The fresh look on manager Dave Brundage's face while talking about his new team speaks volumes about the 2005 San Antonio Missions.
While last year's squad faced the constant pressure of a run at a third consecutive league championship, this team starts with a proverbial clean slate.
"I was very pleased with what we showed up to San Antonio with," Brundage said.
Some of the new players expected to make an immediate impact are OF Jon Nelson, RHP Jon Huber, SS Yuniesky Betancourt, LHP Thomas Oldham, LHP Bobby Livingston and C Rene Rivera
"There probably won't be a better defensive catcher than (Rivera) in this league," Brundage said. "He's probably our best catching prospect in the organization."
One big change from the 2004 team Brundage pointed out was the possibility of a stronger pitching staff.
"(I) see a ball club coming in with a young starting rotation, but they throw strikes," Brundage said. "Us coming in last place last year and pitching here in San Antonio in the best pitching ballpark in the league by far; coming in (dead last) in walks is not acceptable."
Back from last season's pitching staff are right-hand pitchers Emiliano Fruto and Tim Rall. Most of the rest of the staff is made up of players who pitched at High-A Inland Empire in 2004.
"We need to go out and throw strikes and give our guys a chance to win," Livingston said. "The main thing is just keeping your defense in the game. I like to be around the zone and put the ball in play, keep everybody awake and bring our guys in to score some runs."
Other Missions returning to the lineup this season are C Brian Moon, IF Eddy Menchaca and outfielders T.J. Bohn and Jaime Bubela.
Bubela, a Houston native, starts this season free of pain from an injury that sidelined him until mid-season last year.
"I feel great. I'm 100 percent and looking forward to starting the season," Bubela said. "Offensively, I think this is going to be a better team than we had a year ago."
The Baylor University alumnus should be in the opening-day lineup in the outfield along with Bohn and Nelson. One new addition to the outfield patrol is John-Austin Emmons.
Emmons, a San Antonio native, signed with the Mariners organization in mid-season last year following one of many workouts with Seattle scout Kyle Van Hook.
A former star running back in high school, Emmons talked about what he hopes to learn from his more experienced teammates.
"While I'm here, I just want to soak up as much of the atmosphere and the knowledge I can from some of the older guys," the 21-year old said. "Soaking up little things about anticipating what pitches are coming in what counts and knowing in your head what to do before the ball's ever hit; stuff like that is big."
One of the main problems last season for the 66-72 Missions was their inability to close out games after handing the ball to their relievers.
"Our biggest difference (from last year) was that we really suffered bullpen-wise," Brundage said. "In years before, we've had Aaron Taylor, Allan Simpson and Aaron Looper eras where we could get ourselves through five and get ourselves a win. I feel very comfortable with a lot of the younger players we have coming in as well as the experienced players; but our bullpen is probably going to be the best coming in."
The Double-A Missions begin season play tonight at Wolff Municipal Stadium against the Corpus Christi Hooks in their inaugural game as the new Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros.
Pitching to lead the way for San Antonio in 2005
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