UPDATE: Please note, since this article was published, Michael Burgess was traded to York for future consideration
Last year’s “Only One” installment subject St. Paul Saints outfielder Alonzo Harris quickly pointed out this year, “We got a few more brothers on the team.” The Saints, with three Black players on its 23-man roster, open their 2016 season Thursday with a four-game series hosting the Gary SouthShore Railcats.
“We automatically connected right away,” said new infielder Tony Thomas. “I’ve known Mike [Burgess] since I was little, and I played against Alonzo.”
Saints Manager George Tsamis offered the MSR a quick preview of the Saints’ three “brothers.”
Says the manager on Thomas, “He can play infield and outfield. We tried to bring him in here last year. We finally got him.”
“It’s nice to have a big left-handed bat in this park,” continued Tsamis on outfielder Michael Burgess. “He will be in the middle [of the lineup] somewhere.”
“He had a good year,” he said of Harris, who re-signed with St. Paul during the winter. Harris last season scored 75 runs and became the second player in Saints history to hit at least 10 homers and steal at least 30 bases — he finished with 15 round-trippers and 39 stolen bases. “He can cover some ground. What an excellent centerfielder,” said Tsamis.
A native Mississippian, Harris told the MSR that he lived in the area during the off-season “and did a little ice fishing” along with working with youth. It was his first time fishing on ice, he added.
“This is my first year playing independent ball,” said Thomas, who was released last April by the Minnesota Twins and has been part of several major league organizations since being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2007, having a career .250 average in nine seasons. “I heard great things about the Saints and how it takes care of the ball club,” he pointed out. “I love being in the middle and the action that comes there. I love shortstop and second base.”
Burgess, a 2007 draftee by Washington, has played with 10 minor league teams and has 129 career homers. He told the MSR that his primary goal is to be consistent: “Being consistent is what separates the big leaguers from everyone else,” said the outfielder.
Harris says he hopes to improve on last season’s stats. “I want to work on being a good all-around teammate. I got speed, play defense, and can hit people in. I am a small guy with a little power.”
Asked about the noticeably few Blacks not only with the Saints but throughout baseball — St. Paul has more Blacks this season than the Twins across the river — Burgess responded, “I notice it, but I don’t really get into it. I just try to play my game.”
“I like to be outspoken about it,” said Thomas on this fact. “It is not promoted as much in the inner city or to the Black culture. I was just blessed because my dad played and got me into it. I would love to keep spreading the word and try to get more people interested in it.”
The Saints finished last season 74-26 with a North Division title but lost 3-1 to Sioux Falls in the American Association first-round playoffs.
“We had a good season,” reflected Tsamis. “We lost to a very good team. It’s disappointing, but you have to give credit to the other team.”
“On paper we feel we have a good [team], but on paper that doesn’t mean anything,” concluded the manager. “You have to go out there and get the job done. The off season is way too long. Looking forward to getting started.”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.