SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Almost everything about the Missions is new in 2019.
For the first time in franchise history, San Antonio will compete at the Triple-A level, serving as the affiliate for the Milwaukee Brewers. That brings new faces, new staff and a new level of play to Wolff Stadium.
"I've never been here before. I've heard of it," said outfielder Corey Ray. "I've heard that if you hit a ball to right field, you're out. I took batting practice last night, and I second that motion. It's really nice, it's a nice ballpark. It might be old, but I like it. I think it's going to be really fun to play here."
"The only time I've been to Texas at all was in college to play against Texas A&M, so this is pretty much a whole new state for me," said right-handed pitcher Zack Brown. "That being said, we played in Biloxi last year, so we should be just fine with the heat and humidity."
Cory Spangenburg is one of the few on the current roster to have experience playing with the Missions. Back in 2013, Spangenburg helped the Missions win their most recent Texas League Championship.
"We had a really good team back then, and we had a lot of fun," Spangenburg said. "Bringing home a championship to this city was a great experience. I had some really good memories here, so it's good to be back. It's a familiar place and there have been a couple people I've recognized and know what's going on around here. I think this team is young and exciting. There's a lot of prospects, so I think it'll be a good time."
That's the theme for this year's Missions team: youth. Ray and Brown are part of a dynamic young core of prospects that the Brewers have been grooming in the Double-A ranks over the past couple of years -- a group that is now seeing significant action at the Triple-A level.
"We're a younger club," said Missions manager Rick Sweet. "Guerra, Hauser and Wilkerson have been to the big leagues, and some of our guys have spent time up there, but not any extensive time. I think it's exciting to have all these young guys. Ten of these guys were on the Double-A All-Star team last year. We develop winners. The Milwaukee Brewers are very intent on having their players win at the minor league level. That is part of our philosophy because we want them to win up there. What better way to learn how to win up there than to win in the minor leagues."
"I like the depth that we have and the versatility," Ray said. "We have a lot of infielders that can move to outfield and a lot of outfielders that can play some infield. We've got guys that can steal bases and some left-handers and right-handers, so it'll be a pretty balanced lineup."
The headliner for the young guns is second baseman Keston Hiura, who is currently ranked as the Brewers' top prospect. That moniker doesn't affect Hiura's mindset.
"It's a good rank to have, but at the end of the day, it doesn't mean anything," Hiura explained. "As long as you go out there and play your hardest, that's all you can control. I'm just looking to do that. It doesn't really add any extra pressure. IWhether you've had the spotlight on you or not, at the end of the day, it's the same game that you've always played."
"He can flat-out hit," Sweet said. "He's a pure hitter. He's very professional in his approach and he's worked very hard on his trade. Now, he's becoming a solid second baseman. He's hit at every level, including spring training and the big leagues, so it's his defense that we're going to focus on."
Every member of the Missions' lineup wants to get called up and contribute for the Brewers this year, but they also don't feel any pressure to take that next step sooner rather than later.
"I think it helps us relax more," Ray said. "We know how good they are up there and that we want to be a part of it. To be a part of it, you have to be yourself because if you go up there and do something that's not you, they'll know and they won't like it. That's a really well-knit team and so are we. I think both of us are going to win, and when you're winning, you can relax and have fun. Your 0-4's don't feel so bad. I have to be where my feet are. I'm not in the big leagues, so I can't worry about that. This is still Triple-A. This is still a hard league, so if you overlook this league, you could get swallowed."
"You get a glimpse at the kind of hitters you need to be able to get out in the next step," Brown said. "Pitching once every five days, you have to come to the ballpark ready to study, pay attention to what's going on in the game and how pitchers are attacking hitters."
There are sure to be plenty of roster moves between the Brewers and Missions this season -- something Sweet and Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell see as a positive.
"If you look at our major league club, they've got 25 guys on the roster," Sweet said. "I've got another 10 here that will probably be in the big leagues at some point. Counsell looks at it that way, too. His roster is no longer 25, it's 35."
Regardless of who's on the roster at any given moment, Sweet says the team's mindset will remain the same.
"Every game we play, we try to win. The season is like a war. Every day you have a battle. There are times where maybe you lose the battle to help win the war. I may give a star player a day off because he needs a day off. It may hurt us that day, but over the course of the season, to win the war, it's better for the team."
And about those Flying Chanclas?
"I think I've got to start wearing them because I might have to throw a few in the dugout."
The Missions will return home to Wolff Stadium to host the Memphis Redbirds in their home opener this Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. San Antonio will don their alternate jerseys and play as the Flying Chanclas for the first time with their new logo this Thursday night.
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