Former Soddies skipper Wellman made first appearance of season at Hodgetown as Missions manager

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Former Amarillo Sod Poodles manager Phillip Wellman is in his second season as the San Antonio Missions manager. [John Moore/ Press Pass Sports]

The first manager of the Amarillo Sod Poodles is in town this week and got a quick reminder of the pleasure and pain from playing in Hodgetown late Tuesday morning.

Phillip Wellman was on the wrong side of that equation for the first half of the series while managing in the opposite dugout from where he held court in the Sod Poodles inaugural season of 2019. In the return of affiliated baseball to Amarillo for the first time in 37 years, Wellman led the Sod Poodles to a Texas League championship.

So, after three decades of managing in the minor leagues, it’s easy to understand Wellman’s professional perspective as he now leads the San Antonio Missions during a six-game series with the Soddies at Hodgetown. The Sod Poodles were his team for one unforgettable season, but they’re not his team now.

“I know they’re in the league,” Wellman said. “I don’t really look ahead or anything. I couldn’t tell who we’re playing next week when we go home. I let today take care of today and I think about tomorrow tomorrow, but it’s always a pleasure to come here. We know so many people here and have so many good memories.”

This is actually Wellman’s second return to town as a manager since the 2019 season. Last year he came to town with the Missions for another six-game series against the Sod Poodles.

The Missions are the Class AA affiliate of the San Diego Padres, the role the Sod Poodles played in their inaugural season. Wellman was slated to return to Sod Poodles in 2020 for a second season in Amarillo.

But during spring training, COVID-19 broke out and sent home everybody, delaying the start of the major league season and wiping out the minor league season altogether. At the end 2020, the Padres decided to move their AA affiliate from Amarillo back to San Antonio, where it had been prior to 2019 before spending a season as the Class AAA affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.

That meant Wellman would be managing in San Antonio in 2021, and the Sod Poodles became the Texas League affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks instead.

“I liked playing here,” said Wellman, who last year said he was disappointed over not being able to return to Amarillo. “Obviously it wasn’t our decision to leave Amarillo. I liked being the home team here and I like being the visiting team here. It’s a special place to play and it’s a special place in my heart.”

Sod Poodles president and general manager Tony Ensor says the feeling about Wellman is mutual.

“Welly’s like family,” Ensor said. “He was part of our history and the opening of this ballpark in that inaugural season. Just that alone makes him a very special person to the organization and to the community. The fact that we won a Texas League championship together makes it all the more so.

“He’s an incredible person and a really good baseball guy. We love seeing him come back here, but I’ll be honest with you, we love beating him too.”

The fickle and transactional nature of pro baseball was on display when Wellman and the Missions opened the series at Hodgetown. San Antonio took a six-run lead on the Sod Poodles in the top of the sixth, but it didn’t last.

Over the final two innings, the Sod Poodles scored 15 runs, including 10 in the bottom of the eighth to roll to a 19-10 victory and give Wellman a rude greeting in his return. With the wind blowing out, such an offensive explosion and rally by the home team was hardly a surprise.

“I kept telling them in the dugout a six-run lead is not enough, let’s keep adding on” Wellman said. “If you’re playing in San Antonio and you’ve got a six-run lead in the eighth, you’re in pretty good shape. Enough is never enough here.”

While Wellman is still managing players part of the Padres organization, they’re far different from the ones who played for the Sod Poodles at Hodgetown in 2019. He’s let the Missions know what to expect, especially when the wind’s blowing.

“They know it’s a homerdome,” Wellman said. “It’s like I told our guys when I was the manager here, it plays the same for the visitors as it does for the home team. Those who make the most consistent quality pitches and swing the bat will win. You approach each week the same whether you’re playing in San Antonio which is a mammoth ballpark or whether you’re playing in this ballpark.”

The first three games at Hodgetown were rough for the Missions. While the next two games were closer for the Missions, they were still three-run losses to the Sod Poodles, guaranteeing that they would leave town with no better than a series split over six games.

In last year’s return to Hodgetown, Wellman and the Missions were 2-4 for the week. But it was still a pleasant return.

“It was nice seeing people that I met when I was here,” Wellman said. “It was nice seeing the front office people. When I’m 70 years old and Montee (his wife) and I decide to go on vacation and take a trip and stop in Amarillo, nobody will know who I am, but I’ll sit up there and I’ll remember this place.”

Wellman is scheduled to return to town with the Missions when they face the Sod Poodles at Hodgetown from July 12-17.

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