After a year of going north to the high altitude of the Texas Panhandle in Amarillo, the Padres returned south to San Antonio, where they first moved to in 2007 after leaving Mobile in the Southern League.
San Diego left the Missions when the club moved to Triple-A, but under the new re-organization San Antonio was one of two clubs sent down and returned to the Texas League with the addition of the previous independent clubs of St. Paul Saints (Minnesota Twins) and Sugarland Skeeters (Houston Astros).
So the obvious question is why would San Diego elect to return to an older stadium that was built in the mid-90s as opposed to the brand new ballpark in Amarillo?
The quick answer is its just a much better place to evaluate prospects, particularly pitchers, than the altitude of Amarillo, which was the best place to hit in all the minor leagues. The swirling winds that blow across Nelson Wolff Stadium makes it one of the more difficult places to hit in Double-A and it is much easier for team personell to get in and out of San Antonio.
The Wolff has had some improvements since the Padres left. The home clubhouse was completely redone for Triple-A along with an expanded training room. Additionally, an indoor batting cage was installed along with new lighting.
We had an opportunity to chat with Burl Yarborough, the longtime president of the Missions about what happened last season and his plans for the future.
Outside of not having a season, what was the biggest challenge that your organization faced in 2020?
Burl Yarbrough: Just survival is what I really think we are going to remember most about 2020. With us around mid-March we are preparing for the opening of the season and we have purchased all of our supplies; then our lives changed with the Pandemic. Suddenly you have all those expenses and no games for revenue; its going to be a tough year.
We were fortunate enough as things got pushed back more and more to come up with some other local minor league teams around here a Texas Collegiate League. We had 16 home games and we were thankful to at least be able to do that. All of us spend so much time at the ballpark – and have so for so many years – to have that taken away from us was really tough.
Going forward, what is the plan for your organization in the coming year. Is minor league baseball viable with social distancing?
Burl Yarbrough: We are certainly prepared for a season and are really looking forward to it. Last year, in our state, we were approved for fifty percent capacity, and it really wasn’t that high, so we had about 2,500 to 3,000 people in the park, but we are excited about having fans in the stands.
Personally, what did you miss most about baseball?
Burl Yarbrough: It’s not a complicated answer; just seeing everyone at the ballpark. We are kind of out here by ourselves and you work all offseason to try to put on the best 70 games that you can, and it gets taken away from you. I really enjoy seeing all of my friends that come out to see the games, their families, our sponsors and of course our employees. Not seeing them on a regular basis just made me realize how special our jobs are.
We conclude our trip around the Padres’ affiliates tomorrow with a trip closer to home and just up the I-15, with the Lake Elsinore Storm.