When the coronavirus pandemic shut down college baseball in March, Ryan Flores treated the abrupt change in his lifestyle sort of like a fastball tailing away on the outside corner — by slapping it into the opposite field for a base hit.
In other words, he made the best of a tough situation.
A little more than four months later, as Flores continues to bang out the hits to all fields, the Flying Chanclas de San Antonio are reaping the rewards, qualifying as a first-year franchise for the playoffs in the Texas Collegiate League.
On the eve of a series against the Brazos Valley Bombers, Flores said the Chanclas are thrilled just to have played in a season, let alone get the opportunity to compete in a postseason.
“I think we’re all just happy to be out playing again, because the past fourth months has been the longest we’ve all been without baseball in, like, five or six years,” he said. “So we’re just happy to be out there to try and win games.”
Flores, from Corpus Christi Carroll and the University of the Incarnate Word, has been a difference-maker.
His .303 batting average and team-leading 16 RBI in 23 games are two major reasons that the Chanclas have a chance in a best-of-3 South divisional series that starts Tuesday night at Wolff Stadium.
Naturally, he’d like to see the team win the championship to cap off what has been a crazy year for everyone on the roster.
“It would mean a lot,” Flores said. “We’re very excited to get out there and get a ring and hopefully bring back a championship to a team that was just (created) this year. Just bring it back to San Antonio, because, I know the fans enjoy coming out to the games.
“That would make me really happy if we could bring back a championship for the fans.”
In the spring, Flores’ hopes of helping UIW win a Southland Conference championship during his junior year were dashed. The season was called off after 16 games. His whole life was upended, really, because the campus was closed.
In response, Flores knew he’d need to make a plan on how to finish out his semester. How to further his career. How to make the best of it.
Flores, a practical man, decided that he would return to Corpus Christi, live at home and take his UIW classes online.
He decided he’d also work some shifts at the Salty Oak, a barbecue restaurant, to make a little extra money.
The best entree on the menu? If you ask Flores, it’s “The Big Salty.”
“It’s a two-pound sandwich with brisket, pulled pork, sausage, and cole slaw on top — just a big ‘ol sandwich,” he said. “That’s my favorite.”
So, while Flores was toiling with his UIW classes virtually and working to carry out food to curb-side customers at the Salty Oak, he was also trying to carve out enough time for baseball practice.
Working on his game was a chore, because with the pandemic, most fields were closed. He finally found one facility, known as the “Cage Nation USA,” where he’d go with friends to tinker with his craft.
Given his erratic workout schedule during the spring, it’s surprising in a way that he became such an offensive force with the Chanclas this summer. How did he do it?
“I’m not really sure,” Flores said. “I guess I’ve always been a good hitter, wherever I’m at. The way (Chanclas players) expected it to be, all the hitters were going to be behind, because all the pitchers were going to be able to throw during quarantine, while we hadn’t seen any live pitching or anything.
“It took a few games to get into it. But after awhile, I started getting my timing down and started getting back into rhythm. Started doing well.”
In watching Flores, it’s easy to see that he has worked hard at his game for some time. A left-handed hitter, his bat whips around swiftly and smoothly on a slightly upward arc.
He can jerk the ball to right field, but he also knows how to shoot line drives down the third-base line, a skill that will come in handy in his future endeavors.
Flores said he really felt like he started to make rapid improvements as a hitter when he arrived at UIW in 2017.
“My freshman year of college, is when I started getting better, (using) my legs and staying through the ball, rather than pulling off of everything,” he said. “It’s really been the last few years that I started to know myself as a hitter.”
His ability to hit to the opposite field could help immensely on the next level. Does he want to play pro ball? You bet, he does.
“I really think about it every day, honestly,” Flores said. “It’s the main goal for me. I’ve been dreaming about that since I was three or four years old.
“It’s just crazy that I’ve had those same dreams the past 15 or 16 years of wanting to play professional baseball, and how close I’m getting to it … I’m really hoping to get picked up by somebody.”
In the meantime, the Chanclas’ RBI leader would love to make something happen this week, for the fans and for his teammates, particularly against Brazos Valley.
The Bombers handcuffed Chanclas hitters in winning three straight games in Bryan a little more than a week ago.
“We’re just trying to redeem ourselves after that last not-so-lucky trip,” Flores said. “So we’re getting really prepared. We had practice (Monday). We’re really excited to get out there and play them again.”
Brazos Valley (19-11)
San Antonio (16-12)
Here is the TCL playoff schedule as spelled out in a Monday morning Twitter post from the league office:
Brazos Valley Bombers at the Flying Chanclas, 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, at Wolff Stadium, San Antonio.
Flying Chanclas at Bombers, 7:05 p.m. Wednesday, at Travis Field, Bryan.
(If necessary) Flying Chanclas at Bombers, 7:05 p.m., Thursday, at Travis Field, Bryan.
Amarillo Sod Squad at Tulsa Drillers, 7:05 p.m., Tuesday.
Tulsa at Amarillo, 7:05 p.m., Wednesday.
(If necessary) Tulsa at Amarillo, 7:05 p.m. Thursday.
Teams TBA, at either Amarillo, or the South Division winner’s home ball park, 7:05 p.m., Saturday