Missions’ Hall of Fame owners make a splash with the fans on opening night at Wolff Stadium

Pregame ceremonies for the San Antonio Missions' home opener at Wolff Stadium on Tuesday, April 11, 2023. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Former Spurs guard Manu Ginobili acknowledges the crowd Tuesday at the home opener for the San Antonio Missions. Ginobili is a partner in the Missions’ new ownership group. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

The San Antonio Missions’ home opener on Tuesday night had a little something extra. It had style. It had thundering fighter jets flying low over a packed grandstand at Wolff Stadium.

It had all of that, plus an unmistakable Hall of Fame feel.

In pre-game festivities, the newly-sodded infield was populated by the likes of baseball great Nolan Ryan and Spurs basketball superstars David Robinson and Manu Ginobili, all three of them part of the franchise’s new ownership group.

Pregame ceremonies for the San Antonio Missions' home opener at Wolff Stadium on Tuesday, April 11, 2023. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, baseball’s all-time strikeout king, signs autographs for Missions fans at Wolff Stadium Tuesday night. Ryan is in the franchise’s new ownership group. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, participating in the ceremonial first pitch, uncorked a throw that sailed high and a little inside. Hey, no problem. Robinson stretched out his 7-foot-1 frame to make the grab as the crowd cheered.

Later, just after the home team took the field, Ginobili stood adjacent to the visitors’ dugout wearing his Missions jersey.

“I’m very excited to be here with my family, for our first game,” Ginobili told the crowd on a cordless microphone. “I hope you have a great time. But now, it’s time to play ball!”

And play they did.

With the Frisco RoughRiders in town for a six-game series, the Missions won 4-0 in front of 6,811 fans and kicked off a new era of great expectations for a franchise that dates back to 1888.

The autograph lines for Ryan, Robinson and Ginobili may have been longer than the beer lines, and in San Antonio, on opening night, that’s saying something.

“We’re proud to be here,” said Ryan, baseball’s all-time strikeout leader. “It’s exciting to start the season. I think the Missions are going to have a good team, so it should be an exciting year.”

Ryan is one of the principals in Ryan Sanders Baseball. The group’s other lynchpins are Reid Ryan, the son of the former Houston Astros and Texas Rangers great, and also Don Sanders.

Luke Montz San Antonio Missions manager March 31, 2023 at Wolff Stadium

The Missions downed the Frisco RoughRiders 4-0 for first-year manager Luke Montz. – File photo by Joe Alexander

In the offseason, Ryan-Sanders formed a partnership with a few principals in San Antonio real estate firm Weston Urban and various other major players to buy the Missions from California-based Elmore Sports Group.

Elmore had held the rights to the Missions from 1988 through 2022 before agreeing to sell for a reported $28 million.

The interest from Ryan-Sanders stemmed from the group’s promotion of a series of preseason major league baseball games known as “The Big League Weekend,” which drew large crowds in downtown San Antonio at the Alamodome.

“We’ve played exhibition games here. We knew … how many baseball fans there were here in San Antonio,” Ryan said. “We just thought it was a good opportunity.”

Ryan acknowledged the strength of the group, which is fronted by three of the biggest names in Texas sports history — his own name, Robinson and Ginobili.

“It’s interesting that the ownership is made up of so many outstanding individuals,” he said. “There are so many local people here that are supportive of baseball in San Antonio. We were thrilled with that.”

Ever since the news broke about the potential for a sale, the possibility of a new stadium being built in the city has been a part of the discussion.

Asked about the short- and long-term vision for Ryan Sanders baseball in San Antonio, Ryan touched on the stadium topic.

“Well, I would say, is there going to be a new stadium built?” he asked. “There may be an opportunity for that. It’s hard to say. But I think it’s going to be a long-term investment. We’ll be involved in baseball here in San Antonio for quite awhile.”

According to the team’s official website, the franchise’s board of directors consists of five individuals, including Hope Andrade, Bob Cohen, Bruce Hill, Reid Ryan and Randy Smith.

Evan Mendoza, who homered in the second inning, congratulates Tirso Ornelas after Ornelas homered in the third. The San Antonio Missions beat the Frisco RoughRiders 4-0 on Tuesday, April 11, 2023, at Wolff Stadium in the Missions' home opener. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Tirso Ornelas (left) is congratulated by Evan Mendoza after Ornelas hit one out of the park in the third inning. Mendoza had homered in the second. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Among the investors are Ryan Sanders Baseball; Graham Weston, the founder of Weston Urban; former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros and his wife, Mary Alice; and Peter J. Holt, the chairman of Spurs Sports and Entertainment. Also, on the list are David Robinson and family and Many and Manu Ginobili.

Weston Urban, according to the firm’s website, began in 2012 “as an effort to attract and retain San Antonio’s new generation of talent by reviving the city’s center.

“With primary services in development, leasing, and lending,” the company’s website says, “Weston Urban has helped to create and define the San Antonio skyline through both thoughtful historic redevelopment and strategic ground-up construction.

“Our firm builds with a purpose – to cultivate human connection through a vibrant urban core where pedestrian-friendly business, recreation, public spaces, art and culture attract the talent of today and tomorrow.”

The Missions have attracted some notable talent in their past, as well. Players who have played in San Antonio include Brooks Robinson, Billy Williams, Joe Morgan and Dennis Eckersley.

Dodgers-era stars populated the teams in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, including Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Pedro Martinez, Mike Piazza and Adrian Beltre.

Trea Turner and Fernando Tatis, Jr., lead the list of current big leaguers who were members of the San Diego Padres’ organization while playing in the minors in San Antonio for the Missions.

“This team matters to a lot of folks in San Antonio,” Reid Ryan said. “It’s generations, going back to 1888. It’s one of the oldest franchises in the industry. So we want to see great things happening, now that it’s owned by local people in Texas, and I think you’re going to see that.”

The Missions lived up to the hype from the opening ceremonies by registering a shutout and hitting a couple of home runs. Nolan Watson started and pitched three innings of one-hit ball. Seth Mayberry (1-0) pitched the fourth to earn the victory. Four other pitchers closed the door on the RoughRiders, who were limited to three hits.

Solo homers came off the bats of Evan Mendoza and Tirso Ornelas.

“It’s exciting,” first-year manager Luke Montz said. “It’s always good to get a win. With everything going on around here, the new ownership, the excitement of the crowd, just coming home playing after a three-game series on the road. All the hard work you put in. Everyone’s amped up to get to this point. It’s good to get a win and move on to the next one.”