ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- How many laps around CHS Field does it take to complete a marathon? Seigo Masabuchi knows, because he's done it. He's done a lot of things over the course of nearly 25 years with the St. Paul Saints, all part of a baseball career that has
ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- How many laps around CHS Field does it take to complete a marathon? Seigo Masabuchi knows, because he's done it. He's done a lot of things over the course of nearly 25 years with the St. Paul Saints, all part of a baseball career that has no precedent.
Seigo's business card identifies him as the team's "Director of International Development," but he is listed on their website as an "Ushertainer." He's best known at the ballpark for his between-inning karaoke renditions of thematically appropriate songs, and, yes, earlier this season he ran 84 laps around the ballpark in order to complete his 91st marathon.
Somehow this all makes sense, if we begin, logically enough, at the beginning.
Seigo, a Tokyo native, grew up with the expectation that he would one day run his father's construction business. He was the eldest son, after all. But that line of work didn't interest him so much. What did interest him was going to the United States to attend college, a desire piqued by an aunt who had married an American.
"[My aunt and uncle] worked in Minnesota, back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so I always knew about that. They told me about how nice it was. Cold, but nice people and so forth," said Seigo. "So when I decided to apply to university, I knew I didn’t want to take over [my father's business]. I told my father, 'Why don’t we expand our business to the U.S.?' I was kind of [bluffing], actually."
Seigo, a journalism major, graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1994. Beginning in college and continuing to this day, he has served as a liaison between American and Japanese businesses, helping to coordinate communication and logistics. Around the time that Seigo was beginning to establish his post-collegiate career, the Saints were making a name for themselves well beyond the confines of St. Paul. The team, currently the Twins' Triple-A affiliate, was established as an independent entity in 1993 with Mike Veeck and Bill Murray among the (still extant) ownership group. An anything-goes promotional mentality prevailed, presented as a distinct alternative to the comparatively staid approach of the nearby Twins.
"Twenty-some years ago, that’s when Mike Veeck was featured on 60 Minutes and the team was in national media," said Seigo. "So Japanese media, it caught their attention, and a Japanese media person contacted me, asking me to coordinate something with Mike Veeck. I contacted the Saints office. 'The Japanese media would like to interview you.'"
This fortuitous circumstance led to Seigo's ongoing "Director of International Development" role with the Saints. The initial Japanese media exposure he helped to coordinate led to interest from Japanese players in playing for the Saints, and Seigo worked with them to establish their new life in the Twin Cities. More recently he has coordinated visits from Japanese professional baseball executives interested in the Saints' marketing approach, as well as working on a ballpark soju bar concept with the owner of the Saints' now-defunct sister team in Nagasaki.
But if you work for the Saints, chances are that you'll eventually be pulled into their brand of between-inning tomfoolery. Seigo has been a part of it for over 20 years, in one form or another. On game days he works as an "Ushertainer," greeting fans and leading cheers atop the dugout while dressed in a white sport coat accented by blue rhinestones, sunglasses and an Indiana Jones-style fedora. This, too, is his karaoke outfit. It's not a Saints game if Seigo doesn't sing.
"My mother used to own a daytime coffee shop, nighttime karaoke bar, in Japan," he said. "I didn't like it, though. Because when I was growing up neighborhood wives came to the shop and I was kind of forced to do it, you know? For these older women. But that’s a major reason it came up [with the Saints]. 'Why don’t we have Seigo sing a song?' And that’s where it started."
At the end of the third inning or the end of the sixth, Seigo climbs atop the dugouts and launches into a pop tune that ties into the evening's promotion. This writer was in town on July 2 and 3, during which Seigo foreshadowed postgame pyrotechnics via The Doors' "Light My Fire" and Katy Perry's "Firework," respectively.
If "Born to Run" isn't among Seigo's top tunes, it should be. By the end of 2019 he had completed 90 marathons (including one in full costume as Saints mascot Muddona). This led to the idea to run his 100th marathon during a Saints game at CHS Field.
"We planned on it but obviously the pandemic happened. And March of 2020, I had COVID-induced heart failure and pneumonia, so I was hospitalized for 10 days," said Seigo. "I got better, but I had long COVID, so last summer I had three operations.... I wanted to do my comeback marathon here [at the ballpark]. I call it my 'Come Back From the Dead' marathon. But I just didn’t want to run a marathon as a gimmick -- I wanted to make it a purposeful thing."
Seigo's in-game marathon, his 91st, took place on May 8. He made it purposeful by raising money to fight Batten Disease via the sale of race T-shirts and bids to serve as a pacer for one of his 84 laps around the park. Batten Disease, a rare genetic condition, recently claimed the life of Mike and Libby Veeck's daughter, Rebecca.
"When Rebecca passed away at the age of 27 in 2019, Mike and Libby started the Rebecca Veeck Batten Disease Fund. To find a cure, for the research," said Seigo. "So I knew I wanted to raise money for that."
The CHS Field marathon was particularly grueling, as Seigo had to run on concourse concrete without a change in scenery or direction. He said that by "mile 11 or 12, my legs felt like sticks," but he still managed to finish with a time of 4:18:22. This was perhaps the most meaningful and memorable event of a long and improbable baseball career. Seigo, a long-running emanator of positive ballpark energy, was now on the receiving end.
"The people observing running, I think they lift the spirits somehow," he said. "There were a lot of people cheering me on, especially toward the end, and it got me very emotional. The support I got was just amazing."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.