Memories of Midway Stadium

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The crack of the bat on a warm, mid-summer day is a familiar sound along Snelling Avenue in St. Paul.America’s favorite pastime has historical roots in the beautiful capital city of Minnesota—particularly in the part of town known as The Midway—about halfway between St. Paul and Minneapolis. After two iterations of the stadium and multiple tenants, Midway Stadium will shut the lights off for the last time in September of this year.

Throughout the 57-year history of Midway Stadium there has been one constant—the presence of Bob Klepperich, Stadium Manager. Bob has been involved with local sports for a very long time, dating back to the days of Lexington Park in St. Paul, before Midway Stadium even existed. He started out as the visiting team equipment manager for the St. Paul Saints.

Although the paychecks weren’t substantial in the early days, there were other ways to make money. “My first paycheck was for $25 a week from the Brooklyn Dodgers. I got most of my money from tips from the ball players,” Bob explains.

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He has wonderful memories of his time as equipment manager, “It was the dream job. It was phenomenal. I cleaned their shoes. We didn’t have laundry [in the clubhouse], but I could take laundry to my house if I had to. I even unpacked bags as they arrived.”

Some of baseball’s biggest legends came through town during his time as equipment manager, which was a highlight for Bob. The likes of Roger Maris, Bob Gibson, Harmon Killebrew, and Bob Uecker all took the field in St. Paul at one time or another playing for visiting minor league clubs.

At the time the Saints were the minor league “feeder” team for the Brooklyn Dodgers, a Major League Baseball powerhouse in those days. Hailing from Snelling Avenue, Bob was introduced to the Saints by some friends of his who worked at the Lexington ballpark. Little did he know, that he would spend the next 59 years of his life working in baseball as well—primarily at Midway Stadium.

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The first Midway Stadium was built on the east side of Snelling Avenue, hosting its inaugural game on April 25th, 1957. Bob was present for that first game. “The most memorable thing was that they had a split doubleheader. Dusk arrived and part of the scoreboard was still being welded together,” he laughs when asked about that opening day.
The field itself was big enough to satisfy even a professional baseball team. In fact, it was built in hopes that the Minnesota Twins, who arrived in 1961, would choose it as their home stadium. The seating capacity was 10,250—sufficient for a major league park in those days, and they had lots of parking available. “We had 3,000 parking spots so that was plenty.” Ultimately the Twins chose Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, the former home of the Minneapolis Millers.

Baseball wasn’t the only sport to take the field at Midway Stadium. The Minnesota Vikings used the field as a practice facility after the Saints relocated to Nebraska as the Omaha Dodgers. Bob then spent five years working as the Vikings’ assistant equipment manager for the Norm Van Brocklin and Bud Grant-–led gridders. Also sharing the field were local high school and college teams, which would play games there on the weekends. Back in those days, the catholic high schools such as Cretin-Derham Hall and St. Agnes were allowed to play on Sundays.

His often under-staffed crews worked long, hard hours often from 9am until 9pm. Bob moved from equipment manager to stadium operations due to time limitations as he began a teaching career in the St. Paul Public School system.
Civic leaders treated the missed opportunity of making Midway Stadium the home of the Twins as their political football. “According to the local politicians we were the white elephant,” Bob said. They still drew some pretty big concerts, playing host to bands such as The Cars and The Doobie Brothers. Shows like this would draw somewhere around 30,000 people leaving the clean-up crew plenty of work to do after the show. However, according to Bob, “That political influence led to its demise. After the Saints left, the ballpark was under-utilized.”

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The original Midway Stadium would close for good in 1980, only to be resurrected across Snelling Avenue with a new name, Municipal Stadium, in 1982. This was to be the home of Hamline Piper Baseball and would also serve local, private high schools as a football field. Bob accepted the position of Stadium Manager at the new ballpark, leaving him in charge of all building-related issues. This included staffing and early-on food and beverage concessions. In those days, the stadium wasn’t necessarily known for its food and beverage choices, sticking to the typical, humble ballpark fare such as hot dogs, popcorn, and soda.

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