31 Mar

march madness

Surprised that the Atlanta Braves would trade Josh Anderson, essentially anointing former Mississippi Brave Jordan Schafer as the opening day center fielder? A little, yes. Anderson figured to be the safe bet to start the season; he played well in his big league trial last year and has had a good spring. The Braves could have started Schafer at Triple-A Gwinnett, then bumped him up if Anderson struggled. But Schafer has had a great spring. He apparently forced the Braves’ hand. Anderson, out of minor league options, had to be dealt. Schafer’s tools were obvious during his time in Pearl last season: quick bat, plus speed, strong arm. He just didn’t do a whole lot when it came to getting big hits or making big plays in the field. Though he was the organization’s No. 1 prospect in 2008, he didn’t carry the M-Braves to the Southen League championship. Several others played bigger roles than Schafer. Plus, he showed some attitude that won’t fly in Atlanta under Bobby Cox. Perhaps Schafer has seen the light. The Braves seem to think so. Now, they still have to figure out what to do with ex-M-Brave Gregor Blanco. Do they keep him as fifth outfielder? Are they still considering sending Schafer down to start the season? We shall see very soon.
P.S. Former Ole Miss star David Dellucci will start the season on the disabled list for Cleveland. Dellucci has a calf injury. … Former Itawamba CC standout Jonathan Van Every, vying for a job with the Boston Red Sox, is also disabled, having suffered a severe ankle sprain in mid-March that could keep him out of action until mid-April.

27 Mar

what’s in a name

When you peruse the Mississippi Valley State baseball roster, the first name that jumps out is Willie Mays, who is no relation to the Hall of Famer. But the keen-eyed observer with a sense of Mississippi baseball history will also notice Curtis Ford, who is, in fact, the son of the Jackson native and former big leaguer of the same name. The younger Ford, a sophomore second baseman, is a “mirror image” of his father, said Valley coach Doug Shanks. The younger Ford is slightly smaller than his dad at 5 feet 8, 150 pounds and bats right-handed, not lefty. But the baseball skills are comparable, Shanks said. Shanks coached the older Ford with the youth-league Jackson 96ers back in the early 1980s. The older Ford, an outfielder, played at Jackson State and put in several years in the big leagues, most with the St. Louis Cardinals. The father, who now lives in St. Louis, contacted Shanks last year about a possible spot for his son. “Just because of his bloodlines I took him,” Shanks said. The younger Ford, who “can roll out of bed and hit a fastball,” might be a better player someday than his father. Shanks said he has good hands, an improving arm and will hit with more pop as he matures physically.

25 Mar

smith-wills revisited

Made it out to old Smith-Wills Stadium on Tuesday night for the first time in a couple of years. The 34-year-old park is showing some signs of age, though nothing that a fresh coat of paint here and there wouldn’t salve. The artificial turf field has held up well. Belhaven battered Mississippi College 12-2 in a Maloney Trophy Series game before a rainy night crowd of about 50. The Blazers have some good hitters, most notably, of course, big Craig Westcott. MC’s Bo Bell also swung the bat well. The best part of the visit was doing some reminiscing with a couple of old Smith-Wills regulars. The memories at that park are so vibrant. The names Lance Berkman, Scott Little, Darryl Strawberry, Randy Milligan, Billy Beane and Bobby Abreu, among others, popped up in conversation. They’ll always be a part of Smith-Wills.
P.S. The Baltimore Orioles demoted former Southern Miss pitcher Bob McCrory and ex-Mississippi Brave Chris Waters to their minor league camp today, and the New York Mets shipped out ex-Jackson General Freddy Garcia. In case you missed it late Monday, Florida optioned Vicksburg’s Taylor Tankersley to Triple-A, and Cincinnati released former General Daryle Ward. Ward’s left-handed power should make him attractive to some team, possibly in the American League, where he could DH. Remember the ball he hit through the wall at Smith-Wills? Another great memory.

23 Mar

a lasting impression

The Florida Marlins-Houston Astros game was the feature on MLB Network today, and watching it gave rise to a few observations. First of all, Lance Berkman has clearly established himself as the best position player to emerge from the 25 years of Double-A baseball played at Smith-Wills Stadium. The Astros’ switch-hitting first baseman, the last Jackson General still with Houston, hit a pair of home runs today and also made a sparkling play in the field. He is ready to go. Over 10 big league seasons, Berkman is batting .302 with 288 home runs. In six of his eight full seasons with the Astros, he has topped 100 RBIs. No other former Jackson Met or General has approached this kind of consistent production. Not Lee Mazzilli, Mookie Wilson, Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Bobby Abreu. No one. If you were to pick an All-Jackson Double-A team today, Berkman would be the No. 1 choice. Beyond that, Berkman is a stand-up guy, a good teammate who is good with fans and media. He was like that when he was here and hasn’t changed.
A few other things of note from today’s game: Former Ole Miss star Chris Coghlan will soon be the everyday second baseman for the Florida Marlins. Probably not this year, but next for sure. He can play. He hit an inside-the-park homer today and had two other hits. … Vicksburg’s Taylor Tanklersley, once a reliable lefty reliever for the Marlins, doesn’t look like he’s going to make the big league club. He pitched today and was knocked around for 4 hits and 4 runs. He is 0-3 with a 20.25 ERA this spring. … Former Meridian CC star Jason Smith, the much-traveled veteran utility guy, looks like a lock to make the Astros as a non-roster invitee. That’s not easy to do.

22 Mar

scatter shots

Give it up for Belhaven’s Craig Westcott, who threw two no-hitters in a span of eight days. The latest came in a 10-0 win over Loyola of New Orleans on Saturday at Smith-Wills Stadium. Westcott, a transfer to NAIA BC from NCAA Division II West Florida, served notice in his Blazers debut that he was going to be an impact player. In the season opener on Jan. 23, the big right-hander scattered one hit over 5 innings in a win against Spring Hill. Not satisfied just to pitch, Westcott also drove in a run in that game. … Former Delta State star Edwin Maysonet had a 5-RBI game for Houston in a rare Astros win on Saturday. Maysonet has hung around the big league camp longer than some expected. Ex-Meridian CC standout Jason Smith is still there, too. Not so fortunate: Southern Miss alum Jarrett Hoffpauir, shipped out by St. Louis last week; Jackson State product Dewon Day, sent down by Tampa Bay; and ex-Ole Miss star Matt Maloney, packed off by Cincinnati. … Good to see Nettleton’s Bill Hall return from injury (calf muscle) with a bang last week for Milwaukee, hitting a home run against Chicago Cubs phenom Jeff Samardzija. Hall is battling to reclaim the full-time third base job with the Brewers — and still has some work to do. … Ole Miss alum Bobby Kielty, a non-roster invitee in the New York Mets’ camp, seems to be making a case for himself as a veteran reserve. He’s a right-handed hitter with some pop and a decent outfielder. … Former Mississippi Braves pitcher Anthony Lerew, best remembered for his long sideburns and 98 mph fastball, was snapped up by the Kansas City Royals after Atlanta released him last week. KC GM Dayton Moore, a former Braves farm director, has recruited so many ex-Braves to the Royals it’s hard to keep a count. Kyle Davies, Horacio Ramirez, Brayan Pena, Luis Hernandez, Matt Wright, Carlos Sencion … just to name a few.

11 Mar

rat’s milestone

It has been quite the year for milestone victories. First, William Carey coach Bobby Halford won No. 800, then Millsaps’ Jim Page got No. 500. On Tuesday, Alcorn State’s Willie “Rat” McGowan picked up No. 700. McGowan’s tenure at Alcorn goes back to the late 1960s, and, as was noted in a release sent out by the school, he would have a lot more wins had his baseball duties not been curtailed by football duties, limiting the number of games his Braves could play. To this day, SWAC schools don’t put a lot of emphasis on their baseball programs. Alcorn flies well under the radar, even in baseball-mad Mississippi. McGowan has produced his fair share of standout players, counting 11 major league draftees among them. Al Jones, a pitcher from the early ’80s, made the big leagues. Infielder Corey Wimberly is in the Oakland A’s big league camp this spring. Greg Daniels, who wasn’t drafted, hit a remarkable .545 in 1983, leading the nation. For all that and more, the Rat deserves a tip of the cap.
P.S. Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee’s second spring start today went as badly as his first. The 2008 AL Cy Young winner allowed 5 hits and 4 runs — 3 earned — over 3 innings for the Cleveland Indians. His throwing error gave Colorado an unearned run in the first. Lee was roughed up for 3 hits and 2 runs in just one inning of work last week. Lee told The Associated Press that he wasn’t worried about today’s outing, that he was just throwing fastballs and nothing else.

09 Mar

yet another no-no

Jones County Junior College’s Tyler McMullen threw a 6-inning no-hitter against Kishawaukee (Ill.) CC in the Wes Cliburn Memorial Tournament at Vicksburg over the weekend. McMullen, a sophomore out of prep powerhouse Southeast Lauderdale, struck out 5, walked 2 and ran his record to 4-1. … In that same tournament, Hinds CC, the host school, went 4-0 and improved to 13-5 for the season. Division play starts for the Mississippi jucos on Tuesday.

P.S. Former Ole Miss lefty Brae Wright, who pitched at Double-A Huntsville in the Southern League last season, has had Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2009 season. … Right-hander Roy Oswalt, the Weir and Holmes CC product, didn’t have a great start for Team USA on Sunday, though the Americans rallied to win the game going away 15-6. Former Mississippi Brave Gregor Blanco had 3 hits for Venezuela, and ex-Jackson Generals Melvin Mora, Bobby Abreu and Carlos Guillen combined for 5 hits, with Guillen hitting a home run.