Twins' president approach is low-key
MINNEAPOLIS -- Dave St. Peter walked the Metrodome concourse, the only man in a suit and tie among 32,000 heading to their seats, buying Dome dogs, picking through T-shirts and doing whatever else baseball fans do just before the Minnesota Twins take the field.
He took a right turn and walked into the stands, heading down the steps to see how pre-game activities were going. Within seconds, he spotted a former classmate from St. Mary's High School in Bismarck, N.D.
Karen Nathe, her family at her side, enjoyed catching up with her classmate, who has been the Twins' president since 2002. And for 42-year-old St. Peter, the stroll before a Chicago White Sox game offered a chance to stay in touch with fans who keep the franchise going.
It was typical St. Peter, a quiet, regular guy who few would guess runs a Major League Baseball club. For example, he answered his own telephone until a year ago, when construction of a new ballpark began taking so much of his time that he needed to farm out phone duties. Still, he answers e-mail and phone messages himself.
In many ways, St. Peter and the Twins do not fit the common baseball franchise stereotype. They are low key, and don't throw money at players. While some say that makes the club a cheapskate, St. Peter points to Twins' on-the-field success:
"Since 2002, there are only three teams in baseball that have won more post-season games than the Twins. Since 2002, there are only five teams that have won more regular season games than the Twins. I don't think people know how successful the Twins have been this decade."
And that has added to the team's financial success. So far this season, attendance is up 150,000 fans.
St. Peter must deal with keeping the medium-sized market Twins competitive with the rich folks, like the New York Yankees.
Forbes Magazine estimates the team's value at $356 million, 22nd of 30 Major League Baseball franchises.
Carl Pohlad, who died early this year, bought the team for $44 million in 1984.The Pohlad family still controls the Twins.
Revenues have been a Twins problem for 28 years, the time the team spent in the Metrodome, across downtown Minneapolis from the new home they will occupy beginning next year. The Vikings football team controls much of the revenue in the Dome.
About $40 million more a year should flow into Twins coffers with the move to Target Field.
St. Peter said despite being in a smaller market and fighting many of the same economic woes the rest of the country faces, the Twins are doing well financially.
It may largely be due to the impending move, but season ticket sales are up, corporate sponsorships are rising and the team's broadcast base is expanding.
"We have been insulated a bit because of all the positive energy surrounding our franchise," St. Peter said, in a large part due to the new ballpark.
There also is the team's long-held business philosophy.
"I think we have always operated in a relatively conservative manner," St. Peter said.
St. Peter stays away from the flashy, controlling tactics some business leaders show.
"There are far too many team presidents and owners around sports that are making decisions for their respective franchises that, frankly, they do not have the ability to make," St. Peter said.
"At the end of the day, we believe strongly that we should let baseball people make baseball decisions," he said.
Those who watch St. Peter say he is a good fit for the Twins.
"He's not a meddler," former Twins Manager Frank Quilici said. "He never lets his ego get in the way."
Like many others in the Twins organization, St. Peter rose from within.
"You look at his resume and it is not a classic management resume," said Doug Grow, a former newspaper reporter now writing a Twins history book.
St. Peter said he got into the job for the love of baseball.
"It has become more business over time," he admitted in recent interview. "That is to be expected. But I never let myself get too far away from the baseball part of it."
That is why he often plies the concourse before games or calls Twins' legend Harmon Killebrew or goes onto the field for batting practice.
"At the end of the day, I come back to baseball," St. Peter said. "That is the part of it that drives me the most."
Growing up in Bismarck, he played a little baseball and "like every 8-year-old I dreamed of playing in the major leagues. But reality set in, in terms of my ability to run and hit and throw."
At the University of North Dakota, St. Peter found a niche in sports communications, working for the Grand Forks Herald and the school's sports information department. He left short of a degree, but earned a public relations one early in his career.
After an internship with the Minnesota North Stars hockey team, where he started 20 years ago this summer, he landed another internship in the Twins' promotion department. From there, he went to running the team's Richfield retail store and soon was back in Twins headquarters.
Now, St. Peter runs the Twins' business operations, from ticket sales to promotion to, for now, ballpark construction.
Among his jobs is being involved in the community, not just the Twin Cities, but throughout the five-state Twins territory.
"There is a high level of civic involvement with the Twins," he said.
For instance, the Twins Community Fund provides money to build youth ballparks in the region.
Lisa Kihl, a University of Minnesota professor reviewing a program aimed at getting inner city youths involved in baseball, said the club does a better job of living up to its corporate responsibility than many sports teams.
"They are the community's team," Kihl said.
St. Peter said that he likes to think the Twins do more than just talk about community involvement.
"We are baseball team first and foremost," St. Peter said, "but there is a lot we can do. We have assets. There are things we can do to make it better for the community."