Found in one of those packages of assorted baseball cards available at certain thrift stores: a 1995 Upper Deck Tony Eusebio. A cool moment. Eusebio holds a special distinction in Mississippi baseball history: The Dominican catcher was the first Jackson General to make the big leagues. He got the call from the Houston Astros early in the 1991 season, the first year the Astros’ Double-A team occupied Smith-Wills Stadium. Eusebio never made much of a splash in the big leagues, but he will always be remembered as the first General to make the jump. That old baseball card served as a nice reminder. You can tell a died-in-the-wool baseball fan, at least one who came up in the ’60s or ’70s, by how much attachment he or she feels to baseball cards. Those little pieces of cardboard are such an indispensable part of the game. Flipping through one of those assortment packages brings a rush of memories. Also in this particular pull: a Jeff Brantley, Greg Hibbard, Gregg Jefferies, Al Pedrique and Kevin Mitchell. If you’ve been around Mississippi very long, those names need no elaboration.
Vicksburg native Roosevelt Brown has several noteworthy highlights on his baseball resume. The former outfielder, who was announced as the Double-A Mississippi Braves’ hitting coach on Thursday, was drafted by the Atlanta Braves out of high school. He won a Triple-A batting title. Made it to the big leagues. Played in Japan’s big leagues, too. But this is the best tidbit: Brown was once traded, straight up, for a former National League MVP. In 1996, when Atlanta was looking for help during an NL East title drive, the Braves sent Brown to the Florida Marlins for Terry Pendleton, who had won NL MVP honors with Atlanta in 1991. Brown, a Braves fan growing up, once said he was crushed by the trade. But he got over it. He ultimately made it to the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs in 1999. The Braves actually gave him another shot in 2005, signing Brown as a free agent and inviting him to their big league camp. He didn’t make the club and spent the year, his last as a player, in Triple-A with the Chicago White Sox. Now, the Braves are bringing Brown back one more time. He’ll have some big-time prospects to work with at Trustmark Park. And a chance to add some highlights to his resume. It’ll take something grand to top that 1996 trade.
Selwyn Langaigne. Favorite name of all the ballplayers who’ve toiled for the Jackson area’s various pro teams over the last 27 years. Selwyn Langaigne. Could play a little, too. The speedy outfielder hit .305 with 8 home runs, 51 RBIs and 28 stolen bases for the 2004 Jackson Senators of the independent Central League. A .290 hitter over his lengthy pro career. Ran across his name while surfing the Web on Tuesday night. Langaigne was playing center field for the Cardenales de Lara in a Venezuelan Winter League game at Caracas, which happens to be his hometown. He went 1-for-4 with a double, raising his average to .231. Isn’t the Web wonderful for digging up stuff like that? Langaigne, now 32, got as high as Triple-A in affiliated ball, but he hasn’t played in that sphere of the game for several years. He spent the last three with the independent Alexandria Aces, where a lot of old Senators have wound up. It’s a toss-up as to whether Langaigne or Vince Faison (2005) was the best player to put on a Senators uniform during the team’s four-year run at Smith-Wills Stadium. But on name alone, Langaigne is the most unforgettable. Just say it one more time: Selwyn Langaigne.
Jason Smith will never be what we call a “star” in the big leagues. The Meridian native and former Meridian Community College infielder has bounced around the majors since 2001, when he made his debut with the Chicago Cubs five long years after they drafted him (in the 23rd round). In 257 big league games with seven different teams, Smith has a .221 average. Not star material. But so what? Isn’t it enough to have played the game? To have put on a big league uniform, walked through a big league clubhouse, stood in a big league ballpark for the playing of the national anthem? For those of us who once chashed that dream and never came close to touching it, yes, that would be enough. Smith, 31, was cut loose by the Kansas City Royals last week and is now a free agent, hoping, I’m reasonably sure, to catch on with somebody before spring training starts. A left-handed hitter who can play a number of positions, Smith may still have some utility. He has had some shining moments. In 2004 with Detroit he hit five homers and drove in 19 runs in 155 at-bats. In 2006 with Colorado, he hit five homers in just 99 ABs and batted .263. So Smith was never a star … big deal. He put on the uniform, walked through the clubhouse, heard the anthem. He played the game. Here’s hoping he gets to play some more.
With every passing day, the chances look better that 2008 Mississippi Braves standout Tommy Hanson is going to be in the Atlanta Braves’ rotation next spring. Atlanta couldn’t make a deal for Jake Peavy, lost out on free agent A.J. Burnett and could even lose John Smoltz, who is rumored to be looking elsewhere. Who knows about Tom Glavine? Atlanta might have to turn to the farm system to fill out the 2009 rotation and simply endure some growing pains. Besides, Hanson, a big, hard-throwing right-hander, just might be ready for the big-time. He dominated in A-ball last summer, pitched very well for the Double-A M-Braves (including a no-hitter) and stepped up with a tremendous performance in the Arizona Fall League. Hanson has outstanding stuff and a commanding presence on the mound. For sure, the Braves are wary of rushing him, but they may have no choice. And Hanson deserves the chance. Fellow ’08 M-Braves right-handers Todd Redmond and Kris Medlen aren’t far behind. Redmond was the M-Braves’ ace and the Southern League pitcher of the year. Medlen is a very athletic, highly energetic battler. All three could be in Atlanta by the end of 2009. And that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
P.S. Former Ole Miss and Hillcrest Christian standout Cody Satterwhite impressed some people in his first year in the Detroit Tigers’ organization. The hard-throwing right-hander is rated Detroit’s No. 8 prospect by Baseball America and given a chance to make the big leagues in 2009. Satterwhite is pitching in relief again in the minors after struggling as a starter last spring at Ole Miss.
For Atlanta Braves fans, the trade for Javier Vazquez is cause for celebration. The veteran right-hander is a good addition to a team desperate for starting pitching. For Mississippi Braves fans, the trade was an “oh rats” moment. Among the players sent to the White Sox was Tyler Flowers, who would have been the Double-A M-Braves starting catcher next spring. Flowers, in case you haven’t heard, was the “it” player in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit 12 home runs to go with a .387 average. It’s an offensive league, yes, but those numbers are eye-openers. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Flowers hit .288 with 17 homers at Class A Myrtle Beach last season. He is also a pretty good receiver. It would have been fun to see him ply his trade at Trustmark Park. Of course, M-Braves fans might still see him — as a member of the Birmingham Barons, the White Sox’s Double-A club.
There is one Mississippi-born player in the baseball Hall of Fame, and he never played in the major leagues. Starkville native James “Cool Papa” Bell was a Negro Leagues legend. There is one Mississippi-born player on the 2009 ballot for consideration for the Hall, and it’s unlikely he’s going to be elected. Dave Parker, who retired in 1991, has been on the Hall ballot for more than 10 years now. It’s not happening for him. Parker, whose Mississippi birthplace has been variously listed as Calhoun, Calhoun City and Jackson — don’t know the story with that — has impressive career numbers: 2,712 hits, 339 homers, .290 average. He was a seven-time All-Star, and in his prime he was one of the great right fielders of any era. But Parker’s prime didn’t last long. Injuries, weight problems and his admitted cocaine use curtailed Parker’s potential. He wasn’t as good as he could, or should, have been, and perhaps that’s why Hall voters have shunned him.
P.S. Among the new names on the 2009 Hall ballot is former Jackson Mets pitcher Jesse Orosco. Good pitcher. Long career. But don’t see him getting picked either.