lot of jobs will be on the site that will be available, hopefully to folks who will be in our community," City Council member Russ Stark said, "And we hope those will be good paying jobs."
But Thursday was about the old house, the boys of summer, and a venue that hit a home run with lovers of outdoor baseball.
"I tell people all over the United States this is greatest baseball experience in America," Murray said.
Some fans worry the Lowertown Ballpark won't be able to reproduce the vibe at Midway, which also was a haven for parking lot tailgaters.
"There's a lot of camaraderie out there in that parking lot with people," longtime fan Mark Crowley told KARE.
"You know everybody. And I don't think that's going to be the same. going downtown."
Murray acknowledged some of the Midway magic may be hard to duplicate in the new state-of-the-art stadium, but he said fans will come to appreciate downtown's eclectic mix of entertainment options.
"It won't be this ballpark. It won't smell like the state fair. But you'll be able to take a train to it and you'll be able to rumble around Saint Paul before the game, right by the farmer's market. It will be okay. We'll be alright."