St. Paul Saints games at CHS Field in downtown St. Paul, Minn., don’t simply provide fans with an opportunity to watch minor-league professional baseball. Parents and children also get the opportunity to see local children’s authors and illustrators read and create art in front of them.
The Saints’ Reading Tree literacy program has taken place on the field before every Sunday home game for the past decade. Each featured author or illustrator is joined by a ballplayer during the Reading Tree pre-game program and his or her book jacket is posted on the scoreboard during the game.
The Reading Tree was conceived about 20 years ago by St. Paul Saints owner Mike Veeck. While discussing with a friend of his the importance of literacy and fostering the love of reading in children, Veeck hit upon hosting readings under a tree next to the Saints’ former home, Midway Stadium, before Sunday games. It became so popular that it was moved onto the field itself, where it has remained, even after the Saints moved to the 7,000-seat CHS Field this spring.
This season’s lineup includes Aimee Bissonette (May 24); Mike Whonoutka (June 7); Kurtis Scaletta (June 21); Jill Kalz (July 5); Derek Anderson (July 19); John Coy (July 26); Trisha Speed Shaskan (August 9); Stephanie Watson (August 23); and Eileen Beha (September 6). Mackin Educational Resources, a Reading Tree sponsor, headquartered in Burnsville, Minn., coordinates the author and illustrator lineups.
“We like to give the opportunity to as many authors and illustrators as we can,” Amy Baum, Mackin’s marketing and promotions manager said, “Some are more comfortable with this setting than others. Typically, we try to stick to picture books, although two this year had early chapter and middle grade titles.” Baum has worked with the Saints in coordinating the Reading Tree for the past six years, since she was previously the marketing and promotions manager at the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul.
Typically, about 50-75 people arrive early at CHS Field for some reading before baseball. This past Sunday, Anderson read from his picture book Ten Pigs: An Epic Bath Adventure (Scholastic/Orchard). He was joined by the Saints’ mascot, Pablo Pigasso, a live pig, before the Saints played against the Winnipeg Goldeyes.
“We had to do a little fancy dancing to get Pigasso to join him,” Baum said, “Derek did a wonderful sketch of one of his pigs at bat promoting his appearance.”
While books are not available for sale alongside the hot dogs and peanuts at CHS Field, attendees are encouraged to buy books at local bookstores after the games, while any educators and librarians at the games are directed towards Mackin for help acquiring books for their collections.