San Antonio Missions announce local ownership group

Reid Ryan. The San Antonio Missions announced their new ownership group on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Reid Ryan, the son of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, will oversee San Antonio Missions baseball operations. Ryan addressed the media at a Wolff Stadium news conference on Thursday – Photo by Joe Alexander

The San Antonio Missions baseball team on Thursday morning unveiled its first local ownership group in almost 40 years, a transaction hailed as one that would secure the franchise’s future in the Alamo City.

The Missions of the Double-A Texas League will continue to play at Wolff Stadium, but it has also been widely speculated that a new downtown facility and the potential for a move back to Triple-A could be on the horizon.

Designated Bidders LLC, a group formed by local business executives, has agreed to acquire the Missions from long-time franchise owner Dave Elmore and the Elmore Sports Group, the ball club announced.

The price tag for the franchise was reported at $29 million by Baseball Digest.

For the first time since the late Tom Turner Sr. owned the franchise from 1979-86, the Missions will operate under local ownership. Elmore, a California-based travel industry executive, purchased the franchise in 1987 and ran it for 34 years starting in the summer of 1988.

Principals in Designated Bidders include attorney Bruce Hill; Randy Smith and Graham Weston of Weston Urban; local entrepreneur Bob Cohen of Bob Cohen Strategies and Peter J. Holt, the chairman of Spurs Sports & Entertainment. SS&E operates the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs.

Ryan Sanders Baseball, owned by the families of baseball Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, CEO Reid Ryan, and Don Sanders, will join Designated Bidders as owners and operators of the Missions.

Reid Ryan, the son of the former major league pitching great, will oversee a Missions front-office that will include longtime team president Burl Yarbrough and his staff.

Local elected officials hailed the ownership transaction at a news conference near home plate at Wolff Stadium, the team’s home field since 1994.

“This is a long-time coming,” said outgoing Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, the stadium’s namesake. “I’m glad to see it did get done before the year was over. It’s something a number of us have pushed for, for a long time. To get fan support, do the right thing for baseball, you need local ownership, people that have given back to the community.

“We’ve got a great ownership group, every one of them. Every one of them have made contributions to the community. I think they’re well respected. That’s what it takes to build a successful franchise.”

Ryan Sanders Baseball has long been recognized as a leader in minor league sports.

The group founded the Round Rock Express and built Dell Diamond in 2000. It also founded the Corpus Christi Hooks and developed Whataburger Field in 2005. Both Reid and Nolan Ryan have extensive experience with MLB. Nolan Ryan served as the Texas Rangers’ CEO from 2008-13 and Reid Ryan worked as the Houston Astros’ president of business operations from 2013-19.

The Missions first played in 1888. A franchise that has produced the likes of Brooks Robinson, Billy Williams, Joe Morgan, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez has been a Double-A team for most of that time.

In 2019, they played one season in Triple A in the Pacific Coast League, followed by the next season when they were forced to suspend operations in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the pandemic subsided, the Missions returned to play in 2021 at the Double-A level, having to make a move down in the wake of a new agreement between minor and major league baseball. Concerns about an aging stadium that didn’t meet new specifications were cited as a factor.

The Missions are an affiliate of major league baseball’s San Diego Padres.

Smith talked to reporters after making opening remarks and fielded questions about the possibility of a new stadium.

In addressing reporters, Smith said stadium planning will be a focus of the new group in coming months. Asked how much land it would take, he cautioned that “there has been no site selected.”

“There is no plan,” he added. “The plan has strictly been, let’s have local ownership. That is the only way this will stay in San Antonio long term. So that was step one.

“A fully developed plan for a ballpark is definitely next on the agenda, and to answer your question around how many acres are required, is kind of like asking how long is a rope.”

In discussing site evaluation, Smith referenced Southwest University Park in El Paso.

“The smallest site for a new ballpark is actually kind of amazing,” he said. “It’s in El Paso, home of the Chihuahuas, and it sits on just over five acres. But that is five acres shaped by the hand of God himself.”

Southwest University Park opened in 2014. It cost a reported $72 million. Smith said El Paso’s tract of land was “the perfect shape for a ballpark.”

“Most new ballparks range between seven and eight acres,” he said. “But it’s far more about the dimension. There’s an optimal orientation for a ballpark. You can have a 10-acre site that doesn’t work and a five-acre site that’s perfect.”

Fernando Tatis Jr. returns to San Antonio on rehabilitation assignment

The San Diego Padres' Fernando Tatis Jr. playing in a injury rehab assignment for the San Antonio Missions against the Wichita Wind Surge at Wolff Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Fernando Tatis Jr. returned to San Antonio on Saturday night, with the San Diego Padres’ star playing on an injury rehabilitation assignment. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Wichita Wind Surge scored a 5-1 victory over the San Antonio Missions on Saturday night as a big crowd at Wolff Stadium got a close-up look at San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Recovering from an offseason wrist fracture, Tatis went 0-for-2 with two walks for the Missions in front of 7,438 fans. It was his first game action of the season. The San Diego Padres haven’t put a timetable on his return, according to AJ Cassavell of

Tatis first came to San Antonio as a highly-touted minor leaguer in the Padres’ system in 2017 and 2018. From 2019 through 2021, he emerged as one of the most exciting young players in the majors, producing a .292 batting average and a hefty .962 OPS.

In that time, he bashed 81 home runs, delivered with 195 RBIs and did it all in his first 273 games in the big leagues.

The San Diego Padres' Fernando Tatis Jr. playing in a injury rehab assignment for the San Antonio Missions against the Wichita Wind Surge at Wolff Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Tatis, who batted leadoff as the designated hitter on Saturday, is expected to play in the field for the Missions on Sunday – Photo by Joe Alexander

The offseason wasn’t kind to Tatis. He underwent surgery to repair the scaphoid bone in his left wrist on March 16, Cassavell reported.

Cassavell wrote in his story on Saturday that the Padres’ shortstop was cleared to begin a swinging progression in mid-July. Tatis reportedly is in the final step in that progression before he is cleared to return to the Padres.

Padres manager Bob Melvin noted that Tatis would see game action at both shortstop and center field during his rehabilitation stint. “We’re going to take that day to day,” Melvin told Cassavell. “He didn’t have a spring, hasn’t played in the field yet. So we’ll monitor him as we go along.”

The San Diego Padres' Fernando Tatis Jr. playing in a injury rehab assignment for the San Antonio Missions against the Wichita Wind Surge at Wolff Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. - photo by Joe Alexander

Tatis walked in his first two at bats, both on four pitches. He struck out on his third try and popped up to third base in his final plate appearance. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Is there hope for the Missions after an 0-6 homestand?

It’s hard to find too many bright spots for the San Antonio Missions this week. When they weren’t kicking balls around in the infield on defense, they were hitting weak grounders on offense. But as the ball club takes a few days off before starting a series at Amarillo on Tuesday, I did see a few things worth noting as Saturday afternoon turned to Saturday night. Here they are, in a video sequence:

Felipe is a guy that just has a presence about him. He is big and tall and can throw really hard. In this case, Felipe also kept his cool, making a nice pitch to get the batter to hit it softly to the infield to start the twin-killing.

Howell has had a really tough go of it lately. After getting traded from the Brewers organization to the Padres 10 days ago, he has struggled mightily at the plate. Howell homered in his first game with the team on April 10. But on the homestand, he couldn’t get it going at all. He made some errors on defense, too. But he didn’t hang his head, kept playing hard and made two really nice plays as shown in the video clips above.

If you liked the breaking ball that Felipe threw to Duran in the video above, wait until you see the one he threw for the third strike.

After the game, I asked Missions pitching coach Pete Zamora about Felipe, who is 6-feet-7 and 240 pounds and every bit the physical specimen. Specifically, what is his best pitch?

“We’re talking about a guy with an upper-90s fastball, who can hit triple digits,” the coach said. “Obviously people would say his fastball is his best pitch. But, when he does have his slider going, I think it’s equal as his 100 mph. When he’s got ’em both going, he’s extremely tough.”

Felipe worked two innings against Frisco, allowing no runs on two hits, one of them fisted into right field. He walked one and struck out one. For the season, in three outings, he has struck out five and walked three in four innings. Hits? Just three. Earned runs? Zero.

Even though it’s a small sample size of work, considering the length of the season, the Missions coaches are happy with his development.

“We saw him in spring training,” Zamora said. “We liked the arm, obviously. For a bigger guy, he’s pretty athletic. Smart kid. I’ve talked pitching with him. His English is very good. We’ve got good dialogue with him. He knows what he wants to do. Very confident.

“He still has things to work on like they all do down here. But we’re real happy with the way he’s progressing and going after hitters.”

Leiter fans four in a four-inning no decision as Frisco beats San Antonio

Frisco RoughRiders pitcher Jack Leiter experienced some early wildness but settled down to pitch four fairly clean innings Saturday afternoon at Wolff Stadium.

Leiter, the No. 2 overall pick in the baseball draft last summer by the Texas Rangers, gave up one run on one hit and three walks. Showing off a crackling high fastball, he struck out four.

In his second game as pro, the former All-American at Vanderbilt threw 75 pitches, and 42 of them were strikes. He left the game with a 4-1 lead.

Trailing 2-0, the Missions got to Leiter for a run in the bottom of the second. Yorman Rodriguez led off with a double to deep center field.

Rodriguez moved to third on a ground ball by Tirso Ornelas and scored on a grounder by Connor Hollis. Leiter struck out Chris Givin to end the threat.

In the third inning, Leiter found trouble again with back-to-back, one-out walks to Esteury Ruiz and Korry Howell. When Ruiz walked, he stole second, and then Howell was issued his free pass.

The next two batters hit the ball hard. Brandon Dixon flied to right field, moving Ruiz to third. With Walding at the plate, Howell stole second, putting two men in scoring position with two out.

Walding followed by driving a ball deep to center that was run down by the Rough Riders’ J.P. Martinez on the warning track.

In the fourth inning, Leiter set down the Missions 1-2-3.

First, Rodriguez smashed a ball hard to center that was caught. Next, Tirso Ornelas was caught looking at strike three. Finally, Hollis grounded sharply to shortstop Ezequiel Duran.

The Missions rallied with two runs in the sixth. But the Rough Riders held on to win the seven-inning game, 4-3.

Through two games, Leiter has worked seven innings, and he’s yielded two runs (both earned) on only two hits. He’s had some control problems, walking five. But his fastball and breaking pitches have been good, as he’s struck out 11.

One scout told a Missions staffer that Leiter was throwing as hard as 97 mph.


Before the start of the doubleheader, a broadcaster for the Frisco RoughRiders said that the ball club would not make Leiter available to speak with the media.

Frisco reliever Grant Wolfram was the winning pitcher and Nick Starr picked up the save. Missions starter Thomas Eshelman took the loss.

Eschelman worked all seven innings and gave up 12 hits. All four runs were earned. He walked none and struck out two.

Rangers prospect Jack Leiter to start today at Wolff Stadium


Heralded Texas Rangers pitching prospect Jack Leiter, a gifted athlete who always “seemed to have the game in his blood,” is expected to take the mound in San Antonio for the first time today.

Leiter (0-0, 3.00 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Frisco RoughRiders in the first game of a Texas League doubleheader at Wolff Stadium against the San Antonio Missions.

He’ll opoose Thomas Eshelman (1-0, 1.80) of the Missions, with the first pitch set for 5:05 p.m.

In Leiter’s ballyhooed professional debut last Saturday at Frisco, the No. 1-ranked prospect in the Rangers organization threw 60 pitches in three innings in an 8-7 victory over the Arkansas Travelers.

Leiter, the No. 17 overall prospect in baseball, allowed one run on one hit and walked two. Showing off tremendous stuff, the 21-year-old righthander struck out seven of the 12 batters he faced.

One day in the not-too-distant future, Leiter figures to be a top-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues.

But at this stage of his career, RoughRiders manager Jared Goedert says he doesn’t even want to verbalize the organization’s expectations for him.

“I think expectations can be dangerous,” he said.

In essence, Goedert just wants Leiter to do what he has always done as a player. Prepare. Work hard. Execute.

“We need him to just to go be himself,” Goedert said.

Goedert said he has confidence that Leiter will fare well for however long he pitches at the Double-A level with the RoughRiders.

“He has such a great repertoire of pitches that, if he can go out and execute those and be consistent with that, to me, that’s going to be a successful year for him,” the manager said. “I think he’ll do that, especially once he gets settled in … We want him to feel like he’s like one of 28 guys on our active roster.

“It doesn’t have to be him and 27 other guys. He’s a Frisco RoughRider, just like everybody else.”

When Leiter showed up for his debut last weekend at Frisco, he learned that the ball club had promoted his arrival with ‘Jack Pack’ ticket deals, T-shirts and a ‘K-card’ distribution for the first 1,500 fans.

Goedert said he thinks Leiter handled it as well as could be expected.

“I would say with the amount of buildup and hype and expectation, I was pretty impressed,” Goedert said. “They really promoted it (and we) had a really, really good crowd, especially for the first Saturday night of the year.

“I think he’d be the first to admit he probably needed to get in the strike zone more early with hitters. Because he didn’t, his pitch count got up there.

“But, overall … being able to shoulder all of that pressure, all of that expectation, to go about it like it was just another day at the office, it was pretty impressive.”

After the Pittsburgh Pirates selected University of Louisville catcher Henry Davis with the No. 1 pick last summer, the Rangers picked Leiter. Eventually, he signed for a reported $7.9 million.

In one season-plus at Vanderbilt University, Leiter produced a record of 13-4 with a 2.08 earned run average. He struck out 201 batters in 125 and 2/3 innings.

His record includes four games in the truncated 2020 season and then another 18 in 2021, when he went 11-4 with a 2.13 ERA.

For his efforts, he erned unanimous first-team All-American honors as well as being a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award and the Dick Howser Trophy.

Leiter is the son of former major leaguer Al Leiter. His father won 162 games in 19 seasons in the big leagues.

One of the most consistently good pitchers of his day, Al Leiter had double-figure victory totals for 10 straight seasons through 2004.

Al Leiter told a reporter last year at the College World Series that his son has “always loved the game” and also always seemed to have a good arm.

“When I was playing for the (New York) Mets, and going out to Shea Stadium, we lived on the upper East side (of Manhattan), and he always had a ball in his hand, he always had a glove,” Leiter said. “We’d go to the park (and) he’s throwing wall ball.

“So, it’s been kind of in his blood.”

Series at a glance

Tuesday — Frisco 6, San Antonio 4
Wednesday — Frisco 9, San Antonio 6
Thursday — Frisco 6, San Antonio 3
Friday — Frisco 7, San Antonio 3
Saturday — Doubleheader, 5:05 p.m.

Coming up

April 19-24 — San Antonio at Amarillo
April 26-May 1 — Springfield at San Antonio

Howell shakes off the uncertainy, finds a new baseball home with the San Antonio Missions

Only in professional baseball can a chaotic life experience spanning some 72 hours blossom unexpectedly into a beautiful moment.

A moment that signaled not only the end of one chapter, but also the beginning of another. A development that left Korry Howell humbled in its wake.

It happened last Saturday night in Corpus Christi. On a warm evening, with the sea breezes blowing and the tankers churning in and out of the harbor beyond the outfield wall at Whataburger Field, he stepped to the plate and calmly smashed a solo home run.

As it sailed over the wall, a surge of adrenaline rushed through his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame.

“It was awesome,” Howell said. “Really great.”

Along with the excitement, a huge weight on his psyche seemed to feel less burdensome. Almost instantly, he felt better about things moving forward.

“I definitely felt a relief off my shoulders when I saw it go over (the fence),” Howell said. “Then, once we got the final out of that game, knowing that I contributed in my first game, it was definitely a proud moment for me.”

A defining moment, at that.

Not only did it give the Missions a 3-2 victory over the Hooks, but it also gave the San Diego Padres’ organization a hint. The Padres knew they had traded for a good player. But they may not have known how adaptable and mature that player could be.

Howell appears to be a player who has the intangibles, as well as all the physical tools, to make an immediate impact.

Yes, he is a shortstop. But he is also a guy who can play center field. He can run and throw and, yes, he can hit it a long way. With players like Esteury Ruiz and Howell, Missions fans could see this season a couple of standout guys capable of affecting the game in a lot of ways.

Now rated as the Padres’ 15th best prospect, Howell nearly had a 20-20 season last year.

Combined, in parts of the summer of 2021 that took him from High-A ball in Wisconsin to Double-A in Mississippi, he nearly put together a season in which he hit 20 homers and stole 20 bases.

For the record, he had 16 homers and 24 steals. But keep in mind that he missed a few weeks at midseason with an ankle injury. Can he get the 20-20 season this year? Can he do something like that in his first season in a new organization?

“Yeah, it’s definitely a do-able thing,” said Howell, 23. “You got to stay healthy. It’s kind of one of the reasons it took me out of it last year. As long as you take it day by day, good things will come.”

Baseball has been a good thing in Howell’s life for as long as he can remember. He had just turned seven years old when his hometown Chicago White Sox won the 2005 World Series.

Asked if his family’s neighborhood on Chicago’s south side was indeed White Sox country, he replied immediately, “Yes, sir.”

“We went to a lot of games,” he said. “My dad, he was the main one taking me to the games. I’ll just always remember that. Frank Thomas was my favorite player growing up. My first game going to a White Sox game? Frank Thomas hit a home run.

“I think it was the (Oakland) A’s at the time. I don’t know who was pitching. (But) that’s my very first memory of White Sox baseball game, was, Frank Thomas, hitting one down the line. Those memories, I’ll cherish forever.”

Coming out of Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Howell had some options as a young ball player and elected to take his game to Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was a good move for him. He made some strides and found comfort in a group of people who continue to help him.

For example, this past offseason, he trained in Cedar Rapids preparing for the new baseball season. Howell also was very comfortable with the Brewers’ organization, which selected him on the 12th round in 2018. Despite a season lost to the pandemic in 2020, Howell felt good about his development.

Then came last week. The Brewers decided on Wednesday, April 6, to ship catcher Brett Sullivan and Howell to the Padres in exchange for major league catcher Victor Caratini. Not knowing yet what had happened, Howell showed up at the home field of the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers that day to prepare for an exhibition game.

All of a sudden, his manager summoned him for a conversation. As best as Howell can remember, the conversation went this way: “Good news for you. Bad news for us. You got traded. Good luck with everything.

“That’s how it went down,” Howell said recently at Wolff Stadium. “So I got off the field, packed up everything. Talked to a lot of front office guys for the Padres. Then talked to the training staff here. Kind of got things rolling that way.”

From there, he left the ball park and went back home to pack the rest of his belongings. The Padres were telling him he had an early flight out of town the next day, and he didn’t want to miss it. He showed up at the airport Thursday, got all his belongings checked, and began the journey.

There would be a layover in a big airport somewhere, but, to this day, he doesn’t remember if it was Dallas or Houston. After waiting around, he boarded the next plane to Corpus Christi. Middle of the day, he found his way to the Missions’ team hotel.

Ironically, he was the first Missions’ player to check in. The rest of the team would not arrive until later in the evening. So, he sat down on the hotel bed and started making phone calls. First to his fiancee. Then to his family. “‘Hey, I made it,’ ” he reported. “‘I’m here. I’m OK. Call me back if you need me.”

By Friday morning, which was opening day in the Texas League, he had met a lot of teammates and staffers. By Friday afternoon, Howell moved past introductions. Even though he was not in the lineup, he took the field eager to learn more about his teammates. He immediately felt some good vibes.

“It was an easy day,” Howell said. “Kind of showed up at the field. Went through my normal routines. Took my ground balls. Took my fly balls. Played catch. Hit. I just didn’t play in the game. But it was just meeting all the guys, kind of getting familiar with each personality.”

By Saturday, he was in his pre-game routine and in the lineup. A 14-2 loss to the Hooks on opening night was already forgotten. Howell was feeling better about everything, and he showed it by coming up clutch with the ninth-inning homer.

Fast forward a few days, and he’s at Wolff Stadium on the west side of San Antonio. The opponent is a team known as the Frisco RoughRiders. He’s trying to stay in the moment. Late in the afternoon, he gets a phone message that a reporter wants to talk to him.

He also finds out that he’ll be playing in center field that night. In between the time that he’s taking cuts in the batting cage and shagging balls in the outfield, he spends a few minutes talking with Missions manager Phillip Wellman.

Then he introduces himself to the reporter, who asks him about the first week in this new chapter of his life.

He admitted that the abrupt nature of being told he was traded, the chaos of preparing in less than 24 hours to get himself to Texas, all of that, was a challenge. The day of travel was nerve-wracking. Waiting at the hotel after he arrived, alone, and wondering how he would fit in.

Unsettling would be an apt description.

“It was a very long day,” he said. “It was a long day mentally because obviously it’s never happened to me before. So I have to deal with those emotions of a first-time experience. Then you deal with the emotions of, ‘All right, you got a whole new set of guys.’ A whole new set of eyes on me. Whole new organization.

“A whole new feel, basically, to what I’ve been accustomed to and known over the past four to five years of my career. But as soon as I stepped foot in here, the guys welcomed me with open arms. Just met me with smiles and happiness.

“So, yeah. Every day is getting easier.”

Frisco wins 6-4 to spoil the San Antonio Missions’ home opener

Trailing by two runs with two outs in the ninth inning, the San Antonio Missions had their hottest batter at the plate with runners at first and second base.

A well-placed extra-base hit could tie the game.

Frisco RoughRiders reliever Chase Lee had other ideas.

Lee struck out Esteury Ruiz looking to leave the runners stranded, securing for the RoughRiders a 6-4 victory in the Missions’ home opener Tuesday night at Wolff Stadium.

A crowd of 5,823 watched as the Missions took a 4-3 lead on a fifth-inning sacrifice fly by Brandon Dixon.

Undeterred, the RoughRiders rallied with two runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to win the first game of a six-game series with the Missions.


Frisco 3-1
San Antonio 2-2

Coming up

Wednesday — Frisco at San Antonio, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday — Frisco at San Antonio, 7:05 p.m.
Friday — Frisco at San Antonio, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday — Frisco at San Antonio (DH), 5:05 p.m.


Esteury Ruiz, who hit .249 for the Missions last year, has started fast in his second straight year at the Double-A level. The 23-year-old from the Dominican Republic is batting .471 with two doubles, a triple and a home run in his first four games.

Hooks’ nine-run first inning spoils opening night for the Missions

Left-hander Gabe Morales struck out five batters in two scoreless innings of relief, and 22-year-old Agustin Ruiz belted a solo home run, but on opening night in the Texas League, it wasn’t nearly enough for the San Antonio Missions.

The Corpus Christi Hooks erupted for nine runs in the bottom of the first Friday night and then cruised to a 14-2 victory in front of 5,543 at Whataburger Field.

Missions starter Osvaldo Hernandez got only one out before he had to be lifted. He was charged with seven runs on six hits.

For the Hooks, Shay Whitcomb and Grae Kessinger homered in the outburst, with Whitcomb going deep off of Hernandez and Kessinger against Ryan Lillie.

Kessinger’s shot was a three-run blast that lifted the Hooks into a 9-0 lead barely 25 minutes into the Missions’ season.

Coming up

Saturday — Missions at Corpus Christi Hooks, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday — Missions at Corpus Christi Hooks, 1:05 p.m.
Tuesday — Frisco RoughRiders at San Antonio Missions, 7:05 p.m.

Missions manager outlines rules changes in the Texas League

In the hours before the San Antonio Missions’ media day unfolded on Wednesday afternoon at Wolff Stadium, workers hauled out bases that would be installed on the infield dirt for a team workout.

To the naked eye, the bases looked bigger than normal.

That is because they were bigger.

The bags at first base, second and third are now 18-inches on each of the four sides, an increase from what had been the standard 15-inch square.

Larger bases are one of the new twists to the game in the Double-A Texas League this summer.

Missions manager Phillip Wellman confirmed that other changes centered on pitching, including an adjustment on the pitch clock “a couple of seconds,” and a mandated positioning of infielders — two on each side of second base.

Actually, the restrictions that did away with position shifts of, say, a left-side infielder to the right side, started in the second half last season, Wellman said.

In addition, for the second straight year, pitchers will not bat in a move toward universal use of the designated hitter in all games, even those involving two National League-affiliated teams.

The last time the Texas League used pitchers as hitters in the lineup, apparently, came in the 2019 championship series when Wellman’s Amarillo Sod Poodles (Padres) defeated the Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers) two games to one in a best-of-three series.

Nobody played minor league baseball anywhere in 2020, as the Covid pandemic shut down the game.

In 2021, a recent review of a sampling of Double-A game box scores indicated that the DH was in use for all games, even those involving National League vs. National League-affiliated opponents.

Wellman said the current DH rule will remain intact for the coming season, and that pitchers would not be part of the nine-man lineup.

In discussing the changes, Wellman said, “They changed the pitch clock, they cut a couple of seconds off of it.” Previously, the clock had been set at 30 seconds.

“They made some other weird rules changes, about disengaging from the rubber during a plate appearance,” he added. “A pitcher is only allowed to pitch over, or disengage from the rubber, twice in an at bat.

“You throw over the third time, if he’s not out, it’s a balk.”

Wellman also said the bases were bigger.

“Not sure the thinking on that, either, other than it moves things about three inches closer than it was,” he said.

In coming up with the change, officials have argued that making the bases bigger will lead to fewer injuries on the basepaths.

In other words, the bigger the base, the easier it is to for runners to slide around defenders.

Last year’s rule restricting shifts will continue, Wellman said, “where you have to have two infielders on each side of (second base). So, you can’t shift your third baseman or your shortstop out on the other side of the bag, or in the outfield.

“All of them have to be in the dirt. They can’t be on the grass. We did that in the second half last year.”

Wellman sounded skeptical about the changes but added, “we got to play by them, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

The universal designated hitter has been introduced as a major change in rules at the major league level this season.

Wellman said he prefers the old National League-rule, with pitchers in the nine-man batting lineup, which accentuated a manager’s role in strategy.

“If you were a National League club (in the minors), and they needed pitchers, if they got called to the big leagues they wouldn’t be completely unaware of what it took to bunt.

“We used to have to set days aside for our pitchers to hit. To bunt. We won’t be doing that any more. No need. They’re just going to pitch.”

Asked his opinion on the DH, Wellman said, “No, I don’t like it. It makes it boring managing, to be honest with you. I’ve spent most of my career in the National League, and it’s always been a challenge, it’s always been more fun managing a National League-kind of game.

“When you have a DH in the game, there’s not as much strategy. You don’t have to pay attention to where you are in the (batting) order as often. (With a DH), there’s no double-switching (on substitutions). It just removes some of the strategy.

“But, it’s still baseball.”

Missions’ gesture of respect humbles Biz Mackey’s family

Jerseys worn by the San Antonio Missions on Saturday harkened back to the early 20th century, when baseball was segregated and Biz Mackey played minor league ball for the San Antonio Black Aces. Mackey went on to become a big-time star player in Indianapolis and Philadelphia, and as a player-manager in Newark, in the Negro Leagues. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The oldest professional sport in San Antonio, the one with perhaps the deepest roots in the culture of the city, hit a home run on Saturday night in tying the past to the present.

On a day of celebration for the recently-declared national holiday of Juneteenth, the Missions baseball club commemorated the Negro Leagues and honored a black ball player with local ties whose magnificent career went all but unnoticed for decades.

Houston resident Ray Mackey III talks about the career of his great uncle, Biz Mackey, who was inducted in 2006 into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Missions brought the family of the late James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey to Wolff Stadium so that they, and others connected to black baseball in the Alamo City, could get together and enjoy a ball game and a fireworks display.

It was a good feeling for Ray Mackey III and his two sons.

“This is really pretty extraordinary for me,” said Mackey III, the Hall of Fame catcher’s great nephew. “One of the things I share with my sons is that when you strive for excellence, it may not be rewarded right away. In Biz’s case, even during his lifetime.

“But excellence has a way of ultimately prevailing and sort of rising to the top. Like cream, it will rise to the top.”

Mackey was born in 1897 in Eagle Pass and grew up hoeing rows of cotton on a farm near Luling.

After playing a half-dozen years in semi-pro and minor-league circuits in Texas, including at least two with the San Antonio Black Aces, he joined the Indianapolis ABCs in 1920 in what was considered the first official season of the Negro Leagues.

His career spanned the so-called Roaring 20s, the Great Depression and World War II before it ended in 1947. Known for his defensive prowess and strong arm as a catcher, Mackey also played shortstop and pitched. He hit .327 for his career, according to a statistics page in “Biz Mackey, a Giant Behind the Plate,” by author Rich Westcott.

In nine of those years, Mackey also managed, leading the Newark Eagles to a 1946 Colored World Series championship against the Kansas City Monarchs.

Mackey III, a Houston-based church pastor, attended ceremonies in Cooperstown in 2006 when his great uncle was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But coming back to San Antonio felt different.

“This means so much because this is where my family’s roots are,” he said. “You know, we’re from the Luling area. In fact, we just left Luling (where we were) eating barbeque near Prairie Lea, Lockhart, all around that area. So, that’s home to us.

“A lot of Mackeys moved to San Antonio, sort of migrated from Luling, for job opportunities and things.

“More importantly, the San Antonio Black Aces were (where he got) his start. So this is the foundation. This is where everything began for him. So, to look back in retrospect is just really meaningful. It’s really exciting. For him to have this honor, it’s just, it’s really heartfelt.”

The celebration had been in the planning stages for nearly a year and a half.

Last spring, Missions assistant general manager Bill Gerlt took on the project, trying to organize a day to honor the Negro Leagues’ centennial (1920-2020) in a meaningful way for South Texas.

Originally, he wanted to hold the event on June 20, 2020, but the minor league season was canceled because of the pandemic. Still, Gerlt persisted, arranging for the jerseys to be made with a San Antonio Black Aces logo on the front and a Negro Leagues centennial logo on one sleeve.

The logo, incidentally, is an image of Biz Mackey.

Gerlt also invited several former ball players, including Cliff Johnson, formerly of the Houston Astros, and members of the South Texas Negro Leagues ex-players association.

Missions’ shortstop CJ Abrams (left) and second baseman Eguy Rosario confer during Saturday night’s game against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The Missions rallied with three runs in the seventh for a 6-5 victory. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Jerseys were to be auctioned off with proceeds going to the Texas Kidney Foundation.

“We were going to do this last year to celebrate the 100th anniversary but had to cancel it because of the Covid thing,” Gerlt said. “But, anyway, the timing worked out with Juneteenth becoming a national holiday. So, we’ve had a year and half of planning for this one event.”

Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., said in an interview last year that Mackey’s likeness was chosen for the centennial logo because of his reputation as a dignified leader in the game.

“Biz is a very important player in regard to Negro League history,” Kendrick said. “He’s arguably the greatest defensive catcher of all time. If … Roy Campanella (were) still alive, he’d tell you that Biz Mackey is the greatest defensive catcher that he had ever seen.

“And, again, as we were trying to convey what we wanted this centennial to reflect, and how important the Negro Leagues were, I think the entire dignified persona (was) something that we wanted.”