Beltre’s Hall of Fame election marks a ‘special day’ for the San Antonio Missions

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Calling it “a special day” for the franchise, San Antonio Missions president Burl Yarbrough on Tuesday afternoon hailed third baseman Adrian Beltre’s first-ballot election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Beltre spent part of one season in San Antonio in 1998 and then went on to play 21 in the big leagues, rapping out 3,166 hits. With his election, he becomes the 10th former Missions player to reach Cooperstown.

“It’s great,” Yarbrough said. “Obviously we’ve followed his career since he played here in San Antonio. He went right from here to the big leagues. I think we knew when he arrived … that he was a special prospect.

“We’ve seen a lot of those come and go over the years. But he was one that really played well as a teenager in the Texas League.”

In his third season as a professional, Beltre, from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, moved up to the Double-A Texas League and reported for duty at age 19.

With the Missions, who were a Dodgers affiliate at the time, he hit for a .321 average and launched 13 home runs in 64 games. Additionally, his run production was solid as he had 56 RBIs.

Beltre also clubbed 21 doubles.

“Back when he played here,” Yarbrough said, “there weren’t a bunch of kids in Double-A. There were some grown men, and he came in as a teenager and held his own. You could just see the talent there.”

Yarbrough said it was his understanding that Beltre knew “very little” English when he arrived in San Antonio.

“I know (former Missions broadcaster) Brian Anderson probably spent quite a bit of time with him and got to know him,” Yarbrough said. “What was great about the Dodgers was that we always had several players from the Caribbean, from the Dominican. (Also) having Spanish-speaking folks in San Antonio, (it) probably (all) made it a little easier (for him).”

Beltre’s tenure in San Antonio didn’t last long, about two months.

By June 24, he played his first game in the major leagues with the Dodgers. Yarbrough said there was a feeling at the time that the Dodgers might send him back down to the minors, but they never did.

In all, he hit for a .286 average in 21 major league seasons with the Dodgers, the Seattle Mariners, the Boston Red Sox and the Texas Rangers. He also slammed 477 home runs and totaled 1,707 RBIs.

“You know, this is a special day for our franchise, and one that we’ve been waiting for, for the last five years, knowing that he’d be eligible this year,” Yarbrough said.

In the majors, Beltre spent seven seasons with the Dodgers, breaking out for 48 home runs and 121 RBIs in 2004, his last year in the National League.

He played the next five seasons with the Seattle Mariners, and then one with the Boston Red Sox, before becoming a member of the Texas Rangers. With the Rangers, he played eight years through the end of his career in 2018.

Beltre’s most memorable year in Arlington may have been his first, in 2011, when the Rangers won the American League pennant and then lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, four games to three, in the World Series.

He also played on Rangers playoff teams in 2012, 2015 and 2016.


Here is a list of former San Antonio Missions players in the Baseball Hall of Fame, according to a Missions news release:

Outfielder Ross Youngs
Infielder Brooks Robinson
Outfielder Billy Williams
Infielder Joe Morgan
Pitcher Dennis Eckersley
Outfielder Willard Brown
Infielder Ron Santo
Pitcher Pedro Martinez
Catcher Mike Piazza
Third baseman Adrian Beltre

One last thing. In researching the topic, I found three members of the Hall of Fame who once played professionally in San Antonio, whose entire careers played out before integration of the major leagues in the late 1940s. Can’t overlook the contributions of these men, all native Texans, who were among the greatest players of all time — here they are:

Infielder Willie Wells
Catcher Raleigh ‘Biz’ Mackey
Pitcher ‘Smokey’ Joe Williams

Title-series bound Amarillo manager applauds the young San Antonio Missions for having ‘a great season’

Adam Mazur. The Amarillo Sod Poodles beat the San Antonio Missions 6-3 in Game 3 of the Texas League South Division playoffs on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at Wolff Stadium. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Missions starter Adam Mazur struck out six in four innings but yielded four runs to take the loss Friday night. The Amarillo Sod Poodles went on to win 6-3 to clinch a Texas League divisional playoff series. — Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Shawn Roof was a proud baseball manager on Friday night. Proud of his players. Proud of his coaches. Three nights ago, Roof’s Amarillo Sod Poodles lost the first game of a Texas League divisional playoff series at home to the San Antonio Missions.

Suddenly the Soddies, who dominated the second half in the TL South Division with 43 victories, were one loss away from getting unceremoniously swept out of the postseason by a team that finished tied for last.

But it didn’t happen. Or, rather, Amarillo’s players and coaches wouldn’t allow it to happen. They won Thursday and then won again Friday at Wolff Stadium in San Antonio to claim the best-of-three series, two games to one.

Outside the visitors’ clubhouse, about an hour after Amarillo had secured the postseason title in the South and advanced to the TL title round against Arkansas, the stadium lights were still on.

Amarillo players slowly filed out of the dressing room with bags slung over their shoulders, heading for the bus. A reporter asked Roof what it meant to him for his players to buckle down and win twice in two nights on the Missions’ home field.

“First off, you want to give credit to San Antonio,” Roof said. “They had a heck of a year. (Missions manager) Luke Montz and his staff did a great job. Those players play the game right. They had a great season. First, (I) want to congratulate them.”

The Missions, a team filled with enticing young talent and capable veterans, won 12-11 in 10 innings Tuesday night in Amarillo. In that regard, it took quite a bit of resilience for the Sod Poodles to steady themselves and win 7-4 on Thursday and then 6-3 on Friday.

Back to back — on the road. It was quite a statement, all right. A four-run fourth inning by the Soddies, ignited by extra-base hits from Seth Beer and Deyvison De Los Santos, proved to be the difference in the series finale.

“They were a very formidable opponent,” Roof said. “We had our backs to the wall (after the first game). But our guys came back and, you know, they never stopped fighting all year long. They’d always answer back no matter what the score was.

“I’m really proud of them and our coaching staff. I’m just excited for those guys, to have an opportunity to play for a ring.”

For the Missions, it was the second time in two years that they were eliminated on their home field in the first round. Last year, they lost the opener on the road and then came home to lose Game 2, falling in two games to the Frisco RoughRiders.

The Missions’ first season under Montz and its third under a renewed affiliation agreement with the San Diego Padres had its highs and its lows.

Buoyed by players such as Tirso Ornelas and Chandler Seagle, they won the TL South first half and thereby qualified for the playoffs by finishing 37-32.

After an almost complete roster makeover in the second half, they showed promise at times but ultimately finished 33-36, tied for last in the South with Frisco. Now, with the season completed, it was time for reflection.

“Hell of a season,” Montz said. “We came up short … This what you work for from Day 1, is to reach the playoffs.”

Added Montz, “We won Game 1 on the road, and that’s a tough place to play. Ten home runs, five by each team … It just didn’t go our way at home. We fell behind early in both games tried to fight back. Tonight they just went with a bullpen night (with the pitching) and we have three hits, four hits?”

For the record, it was three. Two singles and a Graham Pauley double. Another telling statistic? They were 1 for 11 at the plate with runners in scoring position.

The Missions had their chances. They led 1-0 early, and starting pitcher Adam Mazur plowed through the first three innings mostly unscathed.

“I thought Mazur threw the ball well,” Montz said. “We had that one hiccup where we give up four runs in the inning. We chipped away, got ourselves within a couple and then we give up another one late in the ball game. One win away from moving on and just didn’t come up with it.”

Trailing by a run early, the Sod Poodles erupted for four runs in the fourth to take a 4-1 lead. All of it came at the expense of Mazur, who had allowed one hit through the first three innings.

A.J. Vukovich started it off with a one-out single to center field. After Vukovich stole second, Beer followed with a ringing RBI double into the gap in left center.

Not to be outdone, De Los Santos hit a hard smash into the left field corner. Beer scored easily and De Los Santos made it all the way to third when the ball got away from Missions outfielder Ripken Reyes on the carom.

After that, the momentum continued to flow in Amarillo’s favor. Kristian Robinson walked, putting runners on the corner. Up stepped Juan Centeno, who executed a sacrifice bunt that scored De Los Santos. Jancarlos Cintron promptly drove in the fourth run on a triple to right.

Another key sequence in the game came in the bottom of the fifth when the Missions scored one to pull within 4-3. Nathan Martorella was up with two outs and the bases loaded. Carlos Meza struck him out to end the inning and the threat.

In the Sod Poodles’ next at bat, they capitalized when relief pitcher Austin Krob lost his control. First, he hit Beer with a pitch. Next, a wild pitch allowed Beer to take second. Ultimately, he advanced to third on a ground ball and scored on a line single to right.

So instead of the Missions taking control in the previous inning, the the Arizona Diamondbacks-affiliated Sod Poodles padded a lead that they ultimately would not relinquish, and now they’re headed for Game 1 of the championship series Sunday afternoon at Arkansas.

Montz told reporters that he enjoyed in his first year as manager of the Missions.

“It was fun,” he said. “It was a blast. Fell in love with San Antonio. You know, we’re Texas people. We live here, about five hours away (in East Texas). My wife and kids enjoyed it. We loved it. What a season.

“The locker room’s been fun,” he continued. “You know, we had some ups and downs from Day 1 to where we are today. Won the first round in the division. (Also, just) look at the new wave of guys who came through this locker room. A lot of guys have shifted to Triple A. Three or four who made it up to San Diego. Positives all around.”

Talented players who came to San Antonio in the second half of the season were so young, fans are surely wondering whether some might be back next year.

Catcher Ethan Salas was only 17 when he arrived in the last week of August. Pitcher Robby Snelling was 19. Shortstop Jackson Merrill was 20. Then there was 21-year-old Homer Bush, Jr., along with Pauley, Martorella and Jakob Marsee, all of them only 22.

“You look at the roster and you put things together,” Montz said. “Offseason, we’ll go to spring training and see what the front office wants to do. We’ll see what (Padres president) A.J. Preller wants to do with these guys, and go from there.”


Playoff drama looms with deciding Game 3 tonight at Wolff

Missions Sod Poodles 20230921 Graham Pauley 0807 0443 0434 0572 Graham Pauley had three hits including this double as the San Antonio Missions lost the Amarillo Sod Poodles 7-4 on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, at Wolff Stadium. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Graham Pauley had three hits Thursday night, including this double, as the Missions lost to the Amarillo Sod Poodles 7-4 in Game 2 of the Texas League divisional playoffs. – Photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

After the San Antonio Missions escaped with a wild, extra-innings victory in Amarillo on Tuesday, they returned home to Wolff Stadium on Thursday night hoping to beat the Sod Poodles again to clinch a first-round Texas League playoff series.

The Soddies had other ideas.

Amarillo hit three home runs, cruised to an early six-run lead and then held on for a 7-4 win to tie the best-of-three set at one game apiece. As a result, the two teams will play again Friday night at the Wolff, with the winner advancing to the TL title series.

Seth Beer, Deyvison De Los Santos and Caleb Roberts homered to back the pitching of high-kicking starter Yilber Diaz, allowing the Sod Poodles to keep their championship hopes alive.

On Tuesday, both teams hit five home runs apiece in the series opener as San Antonio won, 12-11, in 10 innings. The Missions weren’t quite as prolific at the plate in Game 2.

They hit the ball well early but couldn’t capitalize when they had runners on base. Finally, in the bottom of the sixth, they broke through with two runs. Michael De La Cruz blasted an RBI double off the wall and 21-year-old Homer Bush Jr. added an RBI single to right.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Amarillo bullpen faltered and San Antonio took advantage, scoring two runs. That’s when the rally ended. With the bases loaded, De La Cruz popped up to left field for the final out.

Afterward, Missions manager Luke Montz said he liked the way his team kept battling in the game. He said he will not need to call a meeting for any pep talks to get his players ready to play on Friday.

“There’s nothing to say,” Montz said. “We talk about this from day one. This is what it’s all about. It’s winning baseball. It’s a winning culture. Playoff baseball. Guys are going to show up at the ballpark tomorrow with a job to do, and (that is to) win.

“We put it on the line. We talk about that from day one. There’s no speeches. We’re going to go out there and compete and get after somebody.”

Missions notes

Infielder Graham Pauley is the Player of the Year and Robby Snelling is the Pitcher of the Year in the San Diego Padres’ minor-league system. Both are playing for the Double-A Missions in the Texas League playoffs.

Pauley, 22, from Alpharetta, Ga., batted .308 in 127 combined games between Single-A Lake Elsinore, High-A Fort Wayne and San Antonio. Snelling, 19, from Reno, Nevada, went 11-3 with a 1.82 ERA in 22 combined starts between Lake Elsinore, Fort Wayne and San Antonio.

In winning the award, Pauley said it was an honor. He said he talked to officials in the organization, including A.J. Preller, the Padres’ president of baseball operations and general manager.

The words of encouragement from everyone were welcomed by Pauley, who joined the Missions late in the season, on Aug. 22.

“It kind of just makes me want to do the same stuff and try to stick to the routine I’ve had all year,” said Pauley, who legged out a double and hit two singles Thursday night. “When you keep doing the same things and it’s working out, you keep those things going.”

Texas League playoffs

Thursday’s scores

South — Amarillo 7, San Antonio 4.
North — Springfield 6, Arkansas 4.
Note: Both series are tied, 1-1.

Friday’s games

South — Amarillo at San Antonio, 7:05 p.m.
North — Springfield at Arkansas, 6:35 p.m.
Note: Winners advance to the TL title series

TL title series

Sunday — South winner at the North
Tuesday — North at South
Wednesday — North at South (if necessary)

Playoffs primer: Five players to watch for the San Antonio Missions

Ryan Bergert - August 25, 2023 vs. Amarillo Sod Poodles

Ryan Bergert is expected to start for the Missions tonight against the explosive Amarillo Sod Poodles. Bergert pitched six scoreless innings at home against Amarillo on Aug. 25, — File photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special to The JB Replay

Here are a few San Antonio Missions players to watch as they continue their first-round Texas League playoff series tonight at home against the Amarillo Sod Poodles. San Antonio leads Amarillo 1-0 in the best-of-three between teams in the TL South Division. With a win tonight, the Missions would clinch their first playoff series victory since 2018.

Ryan Bergert
Age: 23
Born: Canton, Ohio
Position: Pitcher

The 6-foot-1 righthander is expected to start for the Missions tonight. Bergert’s task is a tough one, to try and slow down an explosive Amarillo offense. Though San Antonio escaped with a 12-11 victory in 10 innings Tuesday night, the Sod Poodles did damage with 17 hits and five home runs. Bergert’s third season as a pro has turned out to be his best. He has fashioned a 6-4 record with a 2.79 earned run average (combined) at both High A Fort Wayne, Ind., and at San Antonio. With the Missions since July 14, he has pitched in nine games and is 1-2 with a 2.86 ERA. His WHIP is solid at 1.14 and opponents hit only .206 against him. One of Bergert’s best performances came against Amarillo at home on Aug. 25 when he pitched six scoreless innings and struck out nine. The Sod Poodles scored an unearned run against the Missions’ bullpen and won the game, 1-0.

Did you know? Bergert pitched in the Big 12 with the West Virginia Mountaineers. He sat out the 2021 season after Tommy John elbow surgery but still got drafted that summer, selected in the sixth round by the San Diego Padres.

Nathan Martorella

Nathan Martorella - Sept. 15 vs. Springfield Cardinals

Nathan Martorella, taking a swing on Sept. 15 at home against Springfield, hit two home runs for the Missions in their playoff opener Tuesday night. — File photo by Joe Alexander

Age: 22
Born: Monterey, Calif.
Position: First base

Martorella went three for five at the plate and slammed two, two-run home runs in the team’s playoff opener. The former all Pac-12 player for the Cal Bears started his second professional season at High-A Fort Wayne, Ind. With the TinCaps, he played in 112 games, hit 16 home runs and produced 73 RBIs. Promoted to Double-A, he joined the Missions on Aug. 22. In 23 regular-season games, Martorella struggled a bit in hitting for a .236 average. He hit three home runs and drove in 15.

Did you know? Martorella was born in Monterey, Calif., and grew up in Salinas. He excelled academically at Salinas High School with a 3.9 GPA. Graduated in 2019 and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 30th round, but did not sign. He went on to attend Cal and became a three-year starter. Blossomed into an all Pac-12 player as a junior. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the fifth round in 2022.

Marcos Castanon

Marcos Castanon - July 14 vs. Arkansas Travelers

Marcos Castanon, seen here playing at home against Arkansas on July 14, has sparked the Missions with his defense and his offense. — File photo by Joe Alexander

Age: 24
Born: San Bernardino, Calif.
Position: Second base

Castanon, a 12th-round draft pick two years ago out of UC Santa Barbara, he came up big both defensively and offensively for the Missions in the playoff opener. After receiving a throw from the outfield, he threw out Kristian Robinson at the plate to save a run in the seventh inning. In the 10th, he blasted a three-run homer to give the Missions a five-run lead. To start the year, Castanon played 77 games in High A at Fort Wayne, Ind. Assigned to the Missions on July 14, he hit .280 in 54 regular-season games.

Did you know? Born in San Bernardino, Castanon grew up in Rialto, where he hit .579 as a high school senior. In college, he was a four-year starter at UC Santa Barbara. He hit .404 as a senior in 2021 when the Gauchos reached the NCAA tournament. In the tournament, they beat Oklahoma State twice before bowing out of the Tucson Regional in four games.

Homer Bush, Jr.

Homer Bush Jr. - Sept. 12 vs. Springfield Cardinals

Homer Bush Jr. hit .429 in eight regular-season games for the Missions and homered in the team’s first playoff game Tuesday. — File photo by Joe Alexander

Age: 21
Born: Grapevine
Position: Center field

Bush had a big night in his first playoff game in the minors, going two for three with a home run, three runs scored, two RBIs and a stolen base. The rangy outfielder is a Texan, a native of Grapevine who played at Southlake Carroll High School. In college, he played for Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. The San Diego Padres drafted him in July out of GCU. In a meteoric rise through the system, the first-year pro has played on three levels of the minors this summer, starting with rookie ball at the Arizona Complex League, then with Lake Elsinore in the Single-A California League and now with the Missions. He joined the Missions on Sept. 8 and played eight regular-season games, hitting .429. On the last day of the regular season, he went four for four at the plate, meaning that in his last two games he is six for seven at the plate.

Did you know? His father, Homer Bush Sr., played in the major leagues for seven seasons, suiting up for the New York Yankees, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins. He won a World Series title with the Yankees in 1998. But in 1999, the Yanks packaged David Wells and Graeme Lloyd and Bush and sent them to the Blue Jays for pitcher Roger Clemens. Clemens, now retired after winning 354 games in the majors, is listed as part of the Ryan Sanders group holding an ownership stake in the Missions.

Lake Bachar

Lake Bachar - Aug. 22, 2023 vs. Sod Poodles

Lake Bachar, a former college football player at Wisconsin-Whitewater, hasn’t allowed an earned run since Aug. 17. — File photo by Joe Alexander

Age: 28
Hometown: Winfield, Ill.
Position: Relief pitcher

Bachar is riding a nearly month-long streak of 10 appearances without allowing an earned run. He capped the streak Tuesday night by striking out four in two scoreless innings. Over that time, Bachar has pitched 17 innings, while yielding only five hits and two runs (neither of them earned). Also in the streak, he has struck out 21 and walked five. Last time he gave up an earned run? It was Aug. 17. On that date he yielded three runs (all earned) on four hits in 2 and 1/3 innings a 9-4 loss to the Midland RockHounds.

Did you know? Bachar played football and baseball in college at NCAA Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater. In 2014 and 2015, he was a kicker and a punter on the nationally-ranked football team. He kicked a 46-yard field goal in an D-III semifinal playoff game against Mount Union (Ohio).

Missions, Travelers win on opening night in the Texas League playoffs

By Jerry Briggs
Special to The JB Replay

The San Antonio Missions escaped with a wild 12-11 victory in 10 innings Tuesday night to take a 1-0 lead on the Amarillo Sod Poodles in a best-of-three, first-round series in the Texas League playoffs.

Both teams hit five home runs in the opener of a South Division series that will continue with Game 2 on Thursday night at Wolff Stadium in San Antonio. A third game, if necessary, would be played Friday night at Wolff.

The winner of the series will advance to the TL championship round, which is scheduled to open on Sunday in the home park of the North Division winner.

Arkansas has the upper hand in the North after winning the opener in the other TL semifinal. The Travelers downed the Springfield Cardinals 3-1 on a rainy night in Springfield. The series now shifts to North Little Rock, Ark., where Arkansas can clinch with a victory in Game 2 on Thursday.

Playing in Amarillo in Game 1 of a series between TL South rivals, the Missions needed a fast start, and they got it, surging into leads of 5-0 and 6-1.

But in a game that evolved into an epic struggle, with the Sod Poodles rallying to tie the score 7-7 after the regulation nine innings, both teams saved the best for last.

In the top of the 10th, the Missions erupted for five runs, capped by a three-run homer from Marcos Castanon. Not to be outdone, the Sod Poodles scored four in the bottom half. Caleb Roberts’ second homer of the game, a three-run shot off Daniel Camarena, rallied the Soddies to within the eventual final score.

The game finally ended when Amarillo star A.J. Vukovich flied out to Korry Howell in right field.

For the Missions, 22-year-old Nathan Martorella hit two, two-run home runs, one in the first inning and another in the third, to lead the early surge. San Antonio’s other homers came from 21-year-old Homer Bush, Jr., and also from Cole Cummings and Castanon.

Despite the onslaught by the first-half South Division champions, the Sod Poodles, who won the second-half title, never seemed to be out of contention.

Roberts, a 23-year-old from West Palm Beach, Fla., led the way with two home runs on the night to highlight his three-hit, five RBI attack. Additionally, former Stanford University star Tim Tawa, Kristian Robinson and Seth Beer added one homer apiece.

After the Missions scored once in the eighth on a Sod Poodles throwing error to take a 7-6 lead, the home team tied it in dramatic fashion, with Beer slugging a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth.

The Missions used six pitchers, with 19-year-old Robby Snelling getting the start and working four innings. He yielded three runs on seven hits.

Lake Bachar, the fourth Missions hurler, proved to be effective with two scoreless innings. He held the Sod Poodles to two hits over the seventh and the eighth. Team saves leader Efrain Contreras pitched all of the ninth and part of the 10th to earn the victory. After giving up Roberts’ blast, Camarena hung on at the end to get the last out.

In all, the Sod Poodles’ offense lashed 17 hits against Missions pitching. Missions hitters did some serious damage themselves, collecting 14 hits. Starter Dylan Ray took the brunt of it, yielding six runs on eight hits in 3 and 2/3 innings. Forced to go to the bullpen time and again after that, Amarillo used six pitchers to try and stay in it.

Reliever Raffi Vizcaino worked the ninth inning and part of the 10th, yielding five runs, including four of them earned, to take the loss.

Missions notes

A defensive gem for the Missions came in the seventh inning. With the game tied 6-6, Amarillo’s Jancarlos Cintron lined a single to right field. Cole Cummings fielded it and fired to Castanon, the second baseman. Castanon promptly fired home, where catcher Michael De La Cruz applied the tag on Robinson for the third out. To begin the play, Robinson was on first base. Though he got a fast start on a hit-and-run ploy, the Missions foiled it with two strong throws.

Last season, the Missions were swept out of the first round of the playoffs in two games by the eventual league champion Frisco RoughRiders. They dropped the first game 7-3 in Frisco and came home to lose, 5-2. It was their first trip to the postseason since 2018. In ’18, they beat Corpus Christi three games to two in the first round, only to lose three games to none to the Tulsa Drillers in the finals.

The Missions won their last league pennant 10 years ago.

In 2013, the Missions swept to the TL title behind manager Rich Dauer. They were led on the field by pitchers Keyvius Sampson, Matt Andriese and Matt Wisler. In the first round, they eliminated Corpus Christi three games to two. In the finals, they beat Arkansas by the same count. Journeyman Johan Limonta, who started the season playing in an independent league in Pennsylvania, hit a grand slam in the championship series clincher at Arkansas. His fourth-inning blow was the difference in a 5-0 victory.

North Division highlights

Prelander Berroa struck out the final two hitters of the night to nail down a 3-1 victory for the visiting Travelers. The final strikeout came with the two runners in scoring position. A single to the outfield could have tied the game, but Berroa fanned Cardinals leadoff man Victor Scott II to end the game.

Ivan Melendez cranks out three hits to boost Amarillo

Sod Poodles designated hitter Ivan Melendez. The Amarillo Sod Poodles beat the San Antonio Missions 4-2 on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sod Poodles DH Ivan Melendez, a former college Player of the Year for the Texas Longhorns, went 3 for 4 at the plate last night against the Missions. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Amarillo Sod Poodles maintained a one-game lead in the Texas League South division’s second-half race Thursday night, downing the San Antonio Missions 4-2 at Wolff Stadium.

Former University of Texas star Ivan Melendez led Amarillo with three hits, a run scored and an RBI.

Melendez, from El Paso, is batting .288 in 33 games for the Sod Poodles since he was called up to Double A. He has 12 homers for Amarillo and 30 on the season, counting 18 that he hit for the Advanced A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in the Northwest League.

With the Missions holding a 2-1 edge on the Sod Poodles in the series, the teams will play three more games at Wolff this week, starting tonight at 7:05 p.m. The series wraps up with another 7:05 p.m. game on Saturday, followed by a 1:05 p.m. matinee on Sunday.

Sod Poodles designated hitter Ivan Melendez. The Amarillo Sod Poodles beat the San Antonio Missions 4-2 on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, at Wolff Stadium. - photo by Joe Alexander

Ivan Melendez holds his bat high as he prepares to hit for the Amarillo Sod Poodles. — Photo by Joe Alexander

Ivan Melendez of the Amarillo Sod Poodles playing against the San Antonio Missions on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, at Wolff Stadium. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Melendez has played third base and has also been the designated hitter.. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Teen baseball prodigy delivers a walk-off winner in his San Antonio Missions debut

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Teenage baseball prodigy Ethan Salas popped out to the infield in the third inning and took a called third strike in the fifth. He walked in the sixth and then flied out in the eighth.

Ethan Salas gets doused by his teammates after his walkoff double in the 10th inning of his San Antonio Missions debut on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, at Wolff Stadium. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Ethan Salas gets doused by his teammates after his walkoff double in the 10th inning of his San Antonio Missions debut. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Overall, the No. 5 overall prospect in the minors had not dazzled anyone in his first game with the San Antonio Missions to that point — until he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 10th.

After pinch-runner Connor Hollis stole second base, Salas sent a jolt of electricity through the home crowd at Wolff Stadium, stroking a line-drive double into the gap in right center.

Suddenly, the fans were on their feet. Hollis was churning around third and headed for home, clenching a fist just as he scored the winning run in an 8-7 victory for the Missions over the Amarillo Sod Poodles.

Salas, who turned 17 in June, had won the game in dramatic walk-off style. Afterward, Missions manager Luke Montz praised the ball player’s composure.

“Just meeting the kid today, the guy wants to play baseball,” Montz said. “He wants to get after it. He tells you he wants to get better every day … He’s got a lot to work on, in his game and stuff like that, but he showed in his last at bat, there’s a lot of tools in there. He hits a walk off double. With composure, he controls the game in that situation and he puts good wood on the ball.”

Playing the opener of a six-game home series against the second-half leaders in the Texas League South division, the Missions fell behind 5-0 and 6-2 but didn’t give in.

“Any time you can come back and win a baseball game and walk it off in the bottom of the 10th, it’s always huge for your ball club,” Montz said. “It’s exciting. It’s an exciting moment for your ball club. You look at how we won. Down by five and chipped away. Got to give it all to those guys. They played hard from start to finish and came out on top at the end of the ball game.”

The game marked a new beginning of sorts for the Missions, who won the TL South in first half and then slumped, entering the regular season’s home stretch three games under .500. Five new players were promoted to their roster, including Salas, Nathan Martorella, Jakob Marsee, Graham Pauley and Robbie Snelling.

Trailing by a run entering the bottom of the 10th, a few of the newbies sparked the game-winning rally.

The inning opened as Pauley took the field as the designated runner at second base. Martorella, who had three hits on the night, tied the game with a single to center field.

Hollis, pinch-running for Martorella, stole second base with one out, setting the stage for Salas. Batting from the left side, he worked a 3-2 count against Mitchell Stumpo before stroking his first hit as a Double-A ball player.

In January, Salas was regarded as the top international prospect in the game by both Baseball America and A Florida native, the Venezuelan ball player signed a reported $5.6 million contract Padres.

After going through Padres’ spring training, he started his pro career at Single A Lake Elsinore in the California League and then moved up briefly to Advanced A Fort Wayne in the Midwest League. Between the two, Salas played 57 games and hit for a .257 average.

Salas was particularly impressive in 48 games at Lake Elsinore, hitting for a .267 average, while smashing nine home runs and driving in 35 runs.


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.”

You had to grow up fast to write about the boys of summer at V.J. Keefe

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Here we are at Wolff Stadium, and the boys of summer are on the field for warmups.

We have sunshine, patchy cloud cover and 77 degrees. The Texas League home opener for the Missions is only a few hours away, and I’m blogging from the press box, trying to sort out what it all means.

We’ll talk in due course about what it means for the players, the coaches and the Missions’ new ownership group. For now, I’m going to tell you why opening day with this ball club is always special for me.

Back in the 1978, the team played at St. Mary’s University, at V.J. Keefe Field. I was in my first summer in a new job at the old San Antonio Light newspaper.

Just a little more than 10 months out of college, working in the press box at V.J. Keefe proved to be both exhilarating and exasperating.

Time spent watching the likes of Dave Stewart throw fastballs past opposing hitters was always balanced against the hair-pulling nature the profession.

In journalism school at San Antonio College and the University of Texas, I always faced deadlines and the pressures associated with writing something that was accurate and mildly entertaining, and then submitting it on time to editors at the school paper.

But in my first summer at V.J. Keefe, it was different. It was intense. I do believe, if memory serves, that reporters for The Light and the Express-News at the time would cover the game, total up the box score and then drive downtown to write a quick story at the office.

If the game ran long, the pressure was on. In those days, you’d either motor the car a little faster than the speed limit would allow on bumpy Culebra Avenue, hoping for green lights along the way.

Or, from a phone in the press box, you’d dictate your box score and your story to an editor back at the office

Just thinking about it now sort of makes my head hurt. At the same time, I really only have favorable and fond memories of covering the San Antonio Dodgers and, later, the Missions, at V.J. Keefe.

Getting to know all the people was the best. It really was one of the highlights of my career. In the clubhouse, I met Stewart, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, John Wetteland and Ramon and Pedro Martinez. Also, Eric Karros and Mike Piazza.

In the press box, though, I met some folks who would turn out to be some of my best friends.

Guys like the late Tim Griffin, Harry Page, Clifford Broyles and Jim Hutton. As for a young lady named Elaine Noll, I didn’t know her well, but I always had immense respect for her as one of the first female sports writers in San Antonio.

Eventually, through the 1980s and into the early 1990s, we all were blessed with the advancement of technology.

All of us, at both newspapers, eventually were given laptop computers to use on night assignments. The Teleram. The Radio Shack laptop. Whatever. They all made our lives so much easier on a nightly basis.

Anyway, that’s my first thought today. Better go grab a couple of rosters and get ready for the new season.

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.”