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SABR42 in Minnesota! Dave St. Peter, president of the Twins

June 28, 2012 By: Cecilia Tan Category: SABR

Here I am in Minneapolis for the 42nd annual SABR convention. Let me tell you, I am glad to be liveblogging if for no other reason than my laptop is warm! And these hotel ballrooms are BLOODY FREEZING. I’m already wearing long sleeves AND a wool sweater.

I took copious notes during the business portion of the opening business meeting, but if you want to know what goes on at the annual business meeting of SABR, you will have to join the organization and show up. The one thing that was announced which I will mention here is that SABR has a new partnership with MLB Advanced Media, commonly known as MLBAM (pronounced “em ell bam”), the folks who run MLB.com. There will soon be SABR-branded content on MLB.com and more promotion and coverage of SABR’s annual conference and the Analytics Conference in Arizona in March. (Next one will be March 7-9, 2013)

Brenda Himrich is the current president of the Halsey Hall Chapter (for the next two days anyway), and also the wife of Stu Thornley. Both are longtime SABR members and were among the first two people I ever met at my very first SABR convention back in 2002. (Stu is the official scorer of the Twins and is a fixture in Minnesota SABR circles.) The session opens with her comments:

Brenda: I’ve been waiting for you all to get here for the past four years! What took you so long! (laughter) I look out over the crowd here and I see great intelligence, some of the greatest analytical minds here who can retain incredible amounts of information and trivia. Let’s face it, we’re all geeks, but now it’s cool to be geeks! But I want you to know it’s always been cool the be geeks in Minnesota. We’ve bragged for a long time that all our children in Minn. are above average and the most popular TV show is the Big Bang Theory. So welcome and feel at home!”

Coming up, the president of the Minnesota Twins. What does the president of a baseball team do? Dave St. Peter was central to bringing Target Field to us in the form that it is here today. I have to admit, I kind of liked the Dome. I have fair skin, I burn easy, and I am allergic to grass. I was starting out as opposed to it, but he convinced me and a lot of other Minnesotans who aren’t even baseball fans that we needed a new field. I take my mother in law to all the Sunday games now and she is disabled, and the new park is so very very accessible. We have season tickets but my name is different from Stu’s and so the staff don’t know that I am connected to him. We are treated like royalty anyway. I think they treat EVERYONE like royalty.

Dave St. Peter:
Well thank you for that introduction. I’m glad to hear the new ballpark helped you with your relationship with your mother in law! I wish I could say the same. Thanks for the invitation to address this group and welcome to the land of 1000 lakes and the Minnesota Twins. Frankly I do a lot of speaking and this is the first time I spoke to a group that I knew less about baseball than the people in the room. So I’m not going to bullshit you. Also I have to say I’ve met him a couple of times and I aaw him in the back of the room, Roland Hemond, our group and I have so much admiration and respect for Roland Hemond. I have to thank Stu Thornley for the invitation. He is Mr. Minnesota Baseball, the consummate professional, one of the most if not THE most respected baseball historian in the region.

The new field is a sea change for fans here from playing in the corner of a football field, first place to draw over three million fans (in 1988), we have great memories, but you’ll have a chance to see the new place.

This group is about history and perspective analysis and context of our game. The upper midwest is a great home for baseball and we’re carrying on a tradition that dates from the turn to the 20th century, the Gophers and Millers and the Negro Leagues, the St. Paul Saints, and the Minnesota Twins. I think our region had been questioned as a great baseball area and you don’t see those questions anymore. Target Field has broken all those myths, we rank 4th in season tickets in MLB (22,000) and that is after a season where we lost 99 games. We strive to provide superior customer service at the ballpark and support the community.

In my spare time I coach a AA 14U team in my home town in Eden Prairie and it pains me to say we’ve got better pitching than the Twins. (laughter) You think I’m kidding. (louder laughter) We think our best baseball is ahead. We’ve been very pleased with Josh Willingham, he’ll probably be our All Star, like the rule five guy we got from Atlanta Scott Diamond, and the M&M boys of course are the face of our franchise. I know we have the whole “Minnesota Nice” thing going on but we have such high expectations that we can have a catcher hitting .321 with one of the highest OBP in the league and he’ll get booed. You’d think you were in Philadelphia.

(Talks a bunch about the Moneyball movie–I had to blow my nose because of how cold it is in here and couldn’t type it out, some jokes but the point was that the Twins aren’t “behind” the A’s in stat analysis or player evaluation.) We tend to be viewed as an “old school” organization, but we have a balanced approach with both the number crunchers and the people who go see the players firsthand. Mental toughness is the single biggest driver of success. it’s the one thing that allows guys to survive that grind.

Our biggest reason for team success is that our ownership allows the baseball people to make the baseball decisions. They try to hire the best baseball people they could, staring with Andy McPhail. We’ve had two field managers dating back to 1986. Tom Kelly was here for such a long time, he’d be in the hall of fame if he’d managed in New York. We’ve had the same farm director for 25 years. We know who we are and we don’t try to be anyone else. We have to develop players. We’re are never going to make it in free agency. It’s fundamental to every team, but development has to be our bread and butter.

Commissioner Selig deserves a ton of credit for helping create an environment of peace with the player’s association. All the other major sports are having problems. Attendance overall is up 8%. In the future we need to manage our marketing. The single biggest driver of change in our sport is technology, in terms of fan experience and all that goes along with that.

It took us 10-plus years to get the approval for a new ballpark. We did some things and I’m very thankful we did the amount of research we did. We were very interested in right-sizing the ballpark and the pricing. This ballpark is avery urban experience. 20 to 25% of our fans come by light rail transit and that’s in a city where there isn’t much transit infrastructure. It’s in the heart of the entertainment warehouse district. Like in Denver in Lodo we’ve seen a big resurgence in the building of bars and businesses. In terms of the ballpark it is the ANTI-Metrodome. Nothing points to a fifty yard line. It’s natural grass and I think that’s been therapeutic for Minnesota. It’s open air. History tells us that someday we’ll have opening day snowed out, maybe even a World Series game. I actually get more arguments about the heat now with people wanting to know where the air conditioning is. It’s a very intimate field. We took about an 8 acre footprint parking lot and created a 12-acre ballpark on it by building up and outward. We didn’t have room for a whole museum, but we celebrate the history of Minnesota baseball throughout the ballpark. In my estimate that’s the single biggest thing we can do to create that emotional connection to the past. Those multi-generational connections build the connections to the future. We’re hoping to have the NHL Classic. We do the high school championship. We’re a community ballpark.

We did a lot of work trying to define what the Twins mean. We ended up landing with four words: the first is “Passion.” I believe you have to be passionate to succeed. “Fun.” The word fun to me is not used enough in baseball. I give Mike Veeck a lot of credit for pushing the Twins and for reminding us that we can take ourselves way way too seriously. (Applause) The third word is “hustle.” Whether you deal with fans standing in line for a ticket or on the field, you have to hustle. Kirby Puckett ran as hard as he could on every ground ball he hit, even in spring training. The last word is “heart.” It’s going the extra mile and never hiving up, but it’s also about community, and about making our community a better place to live and work. In closing, our best three hires in moving into Target Field were: one, a meteorologist. (laughter) I’ve already checked in with him today. The second was the best groundskeeper we could get. We’re in the most northern climate there is for baseball, and we couldn’t do it without him. And third we hired a curator, someone to shepherd our history, who I think it meeting with some of you today.

Answers to questions from the audience.

(couldn’t hear the question)
Contraction is a dirty word around here. It was very hard on the staff. It was hard on the team and the community. But when that was all going on, the team was taking $30 million in revenue sharing. Now we’re paying in $15 million. So not contracting us worked out well for MLB.

(question about designing the dimensions of the ballpark)
You been talking to Mauer and Morneau? (laughter) When we were designing the ballpark, we actually were afraid it would play too much like a bandbox. The dimensions are actually very close to the Metrodome. What we couldn’t take into account was the weather. It’s turned out to be much more of a hitters park toward left field. But we’re not changing the dimensions. We might even put those trees back. (laughter)

(question about marketing to the whole region, not just the Twin Cities)
We do a lot using radio network, and the Twins Caravan. Was first team named for a state and not a city. Caravan/tour to promote to northern Dakotas and other areas was an invention of Calvin Griffith back in the day when the Twins first came to Minnesota. He understood the need to represent it as the whole region. Costs a lot to do it but it’s worth it.

(question about promoting Tony Oliva for hall of fame — gets applause — goes on to ask about met Stadium)
The Beatles played Met Stadium in 1965, but now it’s a mall you might have heard of, the Mall of America. The Twins first played there, and there was a lot of history there. We have a club area of Target Field named for it and try to remember Met Stadium as part of the new field.

(question about pitchf/x and such changing the game)
That would be a great question for Terry (Ryan, the GM who will speak here tomorrow). All of our baseball people have tablets and we have a proprietary Twins system that ties together all the video and scouting throughout all our whole minor league system.

(question about injuries)
I feel your pain But if you look across the whole sport, injuries are up across the board. We’ve looked at training, nutrition, everything. It comes down to needing a tremendous level of communication and a balance, making sure guys do what they should do on the off season, and that a two week DL stint doesn’t turn into a 6 week stay. Agents have a tremendous level of influence on whether players come back too soon, because they come back to get the numbers and protect their contract value, but maybe they push them to come back too soon.

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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