San Antonio Missions manager Phillip Wellman led the Amarillo Sod Poodles to a Texas League championship in their inaugural season in 2019. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]
It was a good start to this homestand at Hodgetown for the Amarillo Sod Poodles this week, as they won the first two games of their series against the San Antonio Missions.
But the biggest reminder of the unprecedented glory of their 2019 inaugural season will be sitting in the opposing dugout this week.
Phillip Wellman, who managed the Sod Poodles to a Texas League championship in their first season, is in town through Sunday, but now he’s managing the Missions. That’s because the Sod Poodles parent club in 2019, the San Diego Padres, opted to move their Class AA affiliate back to San Antonio in December of last year.
Instead of occupying the third base home dugout, Wellman will be sitting in the first base visitors dugout during the series at Hodgetown while managing against the Sod Poodles, who are now affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“It makes me miss this place just walking in and seeing the field and seeing old friends and even seeing the media guys here,” Wellman said. “It’s stirred up some emotions and brings back some very, very fond memories. 2019 will always go down in my memory bank as one of the most incredible seasons I’ve ever had as a minor league manager. Coming back in here and seeing the place makes me feel it again.”
Prior to Monday’s series opener, a brief tribute was shown on Hodgetown’s giant video screen welcoming Wellman back to town for the week.A lot has changed for Wellman and the Sod Poodles since 2019. Most of the key players on that team were traded by the Padres organization and only one player who appeared in the 2019 championship game against Tulsa, first baseman Kyle Overstreet, is on the Missions roster.
Thanks to modifications of the minor league schedule due to COVID-19, this is the only trip the Missions will make to Amarillo this season.
“I knew we played (the Sod Poodles) some time in late July,” Wellman said. “I did look to see how many times we came here. I wouldn’t have minded coming here more than once. Once is better than none. We don’t go to Wichita, we don’t go to Little Rock and we don’t go to Tulsa but I was glad to be able to at least make one trip here.”
Prior to 2019, Wellman managed the Missions prior to them moving to Triple A for one season as an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Returning to San Antonio, his hometown, wasn’t unusual for Wellman.
What’s different is that the Missions, and the Sod Poodles for that matter, are no longer in the Texas League. They now play in what is known as Double-A Central, with 10 teams instead of eight.
Instead of playing the usual three or four game series, the league plays six-game series this season, running from Tuesday through Sunday with Monday as the off day. Wellman isn’t overly enthused about that arrangement.
“I don’t mind getting a day off during the week,” Wellman said. “I don’t like the six-game series to be honest with you. For me it’s just too long. I understand why they did it with the COVID stuff to shorten and lessen the travel.
“Maybe I’m just too old school, but I like three and four game series. When I was in the Southern League we played five game series and that felt like it was a lot. Six games for me is just too many games in one spot.”
Aside from being in a different uniform for a longer series, Wellman is having to get used to some amenities in Hodgetown he didn’t experience two years ago. He’s working for a week in the Hodgetown visitors clubhouse for the first time.
He still finds it hard to complain.
“It’s one of the nicer ones in the league,” Wellman said of Hodgetown’s visitors facilities. ”You don’t expect a whole lot of amenities in the visitors clubhouse but there’s plenty of them in there. They do it right. Everything they do here is first class and you miss that.”
Wellman was expecting that in 2020 as the Sod Poodles were primed to follow up their championship season. It had been announced that he would return as manager in 2020 and he stopped in Amarillo on the way from his home in Chattanooga, Tenn. to the Padres spring training facility in Arizona for a press conference touting the 2020 season.
A month later, COVID-19 broke out and sent home everybody from spring training, delaying the start of the major league season and wiping out the minor league season altogether. When the Padres changed affiliates at the end of last year it assured Wellman wouldn’t be returning to Amarillo in 2021.
Wellman admits to being disappointed over that.
“San Antonio’s my hometown, so it wasn’t all bad,” Wellman said. “I get to see my family a lot more and most of them are still in the San Antonio area. This place for me was the Taj Mahal of minor league baseball. I told (Sod Poodles president and general manager) Tony (Ensor) awhile ago that there’s no use crying over spilt milk. I didn’t have anything to do with it, Tony didn’t have anything to do with it.
“I don’t know how it came about but to be honest I was a little disappointed when I saw we were going back to San Antonio. I’d already been there and done that for three years. This place sticks out like a sore thumb.”
San Antonio Missions first baseman Kyle Overstreet played for the Amarillo Sod Poodles in 2019. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]
Overstreet feels that way about Hodgetown and Amarillo as well. He was a valuable utility player for the Soddies in 2019, playing all the infield positions and catcher.
“Amarillo’s always going to hold a special place memory-wise in my baseball career,” Overstreet said. “It was an unbelievable season and so much fun here in 2019. I miss all of the fans and this stadium’s beautiful. It’s going to be a fun week playing back here again.”
Overstreet felt some comfort at the plate in his first two games back at Hodgetown. He doubled in Tuesday’s 8-3 loss and he had two hits and scored a run in Wednesday’s 11-7 loss.
If there was a signature moment for Overstreet as a Sod Poodle, it was when he hit an inside-the-park grand slam at Hodgetown, the first slam ever for a Sod Poodle.
“That was such a funny memory for me,” Overstreet said. “I’ve never been known for my speed so to get an inside the parker is rare for me. For it to be a grand slam too was awesome and I’ll always remember that.”
Like Wellman, Overstreet marked the return to Hodgetown down on his calendar.
“I’ve been looking forward to this week the whole season,” Overstreet said. “It was kind of weird when (the Sod Poodles) came and played us at home. I was used to wearing those jerseys but I think this week’s going to be even more special.”
Overstreet wasn’t the only former Sod Poodle to see action for the Missions in the first two games at Hodgetown. Pitcher Nick Kuzia, who appeared in nine games for the Soddies in 2019, ended up taking the loss in relief Wednesday night.