Former San Antonio Missions manager Doug Dascenzo still remembers the day that Joe Wieland first walked into the home team clubhouse at Wolff Stadium.
Dascenzo was happy that Wieland and Robbie Erlin were joining the ball club, coming over in a trade.
But it was still an extremely strange sequence of events, considering that earlier in the week, Wieland had thrown a no-hitter against the Missions.
On the day of the trade nine years ago this summer, Wieland and Erlin woke up at their team’s hotel in San Antonio and rode the bus with the rest of the Frisco RoughRiders to the Wolff.
Then they entered the manager’s office to meet Dascenzo. After pleasantries, in came Tom Tornincasa, the Missions’ hitting coach.
“He’s the hitting coach that just got no-hit a few days earlier, right,” Dascenzo said in a telephone interview. “And if you’re ever around a hitting coach, and their team does not get any hits in a game, they’re not very happy.”
Tornincasa shook hands and offered a few kind words for Erlin.
“He extends his hand to Robbie and says, ‘Hey welcome,’ “ Dascenzo said. “ ‘We’re glad you’re here. Blah, blah, blah.’ Then he turns to Joe Wieland and he tells him a few things, (with) a few choice words. He says, ‘I’ll talk to him later.’ “
Dascenzo chuckled, remembering the moment. “He walked away,” the manager said. “But, of course, they end up being best buddies.” Such was life in the Missions’ clubhouse in 2011, when the ball club produced arguably the greatest season in franchise history.
With Wieland and Erlin on the staff for the stretch run, the Missions would go on to win the second half in the Texas League South, compiling 94 regular-season victories along the way.
Combined with a 6-1 run through two playoff series – including 3-1 against Frisco and a 3-0 against Arkansas — the Missions finished 100-47, posting the most victories in one season in the team’s long history.
Arguably, it was a championship season unlike any of the 13 in franchise history. Only the 1908 squad won more games in the regular season with 95. That year, however, the San Antonio Bronchos did not need to back up their first-place finish, because there were no playoffs.
Among the six championship squads in 26 seasons at the Wolff, the 2011 Missions produced more victories than any of the others.
Only a Dave Brundage-managed 2003 Missions team compares. Brundage led his Seattle Mariners’ affiliated squad to a second-straight league title by winning both halves, claiming 88 regular-season victories and 92 total.
Dascenzo’s San Diego Padres-affiliated Missions in 2011 were even better.
They sent numerous players into the major leagues, including four — Brad Brach (New York Mets), Miles Mikolas (St. Louis Cardinals), Jedd Gyorko (Milwaukee Brewers) and Daniel Robertson (Tampa Bay Rays) — who remain on active rosters. Both Brach and Mikolas have earned MLB all-star designations.
Nine years ago, during the Missions’ postgame title celebration, Robertson said he liked the season-long atmosphere in the clubhouse because it felt “like being in college.”
“There was a lot of chemistry on this team,” Robertson told John Whisler of the San Antonio Express-News. “We had some new guys (join the club) at midseason after the call-ups, and they all fit right in. We didn’t have a bunch of superstars, just really good players who didn’t want to let their teammates down.”
Dascenzo, speaking in a telephone interview from his home in Pennsylvania, agreed. Now a minor league field coordinator in the Chicago Cubs organization, he tipped his cap to his former players. He said they all learned to win on the way up through the Padres’ system.
In 2009, for instance, the same core of players won 101 games and a championship with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps. “So in a matter of two years,” Dascenzo said, “you had the same group of guys that had the same exact season at two different levels, at the low-A level and the Double-A level. That’s amazing, and probably unheard of in modern-day baseball.”
Key contributors to both the TinCaps and the Missions were Robertson, Blake Tekotte, Jaff Decker, Sawyer Carroll and James Darnell among position players, not to mention pitchers such as Brach, Simon Castro and Anthony Bass.
The Missions defeated their Texas League opposition with just about every tool imaginable — power hitting, pitching and defense. Sometimes, with a combination of all three. Dascenzo, looking back, marveled that the Missions cranked out 159 home runs in a pitcher’s ball park.
“We probably weren’t expected to hit the ball out of the ball park as much as we actually did,” he said. “There is a big wind at Wolff Stadium. It blows straight in from right field, and we had a lot of left-handed hitters. We did not anticipate (159 home runs) but, like I said, the guys had some great years, and it is what it is.
“I don’t know if they hit more home runs on the road, or, at the Wolff. But they put their work in. They got better. And, thanks to Tom Tornincasa on the hitting side, they enjoyed coming to work every day and getting better.”
Led by pitching coach Jimmy Jones, the Missions’ staff ranked first in earned run average (3.43), first in WHIP (1.272) and first in strikeouts (1,087) in the league. They were also first in fielding percentage (.980).
Dascenzo said he recalls the team’s ability to track down balls in the outfield as a key factor.
“Blake Tekotte, our center fielder, he had a lot of range and was a great defender,” Dascenzo said. “Sawyer Carroll played right field. The Deckers — Jaff and Cody (unrelated) played left. They all did extremely well. Like you said, we had the fewest errors in the league, and generally that’s going to correlate to your wins. If your defense is high up in the ranking, then your wins are generally going to be up, as well.”
For the Missions, however, they didn’t just rely on talent.
It also came down to chemistry and attitude. The attitude centered on trying to win every ball game. When it didn’t happen, feelings were ruffled. Such as, when Wieland joined the team and Tornincasa just couldn’t accept it – at least, not right away.
“We had great coaches,” Dascenzo said. “With (Tornincasa) … we were like a bad cop-good cop, that kind of a deal. We had all the stuff in place. But, again, it came down to the players. They went out and played the game every night. Like Robertson (once) said, the players did have a good chemistry.
“They loved to go out and win, and they hated to lose.”