Guajardo feeling good again about his baseball future

Flying Chanclas reliever Arturo Guajardo from UTSA and Laredo United High School pitching against the Victoria Generals on Saturday, July 18, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Flying Chanclas reliever Arturo Guajardo, from Laredo United High School and UTSA, has rebounded from Tommy John surgery to become one of the best relievers in the Texas Collegiate League. – Photo by Joe Alexander

When pitcher Arturo Guajardo wakes up in the morning these days, he feels hope. He’s happy. The strikeouts leader for the Flying Chanclas de San Antonio feels optimistic about his baseball career for the first time in years.

It’s been a welcome change in mood for Guajardo, who has lived with equal parts pain and frustration over the past few years. He doesn’t feel like he has the game completely figured out. Not by a long shot.

He just feels like, after Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in 2018, he’s finally gaining traction again after two lost seasons.

“I think I’m throwing the ball pretty good,” said Guajardo, a 23-year-old from Laredo who attends UTSA. “I feel like I could definitely have better days. But at the end of the day, it’s baseball. You just have to find ways to compete and keep yourself in there.”

Flying Chanclas reliever Arturo Guajardo from UTSA and Laredo United High School pitching against the Victoria Generals on Saturday, July 18, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Pitching out of the bullpen, Arturo Guajardo has struck out 22 batters to lead the Flying Chanclas. His earned run average is a sparkling 0.69. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Heading into tonight’s home game against the Brazos Valley Bombers, Guajardo at least has established himself as a favorite of manager John McLaren, who calls his name out of the bullpen every other game or so.

“I tell you what, he loves getting the ball,” McLaren said. “The bigger the situation, he’s ready to go. He’s been very impressive. He’s the first one in the clubhouse every day. I get to the ball park (early), just a habit I’ve had during my whole career. He’s in there shortly thereafter.

“He dresses out, and then he goes and works in the weight room. He’s the first one in the clubhouse every day.”

Guajardo’s due diligence has paid off. In six appearances, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder has employed a low- to mid-90s fastball to produce a sparkling earned-run-average of 0.69. In 13 innings, he has notched 22 strikeouts with only six walks.

Fans at Wolff Stadium have started to notice how he likes to challenge hitters with hard stuff high in the strike zone.

“Oh, yeah,” Guajardo said. “That’s my go-to (pitch). It looks fat to the hitters. The ball looks real nice and juicy to them. They can’t lay off of it. When they lay off it, I know those hitters are good. I say, all right. If they lay off of No. 1, I’m going to have to start trying some other stuff.”

When Guajardo’s story with the Chanclas is told, it will have a poignant ring for fans who have followed the fortunes of baseball in the Alamo City over the years. Not only is it the story of a young man who has overcome the hardship of a serious injury, but it’s also one that is wrapped around the legend of the late Will Brunson.

Flying Chanclas reliever Arturo Guajardo from UTSA and Laredo United High School pitching against the Victoria Generals on Saturday, July 18, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Arturo Guajardo is pitching this summer for the first time in two years. He had elbow surgery in October of 2018 during his first semester at UTSA. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Brunson, coming up through the minor leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization, helped the Missions win a Texas League championship in 1997.

A few years ago, as a scout working in Texas for the Philadelphia Phillies, Brunson tipped off local college coaches to Guajardo. Tragically, Brunson died last November of a heart attack while hiking at Big Bend National Park.

UTSA coach Pat Hallmark, formerly of the University of the Incarnate Word, offered up the anecdote in a telephone interview with The JB Replay on Monday.

“We knew a little bit about (Arturo),” Hallmark said. “We recruited him (to UIW) when he was down at Laredo Junior College. So did coach (Jason) Marshall and the guys over at UTSA … (Arturo) was a shortstop. He was playing shortstop mostly at junior college, but he had a good arm. One of the local scouts told us about him. He said he’s an OK shortstop and that he liked him.”

The scout was Brunson.

“Will really liked him as a pitcher,” Hallmark said. “Will kind of saw the whole thing before anybody else did. Will liked him as a pitcher, and he told us that. So, we got on him. Coach Marshall (then the coach at UTSA) got on him. I don’t know (how) they were going to use him. But he ended up at UTSA. And (now) he’s throwing harder than he ever has, for sure.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, minor league professional baseball in America took a major hit this year. Camps were closed in March. The seasons were suspended, then canceled. With the Missions taking a major hit financially, they opted to field a team in the TCL to play some games and generate some revenue at Wolff.

In constructing a roster, they looked primarily at local college players.

One of those players just so happened to be Guajardo, who has seemingly come out of nowhere to dominate the TCL as a reliever – on the same field that Brunson played on more than 20 years ago.

Flying Chanclas reliever Arturo Guajardo from UTSA and Laredo United High School pitching against the Victoria Generals on Saturday, July 18, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Former Missions standout Will Brunson, working as a scout for the Philadelphia Phillies, alerted local college coaches about Guajardo’s development at Laredo Junior College.
— Photo by Joe Alexander

In light of the circumstances, Missions general manager Burl Yarbrough was asked in a text if he had a baseball angel working on his behalf this summer. “Great story!” Yarbrough replied. “Will was a good one!!!”

A few years ago, Guajardo was an unlikely candidate to play in any high-level collegiate summer league. In the spring of 2018, he was already starting to feel pain in his elbow at Laredo JC. Later that fall, in his first semester at UTSA, he ripped an ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow while throwing in a bullpen session.

“It was really tough,” he said. “I mean, I probably had a breakdown about every week, just not knowing what the future had (in store), or anything. I thought I was going to be cut. All this stuff. You’re thinking about all the negativity when you can’t do anything.

“The way I kept myself normal, I guess you would say, without going crazy, was just having faith and … honestly, just trusting the process because if you start putting your thoughts somewhere else, you’re done.

“That really tests your mental toughness. Because you’re out for a year, you don’t know what’s happening, you don’t know whether you’re going to come back the same. You don’t know if you’re still going to be hurt. Or if the surgery is going to be a success. It’s just like, I’m really glad I was able to get out of it.”

Guajardo sat out all of 2019 during rehabilitation. He started throwing off a mound in August of that year and then started throwing against hitters in October. But at the start of the 2020 college season in February, he still wasn’t quite ready.

So, he waited patiently for Hallmark to call his name. Finally, in March, he was told to get ready to pitch at home in a Conference USA-opening weekend series against Charlotte. Unfortunately for Guajardo, players were told later that day that the weekend series was called off because of the threat of the virus.

Pretty soon, the season was canceled, leaving Guajardo wondering what to do. He started planning, trying to figure out a way to extend his career. Luckily, the NCAA ruled that seniors in spring sports would get an extra year of eligibility. Meaning that, Guajardo could play for UTSA in 2021.

“It was a weight off my shoulders,” he said. “I just didn’t know what was going to happen. I mean, there is still weight on my shoulders. But not like that. With the injury, and with the Covid, I thought I was done. I thought my career was done.”

With the extra season, Guajardo was suddenly eligible to play in collegiate summer leagues. Gradually, he has built a reputation as one of the TCL’s best arms out of the bullpen. Hallmark said he has been told that Guajardo has thrown as hard as 97 mph.

Flying Chanclas manager John McLaren discusses a call with the home play umpire late in the game Sunday night at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Flying Chanclas manager John McLaren describes Arturo Guajardo as one of his “go-to” pitchers out of the bullpen. – Photo by Joe Alexander

McLaren doesn’t think he’s throwing quite that hard. But he’s throwing hard enough to suit the former manager of the Seattle Mariners.

“I think he’s been in the 90s,” McLaren said. “ I don’t think he’s been up to 97. I haven’t got the (reports on the) scouts’ guns, but I was thinking he was throwing low 90s for sure, which is good. He’s been throwing strikes. That’s the main thing. No, he’s been a great addition for us. He’s done a really nice job.”

Guajardo said players on the Chanclas aren’t paying attention to their own statistics. But they do know that they’re winning — they’ve won seven of nine entering the Brazos Valley Series — and that they’re in a fight for the TCL South Division title.

“I think we’re just having fun,” he said. “That’s what it feels like. Everyone’s just having fun.”

Chanclas shrug off adversity and start a roll into first place

Flying Chanclas de San Antonio manager John McLaren. - photo by Joe Alexander

Flying Chanclas manager John McLaren. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Flying Chanclas de San Antonio didn’t react well initially to the loss of standouts Porter Brown and Conner Shepherd.

Two weeks ago, just six games into a 30-game schedule, they learned that they’d need to move on without Brown and Shepherd, both sidelined with finger injuries.

In their first game without the pair on July 8, they were humbled, losing 5-0 in Louisiana on a no-hitter pitched by the Acadiana Cane Cutters. In their second game, the next night, it wasn’t much better. They lost 3-1 at Acadiana.

Since then, though, the Chanclas have retooled the roster with a few additions. They’ve moved some players around in the batting order and in the field. And, slowly, they’ve started to get it rolling in the right direction.

The Chanclas, as a result, have won seven of their last nine leading into a key Texas Collegiate League series against the Brazos Valley Bombers.

First pitch on Tuesday is set for 7:05 p.m. at Wolff Stadium between the Chanclas, who lead the TCL’s South Division at 11-6, and the second-place Bombers, 9-6.

“That’s one thing about the game of baseball,” Chanclas manager John McLaren said. “You have an injury and someone else gets an opportunity. That’s what it’s been about. Some guys have stepped up. They’ve pulled together. We’ve developed some nice chemistry.

“We play well together,” he continued. “We play hard. We don’t give up. We’ve been in every game. It’s just a tribute to the type of people we have. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been challenging, of course. But that’s what makes the game so interesting.”

Brown, the Chanclas’ leading hitter, was ruled out for the season immediately after an x-ray showed a fracture in the little finger on his right hand. Shepherd was thought to be lost for between seven and 10 days.

But McLaren said Monday that Shepherd, too, is also lost for the rest of the summer. Regardless, the Chanclas will forge ahead into the last few weeks of the regular season knowing that they have developed a solid ball club with the following characteristics:

Quality on the mound

The Chanclas lead the TCL with a 2.81 earned run average. Right-hander Lance Lusk from Sam Houston State (2-0, 2.34) leads the starting staff. The bullpen has been a strength with Arturo Guajardo from UTSA, Tyler Flores from Clark High School and Texas A&M-Kingsville and Connor Schmidt from Devine and St. Mary’s University.

Toughness at home

Wolff Stadium has been a nightmare for visiting teams. The Chanclas just seem to click when they’re playing under the lights at I-90 and Callaghan Road. They opened the season with five straight home wins before taking two of three last weekend against the Victoria Generals.

Grant Smith ends it with a walk-off hit with two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning in the Flying Chanclas' 7-6 victory over the Victoria Generals on Saturday at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Grant Smith produced a standout defensive play and a game-winning hit Saturday night against Victoria. – Photo by Joe Alexander


Shepherd, from TCU, was a good defensive player. But recently, Grant Smith from Incarnate Word has taken over at the hot corner. Starting out the season as a middle infielder, he moved over and has seamlessly evolved into a player that McLaren trusts to make the tough plays. He snared a ground ball, spun and threw out a runner at home plate in the top of the 10th on Saturday. Smith won the game in the 11th with an RBI single.


Brown was a player that McLaren was extremely high on. Making up for his loss has been an all-hands-on-deck effort. Newcomer Anthony Forte from the University of Richmond is a solid contributor in left field, where Brown played. Jordan Thompson has stepped in to Brown’s top spot in the batting order. Both outfielders are playing well. Also, center fielder Kyte McDonald, from Antonian and Mississippi State, has rebounded from a slow start to hit .346 in his last seven games.

Star potential

Shortstop Jalen Battles, from Madison High School and Arkansas (by commitment), may have the most promising future in baseball on the squad. He has flashed quickness, agility and a good throwing arm. On offense, he started slowly but has come around lately, stroking hits in tight situations late in games recently. Battles looks like he is getting more and more comfortable at the plate, which is not good news for the rest of the TCL.

Chanclas shrug off adversity, prepare for season opener

The coronavirus knocked one player out of action even before the Flying Chanclas de San Antonio opened practice last week. Two more players, Chanclas manager John McLaren said Sunday, have tested positive in the past few days.

Flying Chanclas de San Antonio manager John McLaren. - photo by Joe Alexander

Flying Chanclas manager John McLaren. – Photo by Joe Alexander

On top of that, one of his key pitchers has had to leave town because of a personal matter in his family, leaving a significant gap in the starting rotation.

But even with the adversity, McLaren has developed a good feeling about the potential of his team, which is set to open open play in the Texas Collegiate League this week.

His spirits were lifted by performances that he witnessed in a scrimmage on Friday and in an intra-squad game on Saturday at Wolff Stadium.

Supplying an update in a phone interview on Sunday night, McLaren, a former manager of the Seattle Mariners and the Washington Nationals, said some of his players have a chance to excel in professional baseball.

He also likes their overall attitude and willingness to be coached.

“We talked about the (intra-squad) game yesterday, and we shared some ideas with them,” he said. “You know, the kids, they’re all ears. They want to learn the game. And we love teaching it. We’re having a lot of fun with this. I think they are, (too).

“For myself, it’ll be nice to follow these kids (in the future), seeing how they’re doing in their career. A couple of them, I’m really, really high on. They can take this to the next level, and maybe higher.”

McLaren is set to board the bus with his players Monday morning.

They’ll leave at 7:15 a.m., en route to Amarillo, where they’ll open their first season in the Texas Collegiate League on Tuesday night.

After three games in three nights against the Amarillo Sod Squad, the plan calls for the Chanclas to motor eight hours back to the Alamo City, where they’ll open at Wolff on Friday night against the Acadiana (La.) Cane Cutters.

It’s the start of a 30-game schedule that will run through the end of July.

Talking about Saturday’s practice game, McLaren cited the play of his outfield, namely Porter Brown of TCU, Kyte McDonald of Mississippi State and Jordan Thompson, who will play for Texas A&M next season.

“These kids are scrappy, and they hustle,” he said. “They’re multi-talented. They run the bases aggressively. They have nice (hitting) strokes. I think our strong suit is our outfield.

“I’m hoping our pitching is our strong suit, too, but that’s yet to be seen. We’ll have to see how all the pieces fall together.”

McLaren said Marcelo Perez, Austin Krob and Riggs Threadgill have entered the picture as pitchers slotted into the starting rotation.

Stopping short of naming an opening-day starter, the manager said it likely would be Perez or Krob, both from TCU.

Catching is rounding into form with Tyler LaRue, the son of former major league catcher Jason LaRue, and Nick Wolff.

On the corners in the infield, Conner Shepherd is at third, with Ryan Flores and Lee Thomas at first.

McLaren mentioned Leyton Barry and Grant Smith as two with versatility to share the middle infield positions.

It’s been a hectic first week on the job for McLaren, an Arizona resident, in putting together his team.

Not only has he tried to get things organized with only six days of practice, he’s also had to do it against the backdrop of the worst health crisis in the United States in more than 100 years.

Since the coronavirus hit the United States in March, it has sickened more than 2.5 million people and killed more than 125,000.

To complicate matters more for McLaren, Texas is now considered a hot spot for the disease.

Bexar County, which includes San Antonio and surrounding areas, has reported more than 10,000 cases since March, with more than 7,300 coming since June 1.

McLaren said he has been on the phone with other managers to see how it is affecting the 10-team league.

“Like I said, we’ve got our challenges,” he said. “We talk every day, about social distancing and doing the right thing. You know, I think with the bars and night clubs closed down, it’ll help, because these kids won’t have any place to go hang out.

“I mean, I don’t care how many times you tell ’em, they’re kids. They go out. They like to go have a good time, and there’s consequences during these tough times.

“We put it right in their lap — it’s up to you. If you be as careful as you can, we can maybe get this season in. If not, we might have a problem. So, that’s where we are.”

Chanclas manager to the fans: ‘We need to pick each other up’

Flying Chanclas de San Antonio manager John McLaren. - photo by Joe Alexander

Flying Chanclas de San Antonio manager John McLaren. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The coronavirus has hit San Antonio hard since it reared its ugly head in March.

Not only has it sickened thousands, it has slammed the local economy and has placed many, many people in painful situations where they must wait for hours in their cars at food bank distribution centers, just to get groceries.

In athletics, the virus has completely upended one of the city’s most enduring summer traditions — minor league baseball. For the first time in 53 years, there is no pro ball to watch in the Alamo City.

As a result, the San Antonio Missions have secured a team in the Texas Collegiate League to help fill the void, and they have hired John McLaren, a 50-year baseball veteran, to lead the new squad into a regular season set to start next week.

McLaren, who has been in town since Sunday and has hosted only a few practices, said he is well aware that local fans could use a lift mentally.

“I have thought about it,” McLaren said Thursday night. “This is a baseball city. This is an old-school baseball city. They support their team. They’ve been deprived of (professional) baseball, and they’ve had a tough go, and, you know, we need to pick each other up.

“That’s one of the real beauties of baseball. It can bring people together. We’re hoping to do that this summer.”

The 2020 Flying Chanclas de San Antonio go through practice and meet with the local media on Thursday, June 25, 2020, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

The 2020 Flying Chanclas de San Antonio go through practice and meet with the local media. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Liftoff at The Wolff

In a sense, it was liftoff on Thursday morning for the Chanclas, who held their first public workout in front of the media at Wolff Stadium. Their season-opener is set for Tuesday night (June 30) in Amarillo, in the first of a three-game series. They’ll return to the Wolff for the home opener on Friday (July 3) against Acadiana.

Jaime Ramirez Jr. The 2020 Flying Chanclas de San Antonio go through practice and meet with the local media on Thursday, June 25, 2020, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Chanclas pitcher Jaime Ramirez Jr., from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and San Antonio’s Holy Cross High School, addresses the media. – Photo by Joe Alexander

One player sidelined

The Chanclas announced a 30-man roster, but one player hasn’t practiced after testing positive for the virus. “I really felt bad for him,” McLaren said. “It’s a bad break. I just called him and told him, ‘Your main priority right now is to get well. Just keep in touch with us. We still consider you a part of the team.’ ”

McLaren said “we all” have been administered tests over the past few days.

“We should hear back by Saturday how everybody tested,” he said. “This is a process and a step. I think the whole league is doing this. So we all took our tests (Wednesday) night and this morning. We got our fingers crossed that we’re a go for everybody.”

Another Chanclas player, a pitcher, is weighing an option on whether to sign a professional contract.

A third player, TCU third baseman Conner Shepherd, has not reported yet but is expected to be in camp within a few days, McLaren said. “He was in a transition of moving from California … so we should have everybody here by tomorrow or Saturday.”

Optimistic outlook

“I like what I’ve seen,” McLaren said. “We have a combination of good hitters. We don’t have an abundance of power. But we do have some power. And we’ve got a nice off-set of left-right hitters. I think we’re going to be good in the catching department. I like the arms (on the pitching staff) and I think we’re going to have an exceptional outfield.”

Outfield could be a strength, with three of the four players on the roster scheduled to play major-college baseball next spring. In addition, Kyte McDonald of Mississippi State, Porter Brown (TCU) and Jordan Thompson (Texas A&M) all played in high school locally.

McDonald came out of Antonian High School. Brown led Reagan to state tournaments in 2017 and 2018. Thompson emerged as a standout at Boerne Champion. A fourth outfielder, Peyton McDowell, is from Clemens. He is now at Connors State (Okla.).

Missions baseball: on hold

The Chanclas are playing under the administration of the Triple-A Missions, whose own Pacific Coast League season has been shut down because of the pandemic.

Wolff Stadium, the home of the San Antonio Missions. — Photo by Jerry Briggs

Affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers, the Missions were set to open their second season in Triple-A at home on April 9. But, so far, no games have been played anywhere in the minor leagues, and aren’t expected to be played at all this season.

Major League Baseball, on Monday, announced plans to resume play play on July 23. But it has yet to announce formally what it will do with its minor-league affiliates. Minor League Baseball, in all classifications, drew more than 41 million fans last year.

Flying Chanclas manager ‘ecstatic’ about opportunity during ‘crazy’ times

John McLaren has been in baseball for 50 years. He’s played in the minor leagues. He’s managed in the majors and has coached in the playoffs.

John McLaren – Photo courtesy, San Antonio Missions

Now the 67-year-old Arizona resident and Texas native is happy to continue with his passion as manager of the Flying Chanclas de San Antonio. The Chanclas will play in the Texas Collegiate League this summer, with the season starting June 30 in Amarillo.

The team will open at home at Wolff Stadium on July 3.

With the minor league season on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, Missions president Burl Yarbrough elected to host a team in the TCL.

One of the key hires was McLaren, who has managed the Seattle Mariners and, briefly, the Washington Nationals.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, McLaren said he’s “ecstatic” about the opportunity to work during a “crazy” time in baseball.

“I’m excited about it,” McLaren said. “The last time I coached in the major leagues was in 2017 in Philadelphia and then I did the China national team (as manager, at the 2017 World Baseball Classic). I have a lot of international experience.

“San Antonio was always one of my favorite spots when I was scouting, and there are a lot of reasons for that.

“It’s the atmosphere. Burl and his staff treated all the scouts great. Probably one of the most influential people in my baseball career, (the late) Al LaMacchia was from San Antonio. I’m from Houston. So I grew up with the Alamo and the history and everything.

“I just always enjoyed going to San Antonio. It’s one of my favorite spots that I ever (visited). When Burl called (with the job opportunity), I was ecstatic.

“I (told him) I really wasn’t doing anything. Baseball’s kind of crazy these days, as we know. This is something good. I get to work with kids. I enjoy coaching. I hope I can share some experiences with them to make them better players. It’s always fun putting teams together.

‘I’ve had great support from (scouts) Jimmy Gonzales and Brandon Larson, Johnny Almaraz. I’m a Texan. I live in Arizona. But I’m a Texan. I can’t say anything more than that. With my heritage, I like being around Texans.

“They’re good people, and they’re caring. So, it’s a great fit for me.”

After a full career in baseball, including coaching appearances in the major league playoffs with the Toronto Blue Jays and the Mariners, not to mention multiple trips to the World Baseball Classic, McLaren jumped at the opportunity to work in the collegiate league in spite of concerns about people 65-and-over being susceptible to serious illness as a result of COVID-19.

“I’m a baseball guy,” he said. “My life — my DNA — is baseball. I understand the risks. My wife is concerned. Not only about me, but she has an optical shop, and she has to work with people and be around people.

“I try to be extremely careful. I wash my hands a lot. I wear the mask when I’m around people. I keep my distance. I’m going to be careful with my life, and baseball is my life. You take that away from me, and I don’t know what I have.

“It’s my 50th year in baseball. I want to celebrate it by being in baseball.”

McLaren was born in Galveston and grew up in Houston, where he attended Westbury High School. Drafted in 1970 by the Astros, he played seven years in the minors before shifting his focus to the coaching profession.

In the major leagues, he worked for 14 years on staffs with manager Lou Piniella, including a 2001 team in Seattle that tied a baseball record with 116 regular-season victories before losing in the American League Championship Series to the New York Yankees.

He managed the Mariners from mid-season in 2007 through the mid-season in 2008. McLaren also worked briefly in 2011 as interim manager of the Nationals. He described his style as aggressive.

“I’m always on the offense,” McLaren said. “I’m always aggressive, trying to make things happen. I like the game in motion. I think we got to find out, No. 1, what kind of team we have … what kind of personnel we have.”

Without knowing much about Flying Chanclas personnel at this point, McLaren kept it simple when asked about his goals for the season.

“We want to be competitive and we want to make all the players better,” he said. “I want ’em to have fun. I want to have baseball in San Antonio — for the fans. Just want everybody to have a good time.”

Roster announcements


OF Porter Brown
RHP Marcelo Perez
LHP Austin Krob
INF Conner Shepherd


INF Leyton Barry
INF Garrett Poston
RHP Kobe Jaramillo
C Nick Wolff