Jon Nelson (Photo/San Antonio Missions)
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Don’t you hate it when a water cooler comes along and ruins your day? No, I’m not talking about a guest appearance I saw on Aqua Teen Hunger Force, but the events that transpired one fateful May 25.
After popping out in a home game against Tulsa, Missions left fielder Jon Nelson let frustration get the best of him, punching the cooler upon his return to the dugout. A resulting broken left hand forced the team’s RBI leader (at the time of the injury) to spend about a month on the disabled list, but the 25-year-old has finally made his long-awaited return to the team.
“It’s nice having him back,” said teammate and first baseman Jesse Hoorelbeke. “He’s a good guy and he’s a lot of fun to have around.”
While San Antonio has jumped out of the gates with a 13-8 record, things have not gone as well for “Nellie.” The team’s start has not translated to individual success, and he recently just broke an 0-24 slump with a hit in the second inning of Wednesday’s contest.
“I didn’t expect him to step in and play where he left off,” said Missions manager Dave Brundage. “He was very instrumental to our success last half, but when you miss that amount of time it’s tough to jump right back on the bike.”
The early struggles should not come as much of a surprise; while Nelson has missed 100-120 at-bats in his estimatation, Texas League pitchers have been staying sharp or perhaps getting better.
“He was already at a disadvantage; he hadn’t played a lot of baseball to begin with,” said Missions hitting coach Gary Thurman, referring to the time Nelson missed while on his 2-year Mormon mission. “He did take a few live at-bats with the rookie ball guys (as part of a rehabilitation assignment in Arizona), but to come back here and face the competition is something you don’t just do.”
Despite his struggles, the team has welcomed Nelson back with open arms, happy to have a big run producer back for a potential second-half run at the Texas League championship.
“We’re all hanging with him on this down time - it’s no big deal,” Hoorelbeke said. “He’s a good player and he’ll pull out of it.”
Hoorelbeke’s confidence in his teammate resonates through the entire Missions franchise, including Nelson himself. The time missed may have set him back, but the Utah native has chosen to take everything in stride and make the best of the situation.
“At this point I’m trying not to think too much. I’m just treating it almost like it doesn’t matter,” Nelson said. “I feel like I’m on the right track. I’ll get there.”
Nelson said that he is past frustration at this point (perhaps using it all on that cooler), and only hopes to have fun and end the season on a high note.
“He was starting to swing the bat well and make progress before he took on the water cooler,” Thurman said. “Now he’s back out there working hard everyday, and that’s all you can ask of him.”
Fast Start: The Missions have taken four of five series to start the second half, standing in first place with a 13-7 mark. Contrary to last half’s early plate struggles, the offense has played a big part in the team’s success, averaging five runs a game in victories while climbing in the season stats to fourth in batting average (.275).
“I think guys are just starting to get acclimated to the league,” Brundage said. “We’re also starting to swing the bats well on the road.”
Bohn Awarded: For his efforts last week, outfielder T.J. Bohn was deemed Texas League Player of the Week last Monday.
Bohn is hitting .425 over his last 18 games, including two player-of-the-game nods and a 5-5 effort with three steals Sunday night at Midland. Fresh off participating in the all-star game in Frisco, Bohn has his average back up to .317, good for sixth in the league.
“He’s been hitting around .300 all year,” Hoorelbeke said. “You can’t go wrong with him.”
The Buzz on Jaime: With Bohn holding down the fort all season, outfielder Jaime Bubela has come on recently to give the Missions their own version of the Killer B’s. The 27-year-old is hitting .287 (second on the team) after struggling mightily early on.
“Some players just aren’t good at the beginning of the season,” Thurman said. “Jaime’s always been a good player, and in the end you know he’s going to be in the .280-.300 range.”
Last week Bubela had a 23-game hit streak came to an end, the longest for the Missions since 1988.
Archbishop in Attendance: San Antonio Archbishop Jose Gomez gave the Missions his blessing Thursday night, making a pre-game appearance for Catholic Night at the Ballpark. Catholic schools from the area were also on the field for the national anthem. For those of you dying to know, the Archbishop ate a hotdog.
Ejected!: Even on Catholic Night, peace and goodwill did not reign Thursday, as home plate umpire Stephen Fritzoni tossed first baseman Nate Espy after arguing a check-swing third strike to send the crowd and manager Dave Brundage into a furious uproar. The first Missions ejection of the season put a damper on an already-abysmal showing, as San Antonio dropped the their first home game to Arkansas in 2005 by the score of 6-1.
Succumbing to Southpaws: A disturbing trend continued in Thursday’s loss, making the Missions 20-22 against starting lefties as opposed to 31-18 versus right-handers. The culprit this time was soft-throwing southpaw Daniel Davidson, who registered eight strikeouts in just 5.1 innings against the helpless San Antonio lineup.
Healthy at Last: After spending the first half hampered by a strained quad, second baseman Ismael Castro is looking better every game out. He’s hitting .317 over his last 10 games, and has been looking like a gold glove middle infielder.
“I think he’s healthy,” Brundage said. “We need to protect him though, and give him a day off from time to time.”
After making a spectacular play Sunday on the road, Castro put together a highlight reel Monday night against the Cardinals. In the fourth inning he converted a double play by sprinting to his right on a grounder, tagging second base on his way and turning to fire the ball to first. The next frame another worm-burner to the right fell victim to a spectacular Castro catch-and-throw.
On Tap: Over the next three days the Missions will play Springfield to close out the homestand before heading to Frisco for a 5-game set.