This year is special for baseball in San Antonio. The San Antonio Missions 2018 season will be the final year San Antonians will watch Double-A baseball played in the Texas League.
Next year, the existing Texas League franchise will move to Amarillo, and the Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox from the Pacific Coast League will come to the Alamo City to play as the Missions.
But 2018 is shaping up to be a fun-filled year for the current Missions organization, a season that already includes a popular Hispanic-themed promotion and a couple of summer holiday concerts.
The Missions compiled a 78-62 overall record in 2017, winning division titles for the first time since 2011. The 2017 Texas League Manager of the Year, Phillip Wellman, enters his third season with the San Diego Padres organization.
The Missions kicked off the 2018 season on April 5 with a three-game road series against the Arkansas Travelers. Celebrating 25 years at Wolff Stadium, the Missions open their home season on April 12 against Arkansas.
Local media gathered on April 3 at the Wolff to talk with Wellman, pitcher Cal Quantrill, and outfielder Michael Gettys during their last bits of preseason workouts and practice. They all agreed this Missions team has the talent to mount another run at the Texas League title.
As a feeder team into San Diego, the Missions' current roster includes six of Padres' top 30 ranked prospects including Quantrill, Gettys, shortshop Fernando Tatis Jr., pitcher Logan Allen, infielder/outfielder Josh Naylor, and catcher Austin Allen. Last year, Tatis became the first 18-year-old in the Midwest League to post a 20-20 season in home runs and steals.
As a manager, Wellman is rightfully high on the offensive potential held by Allen, Naylor, Tatis, and outfielder Forrestt Allday. They all look to bat in the top of the order, with Allday leading off. In 2017, Galveston native Allday earned a .298 batting average with 90 hits and 33 runs batted in.
"[Forrestt] is a pesky type guy. He's one of those players who if he's on the other team, you don't like him very much," Wellman explained. "But if he's on yours, you love [him]. I saw him have probably five, six, 10 at-bats during spring training and he just wears pitchers down."
Quantrill recorded 22 starts between San Antonio and the High-A Lake Elsinore (California) team last year, going 7-10 with a 3.80 earned run average, 110 strikeouts over 116 innings. In his eight starts with the Missions during the second half of the season, he pitched a 4.04 E.R.A. and struck out 34 batters.
"I felt like I adjusted to (Texas League) alright, but there's room for improvement," Quantrill said. He added that this goals are to go "deeper into games and get more efficient."
Gettys also played in Lake Elsinore last year, compiling a .254 average with 116 hits, and 51 R.B.I.
"This is the best group of guys I've been around since I've played pro ball and that's the most exciting thing, I think, for many of us this season," he said. He added that the key to adjusting to a higher level of baseball is "taking care of your work every single day, doing the same routine every day, not getting too high or too low, and staying even keel."
When it comes to their final season, the Missions are spicing things up in the realm of promotions this year. Minor League Baseball's Copa de la Diversion (Fun Cup) campaign embraces the culture and values that resonate the most with participating teams' local Hispanic and Latinx communities. As a member of the Fun Cup campaign, the Missions will change their name to the Flying Chanclas de San Antonio during nine select games this season.
Many native San Antonians and South Texans likely know about the all-powerful chancla — flip-flop, sandal, slipper, you get the idea. According to a press release, the Flying Chanclas name is a fun way to honor "the matriarch of the Latino family, the abuelita, and her symbol of strength, discipline, and love."
When the Flying Chanclas promotion was first announced a few weeks ago, it was an instant hit with San Antonians on local social media, with fans hunting down merchandise with the Flying Chanclas logo.
But ask players such as Quantrill and Gettys, and the whole chanclas idea is a little lost on them. "Flip-flop? I'm all for it. I love the minor league name, I think we should have fun with it," said Quantrill.
"A flying flip-flop?' Gettys quipped with a smile. "That's new. I've had a lot of different uniforms, but I've never had a flying ... how do you pronounce it?"
The Missions will first play as the Flying Chanclas on May 5 against Corpus Christi. The Missions will then don the Flying Chanclas uniform and cap every Thursday home game for the rest of the 2018 season.
The Missions will also have two holiday post-home game concerts this year. Pat Green will perform during Memorial Day weekend following the May 27 game against Springfield. The Eli Young Band will be part of the Fourth of July weekend celebration, following the Independence Day contest against Northwest Arkansas.
As for transitioning the Missions and San Antonio minor league baseball from Double-A to Triple-A, ball club officials have said they look forward to the switch, bringing the highest level of minor league competition to the Alamo City.
But local history is not lost on those officials.
The Missions have had 112 seasons of play in San Antonio, with more than 100 of those years in the Texas League, serving as an affiliate to several Major League Baseball franchises, including the Dodgers and Mariners. In the Triple-A PCL, the Missions will renew Texas League rivalries with Austin-Round Rock and El Paso.
Wellman said for most of his players, the transition does not mean much because they are used to moving from town to town.
"For me, being from San Antonio, it probably means a little something different," Wellman said. "I get it, but at the same time I go back to the fans. I'm very happy they'll get to see Triple-A baseball next year. I hope everything comes to fruition and they get them a big brand new ball park to play Triple-A baseball in."
"I still think San Antonio is a baseball town," he added.