St. Paul Saints Vice President Shares Her Story
During the evening rush hour on August 1, 2007, the I-35W Bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others. It was the buzz of the day across the world, but its effect dug far deeper in the psyche of the Twin Cities. The bridge was a main conduit to thousands of workplaces in Downtown Minneapolis, and its plunge into the river shocked millions of people. The region was in mourning. Events routinely were canceled, including the Minnesota Twins game that night.
Mike Veeck, President of the St. Paul Saints, a minor league team seven miles away, wanted to do the same. But Saints Vice President Annie Huidekoper (pronounced “hide-a-coper”) fiercely was against the idea, believing the community needed a place to gather, and process the tragedy. He gave way to her persistence, but expected the bridge catastrophe would lock down fans in their homes. He was wrong—big-time.
Veeck laughs as he recalls, “Fans showed up in droves that night, and proved what I genius I am! Annie showed what a righteous, opinionated, amazing woman she is. She’s been the heart and soul of this operation since day one.”
Check the financial publications, and you’ll see the number of female executives in America has been growing steadily for several years. But a high-profile, high-powered female executive of a baseball team—and a gay one to boot—is far from customary.
That’s Huidekoper, a major reason why a puckish little minor league team, playing in the shadow of major league baseball, can remain a long-term success for Veeck and his co-owners.
One of them, actor Bill Murray, remarks that Huidekoper’s passion for the Saints is uncommonly deep and unwavering. From hot dog vendor to power hitter to front-office number cruncher, not a soul works harder and longer for the team than she does.
According to Murray “Annie is to the Saints what ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ was to the first saints.”
Scooping up wayward food wrappers and trampled programs from the passageways of Midway Stadium, where the Saints play, Huidekoper makes clear that no task is too small for the team’s Vice President of Community Partnerships and Customer Service.
Hustling corporate affiliations and season tickets are serious business, but Huidekoper’s immutable smile speaks of the fun and, well, pranks that she and her colleagues devise to keep fans coming.
Like the time they gave away a “bobblefoot” doll on National Tap Dance Night after then-Senator Larry Craig of Idaho was arrested for soliciting sex in a bathroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Or “Randy Moss Hood Ornament Night,” after the former Minnesota Vikings player was cited for bumping a female traffic control officer with his SUV.
The Saints’s enduring impishness bolsters Huidekoper over a workday that stretches to 15 hours during baseball season. But the 49-year-old New Canaan, Connecticut, native does have another life.
As Murray relates, “The only things Annie Huidekoper loves more than baseball are smiling faces and Joanne Swanson.”
The partnership of Huidekoper and Swanson, a hands-on healer, wasn’t always known to the rest of the Saints brass. Not all executives thought a woman had a place in a ball club’s front office—let alone a lesbian.
The tension came to a head in 1993, six months after Huidekoper started work for the team. The March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation was gathering that April. In most workplaces, taking a weekend vacation is quite easy, but a weekend off in the Saints opening season was near-treason. Huidekoper and Swanson went, anyway—AWOL.
Huidekoper’s lifestyle never had been talked about directly, in part because the then-General Manager would not have approved. However, upon Huidekoper’s return from Washington, Veeck cleared the air of all ambiguity—a watershed moment in her career.
Huidekoper recounts, “We were at a meeting with the General Manager when he [Veeck] took a deep breath, and said with a big grin, ‘So, Annie, how was the March on Washington?’ The General Manager was white as a sheet.”
But this unofficial outing went well otherwise, and Huidekoper decidedly was relieved. Now, people in the organization don’t care if her freak flag flies one way or another.
Huidekoper’s love affair with baseball began at an early age. Among the most cherished photos in her office desk is the image of her as a smiling 8-year-old in full baseball regalia—a flannel pinstriped uniform, tall white socks, and orange stirrups, with a blue plastic Mets helmet on top of a Red Sox ball cap.
Huidekoper explains proudly, “My father was a Little League coach, and I was his batgirl for seven years. I kept a very orderly lineup of bats, tucked into our side of the backstop, mostly at the Mead Park field in New Canaan.”
Fast-forward many years: Huidekoper’s relationship with her father has changed quite a bit, as has that with her mother. He lives with Parkinson’s disease, and she with dementia.
Huidekoper, who flies to the East Coast frequently to be with them, states, “My highest purpose for my family is to help my parents who are struggling.”
Back in St. Paul, Huidekoper’s highest purpose is to win approval for a ballpark that would be shared by the Saints and amateur baseball at several levels. They seek partial state funding of a small, well-landscaped facility in a quaint area of Downtown St. Paul. She is at the center of the quest, perpetually raising interest among the folks she knows best: the fans.
State Senator Ellen Anderson, sponsor of the ballpark legislation, points out, “Annie is the person who lives and breathes the fans.”
That closeness eventually will reverberate in the State Capitol, leading to enactment of the bill, the lawmaker predicts.
A lot has changed in the 41 years since her sister, Beppie, snapped the photo of the beaming batgirl.
As Huidekoper puts it, “Organizations evolve, and people find their niches and special talents. Our first year, 1993, was magical. A local columnist was saying, ‘You guys will fold by July 4th.’ But it’s like that Margaret Mead quote: ‘A small group of thoughtful people could change the world.’”
“I remember crying my eyes out in the stands after the team won the Northern League championship. I knew I just had a peak-life experience—like a great love affair. In our little world, we had come together and worked hard despite our differences. We’re still here, swinging for the fences.”