SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — The first pitch for the San Antonio Missions’ tenure in AAA is just weeks away.
Over the off-season, the AA franchise that had been based here in San Antonio moved to Amarillo to become the Amarillo Sod Poodles and the AAA franchise that had been in Colorado Springs moved to San Antonio to take on the San Antonio Missions name.
The logos, branding and uniforms will look no different to fans attending the games — in fact, the entire local operation is the same, all the way up to the ownership.
But, the people inside the gear will be very different.
“Instead of a lot of 21- to 23-year-olds that are making their way up and trying to get a taste of that next level, AAA or Major League Baseball, we’re going to have a number of players who have already spent a good amount of time in the major leagues,” San Antonio Missions general manager David Gasaway told KTSA News.
“So you are going to see guys that are in the 23 to 30 range that have had significant service time,” he continued. “They are going to be recognizable names whereas at a AA level, unless fans are diehards that really know the prospects that are coming up, they don’t know our names.”
That means more familiar faces from the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros will be coming to town.
“We’ll be playing the Astros AAA club, we’ll be playing Nashville, which will be the Rangers AAA club,” Gasaway stated. “[Fans are] going to be like ‘Oh yeah, I saw him last week in the big leagues. I saw him last year when I went up to Arlington.'”
The team says you will likely know 10 to 12 players from both the Missions and the opposing team every time you go to Wolff Stadium this season.
Behind the scenes, it has been an extremely busy off-season for the team.
Once September came around, the Missions needed to find a new Major League Baseball team to affiliate with.
“We had been with the San Diego Padres for 12 years as their AA affiliate,” the Missions general manager stated. “San Diego is such a great organization to work with and they have a really good minor league system from a player standpoint, but their AAA team is in El Paso, which has a beautiful ballpark and a great operation and they were thrilled with that. So that in itself as we raised to AAA almost mandated that were going to get a new major league affiliate.”
Gasaway said there were five or six major league teams looking to switch or were considering finding a new AAA team to affiliate with for the 2019 season. With the Houston Astros affiliating with the Round Rock Express, the Texas Rangers would have appeared to have been an ideal partner for the Missions.
Instead, the Rangers partnered up with the Nashville Sounds, which has been noted for their high-quality facility. In fact, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in September that if the Missions had a better ballpark and uncertainty about a future stadium were resolved, San Antonio would have been the no-brainer choice for Texas.
In the end, the Missions signed on with the Milwaukee Brewers, who had been paired with the Colorado Springs franchise.
“Love having an affiliate in our time zone, which is the first time we’ve had that in probably 40 years,” said Gasaway. “The fact that the Milwaukee Brewers, they were one game away from the World Series last year, their minor league system is stocked with players, it’s going to make us really good this year. Their general manager and their director of farm development really gave us the comfort level that they were really excited to be in San Antonio versus Colorado Springs where they were.”
Fun fact: San Antonio is the only AAA metro area that is larger than its MLB parent market, according to the 2010 census. Current population estimates have Columbus joining that list, being only slightly larger than its parent market of Cleveland.
San Antonio is the second-largest AAA market after long being the largest AA market.
Once the affiliation hot stove cooled off by late September and early October, the team had to get Wolff Stadium ready for a AAA team and prepare for all of the new challenges that come up the upgrade — like logistics.
“Travel is a huge difference,” shared Gasaway. “We’re not traveling just in Texas and Arkansas, we’re going to be traveling all over the Midwest and the West Coast of the United States so we are going to be flying everywhere instead of it being a bus situation.”
It also means the facilities needed to become suitable for players who often have some major league experience.
“Going to the AAA play level, we really needed to update the internal parts of Wolff Stadium,” Gasaway explained. “That’s completely redoing our home locker rooms. We’ve been able to add 700 square feet to it, which really helps with training, the weight room and things like that, doubling our batting cage and making that much better. It’s really something our fans won’t see, but it’s really a great and big upgrade for the players and the coaching staff.”
A big question for the team and its future as a AAA franchise has been the future of Nelson Wolff Stadium.
It may be a major consideration in the upcoming municipal election that pits mayor Ron Nirenberg, who has stated the city’s position is to wait until the team comes to officials with a proposal, against challenger and city councilman Greg Brockhouse, who has stated the city should working with the team to find a solution that works for both.
Even their desires for where a stadium could or should go have varied.
Brockhouse told KTSA News in August he would prefer the team to be downtown and stay at or near the current site of Wolff Stadium, saying “Downtown has enough already. I think it’s time to share the wealth and put these opportunities in other places.”
The mayor told KTSA News he thinks the west side of the city or the Interstate 35 corridor would be his preference.
Meanwhile, the stadium’s namesake, Bexar County judge Nelson Wolff told KTSA News he prefers a downtown stadium, but the team needs to get moving if it plans to get anything done.
When asked about any progress on the stadium front, Gasaway said it is still a matter of consideration.
“There’s no update on that. It’s something that we have stated that Wolff Stadium ultimately from a long-term perspective isn’t the answer from a AAA perspective,” the general manager stated. “We’re going to make it work for the next two, three, four years. But ultimately, it’s not the answer from the AAA standpoint.”
Right now, there is no concrete plan for what could come about in the next four years or so.
“We’re working constantly with the city and the county in trying to look at what options are out there from location to how’s it funded. Things are ongoing with all of that. It’s still more exploring what the best possibilities are.”
But in the meantime, fans will get to learn and spend some time with the top Brew Crew prospects in Texas’ old brew town.
The first game is April 4th against the Oklahoma City Dodgers. The first home game is April 9th against the Memphis Redbirds.