I wasn’t pursuing a career as a professional baseball player. I was a mediocre baseball player in high school — good field, no hit. Clint Eastwood must have had me in mine when he directed the movie “Trouble with the Curve.”
My ambition was to become a professional baseball writer. In 1976, I was going to get my chance at my dream job.
That spring, I accepted a position as sports editor of the Seguin Gazette, a small town located about 35 miles east of San Antonio. While I would be covering high school sports, the most intriguing part of the job to me was that Seguin had landed a team in the newly formed Class A Gulf States League. Seguin was one of five Texas cities to be awarded a franchise.
I was looking forward to starting my career as a baseball writer.
Dr. Damaso Oliva, a prominent San Antonio psychiatrist, would become owner of the Seguin Toros. In his first press conference, Oliva promised an exciting brand of baseball. He explained that the Gulf States League teams would operate independently. There would be no working agreements with Major League teams.
The concept of the league was to provide opportunities for players who had been released by Major League teams, giving them an opportunity to work themselves back into organized baseball. Oliva told the press that these players would be working hard to prove themselves.
The commissioner of the new league was Bobby Bragan, a former Major League player and manager who I saw manage the Pittsburgh Pirates when I lived in Pennsylvania.
I eagerly looked forward to the season. Sitting in the press box on a warm (make that hot) summer evening in Texas appealed to me.
Opening night of the 77-game season took place at the newly renovated Fairgrounds Park in Seguin. The Toros opened the season with a bang — a walk-off grand slam won the game. My new career was off to a promising start.
I looked forward to writing game stories and features on some of the key Toros.
One of the players who piqued my interest was a national figure. Mike Peterson, who made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1971, was an outfielder for the Toros. Peterson was the subject of a lengthy story on an all-around star athlete from tiny Yates Center, Kan. Peterson excelled in football, basketball and baseball as a Kansas prep. He would forgo basketball in college to pursue a baseball career.
He was making a last attempt to catch on with a professional baseball team. But Peterson never developed the skills needed to make the Major League. For the Toros that season, he hit just .218.
The Toros were OK during the first half of the season, finishing 20-19. But the team would go downhill fast in the second half, finishing 9-29, including a 16-game losing streak at the tail end of the season.
Now, I couldn’t wait for the season to end so that I could cover high school football. Covering the Toros was no longer fun.
But there were a few highlights.
My favorite was when the Toros were playing Rio Grande Valley. Ted Uhlaender, who I saw play for the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians, was player-manager of Rio Grande. Uhlaender was batting when a pitch suddenly whizzed by his chin. He quickly charged the mound. I happened to be taking photographs when Uhlaender bolted to the mound, so I also ran onto the field, taking photographs of Uhlaender landing punches on the startled Toros’ pitcher. Unfortunately, the photos were out of focus. But I did get to witness a baseball fight up close.
In August, the Toros would receive national attention, thanks to their owner. By this time, Oliva was losing a lot of money. As it turned out, the team drew just 10,000 fans for the entire season.
So, when the Toros were due to travel to Corpus Christi, Texas, for a three-game road trip in August, Oliva told his players that he wouldn’t pay for their hotel accommodations. They would have to commute the 300-mile roundtrip for each game or sleep on the beach.
The Toros returned home after the first night in Corpus. For the second night, they arrived in vans loaded with tents, sleeping bags and other camping gear. They lost that night, 15-1.
The wire services and newspapers got a hold of the owner’s comments, and the Seguin Toros had become a national story.
Oliva dumped the team at the end of the season. It was also the end of the Seguin Toros as the team folded after only one season. The league reorganized in 1977, but folded after that season.
My foray as a baseball writer was short-lived. I gave up my dream of being a baseball writer, but I did come away with some interesting memories.
— By Len Painter, Tribune editor emeritus