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

TCU

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

UTSA

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

Missions set to host a team in the Texas Collegiate League

Making alternate plans in the wake of a national health crisis, the San Antonio Missions professional baseball club announced Thursday that it would host a team this summer in the Texas Collegiate League.

The Missions will host a team at Wolff Stadium this summer in the Texas Collegiate League. Reports indicate that a traditional minor league season isn’t likely. — Photo by Jerry Briggs

The Missions, a Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, have yet to play this season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But officials said in a news release that local administrators will host a collegiate team that will be known as the Flying Chanclas de San Antonio.

The Chanclas are set to play a 30-game season, including 15 at home at Wolff Stadium. They’ll open June 30 at Amarillo, with the home opener set for July 3 against Acadiana of Lafayette, La.

While the Missions are holding out hope that they could still put together an abbreviated, late-summer schedule with the Brewers’ organization players, such a scenario isn’t viewed as likely, and they’re moving forward with a plan to host an entry made up of collegians in the 10-team, wood-bat TCL.

“We are extremely excited to be hosting live baseball at Wolff Stadium this summer for the San Antonio community,” Flying Chanclas president Burl Yarbrough said.

According to the news release, the Flying Chanclas would play from June 30 through Aug. 2, followed by a postseason.

Fans will be allowed to attend in the wake of new state guidelines allowing for stadiums to operate at 50 percent capacity.

Social distancing protocols will be in effect during all games at the Wolff, according to the Missions.

The Missions, a franchise that has played pro baseball in San Antonio for most years since 1888, are in the second and final year of a two-year Player Development Contract as the Triple-A affiliate of the Brewers.

The ball club’s schedule in the Pacific Coast League, originally set for April through August, has been suspended because of the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

COVID-19 has affected sports around the world. In the United States, most sports have been shut down since March.

Officials in baseball are working on a plan to resume the major league season in July. A deal is contingent on an agreement between the MLB owners and players. In the meantime, what will happen with the minor league season remains to be seen.

Published reports say a traditional minor league season isn’t expected to be played, raising the distinct possibility that city of San Antonio will be without professional baseball for the first time in 53 years.

After the 1964 season, ownership of the parent-club Houston Colt .45s sold its Double-A franchise in the Texas League — then playing at Mission Stadium as the San Antonio Bullets — to a group from Amarillo.

As a result, there was a pro baseball void in the city for three years, from 1965-67.

A new club emerged in 1968 at V.J. Keefe Field, on the campus of St. Mary’s University. The Missions have played since 1994 at Wolff Stadium, on the far west side, at Interstate 90 and Callaghan Road.

In 2019, they linked with the Brewers’ organization and moved up a level to Triple-A, all in hopes of marshaling support for a new stadium.