Reaching a Baseball Milestone
A Gatorade bath in the dugout came first, and then a flood of memories and emotions washed over Missions manager Rick Sweet Tuesday night after he reached a baseball milestone.
In the wake of his 2,000th victory, he thought about the many ball players he has tutored and friends he has made over the past three decades in the minor leagues.
But in sizing up a dominant 10-2 win over the Round Rock Express, Sweet couldn't stop talking about one group of players - his current group.
Specifically, about how he admires the team's competitive spirit.
On a night when the heartiest of athletes might have wilted because of a lack of sleep, the Missions rose to the occasion.
"They've played hard all year," Sweet said. "Today was a tough travel day. We're playing our rival, a team from right up the road, and (we) showed up to play. It started with the young pitcher, with (Thomas) Jankins on the mound."
Actually, the day for players on both teams started well before dawn, with the Express leaving the hotel to catch an early flight out of Des Moines, Iowa, and the Missions going through a similar routine in Omaha, Neb.
Everyone battled through their respective commercial travel experiences before touching down in San Antonio around noon and, ultimately, arriving at Wolff Stadium a few hours before a 7:05 p.m. first pitch.
Initially, it looked as if the Express held the energy edge in the first game of a four-game series between division rivals in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
The visitors stroked four hits and scored twice for a 2-0 advantage in the top of the second.
But as the Missions heated up and registered single runs in their next four at bats to take a 4-2 lead, Jankins settled into a groove, at one point retiring 15 of 16 batters.
"He gave us a huge lift," Sweet said. "Obviously, we're a little short (on pitching), and he did a great job for us tonight."
With the victory, Sweet joined Buddy Bailey of Single-A South Bend as the only two active skippers in the minors with 2,000 victories.
In addition, Sweet's 2,000-1,891 record vaults him into a class of 12 managers all time to reach the milestone.
"I get text messages (and) I still talk to guys who played with me 30 years ago," Sweet said, discussing his achievement. "Every once in awhile (texts) will pop up, and I think about different teams that I've had.
"It's what I told the guys tonight. This is what it's all about. I've been doing this for a long time. I love this game. I love to come to the ball park every day. I love doing this...
"I do this for them. I want them to have the enjoyment and love of this game that I have. So that's what it means to me. It means I've been a part of a lot of (players') lives during ... (and) after their careers, also."
Missions second baseman Keston Hiura, the top prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers' minor league system, said the number 2,000 speaks for itself.
"(That's) a lot of wins," Hiura said. "Not too many coaches at any level have accomplished that. He's a special manager, and a special person, too.
"It couldn't happen to a better guy. We're all happy to be a part of it. (After) everything he's done for us, it's the least we could do for him, to give him that. So, our congrats to him."
Jankins (7-2) earned the victory with seven innings of determination and heart, during which the right-handed sinker specialist allowed eight hits and one walk while striking out four.
He held a potent offense in check while the Missions went to work against Express righty Akeem Bostic (4-4) and a few of his bullpen teammates.
In scoring 10 or more runs for the fourth time in June, the Missions produced 15 hits, including three each from Hiura, Mauricio Dubon, Cory Spangenberg and David Freitas.
Hiura homered in the seventh inning for his team-leading 19th of the year. It was also his third in four games.
Dubon, another highly-rated prospect, added a solo blast in the eighth, which gave him 11 on the season.
It was an impressive showing, considering the Missions played twice on Monday in Omaha in parts of two games, covering 15 innings.
Hiura applauded his teammates for staying focused to play Round Rock the next day in the series opener.
"It definitely tests your mental toughness, and your physical toughness as well," he said. "A quick turnaround like that, where you're traveling and switching flights, and then getting to the field later in the day, it definitely challenges you.
"This team did an amazing job tonight. Thomas Jankins threw an amazing game. We needed that out of him."
Sweet said Hiura no longer surprises him, even though the 22-year-old from California now has hit 24 homers between Triple-A and the major leagues this season.
"I don't know whether I've told you this before, but I've had Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, Luis Gonzalez, and some other names, Vladimir Guerrero, that are good hitters," Sweet said. "Keston falls in that category. He's special ... We're just seeing the tip of it. He's a special hitter."
Series heats up
In a budding PCL rivalry, the Missions and Express are set to play Wednesday through Friday night at Wolff. The Missions can claim bragging rights to the best record in Triple-A, in the PCL and in the PCL's American Southern Division (at 49-29). But the division-rival Express (45-32) have won five of nine in the head-to-head matchups.
Tyrone Taylor's first game
Missions outfielder Tyrone Taylor hit the ball hard twice on fly balls to the outfield, but he went 0-for-5 in his first game back after a stint on the injured list. Taylor had been on the IL since May 26 with a wrist injury.
Starting pitcher Burch Smith re-joined the team after taking a day off Monday to attend to personal matters. Sweet said he was hoping to start him Thursday.
In addition, Corbin Burnes is back in the clubhouse for the second time this season after spending nearly the last eight weeks in the majors with the Brewers. Sweet said the plan for Burnes is "just to get some work in."
Burnes will pitch "a couple of innings" on Wednesday night, Sweet said, and then another two innings on Saturday as the Missions open a four-game series against the Iowa Cubs.
The Brewers called up Missions ace Aaron Wilkerson to the majors last Saturday. In the corresponding move, they optioned Burnes to the Missions.
American Southern Division - San Antonio 49-29, Round Rock 45-32, New Orleans 42-36, Oklahoma City 31-45.
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