During the winter, the San Antonio Missions completed the jump to the highest level of minor league baseball, embraced their new affiliation with the Milwaukee Brewers, and invested approximately $1.3 million of team and taxpayer money in stadium upgrades.
The Missions will open their first season in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League on April 4 in Oklahoma City for a five-game series. The first home stand is a three-game series beginning April 9 against the Memphis Redbirds, followed by four games against the Nashville Sounds.
When fans walk through the gates into Nelson W. Wolff Municipal Stadium, they won’t see many changes from when they last left the place in September following the final out in the Missions’ final season in Double-A and their swan song in the Texas League, where the team had played – aside from a few short breaks – since 1888.
The batting cages and team clubhouses in the 25-year-old stadium were expanded to bring them more in line with what is expected at the Triple-A level. More than $400,000 was spent on cement waterproof coating to prevent water from leaking down through the stands into the clubhouse and training facilities beneath.
With the move to Triple-A, the Missions increased ticket prices by $1, and team officials said they have seen a small bump in sales this year compared to the same time late in the offseason last year.
For fans, the biggest change will be a different array of teams affiliated with different major league teams, said Missions President Burl Yarbrough. And some recognizable faces on the field.
For instance, fans of the Chicago Cubs will be able to see the team’s Triple-A affiliate, the Iowa Cubs, play in San Antonio eight times this season. Yarbrough said he has been with the Missions for 32 years and never seen a Cubs affiliate play in San Antonio.
There were eight major league organizations represented in the Texas League. There are 16 represented in the PCL.
“Double-A is a great level of baseball and probably the best in [minor league] baseball,” Yarbrough said. “Triple-A is a different animal. We’re going to have so many players who have major league experience.
“I think for our fans there is going to be a lot more player name recognition than we’ve ever had in the past.”
The Missions are likely to start the season with at least two players familiar to fans of major league teams. Milwaukee veteran starter Jimmy Nelson is slated to start the year with the Missions as he attempts to return from shoulder reconstruction surgery that sidelined him for the 2018 season. He finished in the top 10 in the National League Cy Young voting in 2017. The Missions also will have relief pitcher Josh Fields on the roster. He was a part of the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen the past two years, playing in consecutive World Series.
Yarbrough told the Rivard Report that Elmore Sports Group, which owns the Missions, continues to make its case for a new stadium with local government and business leaders.
The team has looked at more than 20 possible sites around San Antonio over the past three years, but some are no longer available. Yarbrough said a new stadium would require between 5 and 8 acres.
The Missions would like to follow the example of numerous major and minor league teams around the country and build a new downtown stadium. Triple-A teams in El Paso, Nashville, and Charlotte play in downtown stadiums built within the past five years.
Wolff Stadium, which opened in 1994, is located about 8 miles west of downtown. Yarbrough said a more central location near other amenities such as restaurants and bars in a downtown environment would bring more people to the ballpark and would allow the Missions to tap into San Antonio’s tourism economy more effectively.
“We continually push and continue to try to get something pulled together, but we haven’t got to that point yet,” Yarbrough said. “It’s something we still want to see happen, and it’s going to need to happen at some point, but we aren’t close at this point to having anything done.”