Deep In The Heart of Texas

I recently made the trip to Texas to check in on a few local guys who are grinding it out in the Minor Leagues. Former West Virginia University standouts Jedd Gyorko and Vince Belnome are playing for the AA San Antonio Missions of the Texas League.   As luck would have it, their manager Doug Dascenzo is a good friend of mine along with being a Uniontown, PA resident.
So it ended up being a great trip.
I watched 5 consecutive games and left with an even greater respect for how good these guys are and the life that they live as they chase a dream of playing in the Major Leagues.
First of all, it is hot in San Antonio. It was a scorching 108 degrees every day I was there with absolutely no cloud cover at all. Game time temperatures at 7:00pm were never less than 102 degrees. After waiting around to talk to Gyorko after each game I would hop in the rental car at 11:00pm or so and the temperature would still be 98 or 99 degrees.
The Missions take batting, infield and base running practice on the field in that heat every day at 4:00 in preparation for the 7:00 games. So for all the people that think baseball isn’t a physically demanding sport, I suggest you go and try to do what these players do every single day. The Missions have only had two off days in the last month and Mother Nature still hasn’t turned the air conditioning on.
Second thing I gathered in the Lone Star State is that the AA level is really good. The players are not far from being big leaguers and some of them already have been. San Antonio’s centerfielder Blake Tekotte hit leadoff for the Missions on Sunday night (my first night there).   He spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the Major Leagues with the San Diego Padres before returning to play for the Missions on Thursday night (my last night in Texas). The Padres starting catcher Nick Hundley who was on the DL played three games for the Missions while I was there before moving back up to the Major League club. The pitching was excellent, every starter was 92-95 with good stuff and a couple of guys would run it up there to 98 or 99 mph. 
Third fact, Wolfe Stadium which is the home of the Missions is probably the worst ballpark for hitters that I have ever been in. The ball just dies there which is why the power numbers for Gyorko have been down since his promotion from Advanced A in Lake Elsinore, CA. I only saw one home run in 5 games and talking with players and Dascenzo that is not uncommon at The Wolfe. It is graveyard if you hit the ball in the air, even if you hit it well.
Fact four is that San Antonio is a very well managed and good minor league baseball team. They won 4 of the 5 games I watched and have the best record in all of minor league baseball. The won the first half and are currently 4 games up in the second half. The impressive thing is that Dascenzo has had to manage almost an entirely different team since July 4th. Many of his players were promoted which means guys like Gyorko out of A ball are now getting the at bats and innings on the mound. This says a lot about Dasenzo’s ability to manage. He has won even though his roster has been dramatically changed. It also shows that the Padres have drafted well in recent years, their farm clubs are winning at almost every level and have been for a few years.
The last thing that was interesting is that even though it is professional sports, these guys don’t live a glamorous life by any stretch. They show up with 4 or 5 guys in a car and they only make $1200.00 a month before tax. There is little time to do anything but play baseball and even if there was time the heat takes it out of you on a daily basis.
They show up every day though because the payoff is a spot on a Major League roster in the future for the ones that can produce.
I think Gyorko is one of those guys and even though Belnome has been injured and I didn’t get to see him play, he has a legitimate shot as well. Dascenzo has been impressed with Belnome for 3 years now and thinks Vince is a Major League hitter.
The Missions start their playoff run on September 7, Belnome should be ready to go by then and Gyorko will be playing third base. Dascenzo will be leading a club with a championship in their sights. It is going to be fun to watch what happens for these guys from right around Morgantown.
Check out the videos from my time in San Antonio:
((An Interview with both Jedd Gyorko and Vince Belnome))
(Below is an interview with San Antonio Manager Doug Dascenzo)) ((Below is video of Gyorko taking batting practice))

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