In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated (cover date April 1), there is a story by Michael McKnight about former Meridian High star Brian Cole. It’s called “The Best Player You Never Saw.” Find it. Read it. Cole — the younger brother of former Ole Miss star Popeye Cole and ex-Southern Miss standout Greg Cole — could have been the best Mississippi-born ballplayer ever to put on a uniform. Tragically, he never played above Double-A. He was killed in a car crash in the spring of 2001. In the touching SI story, an array of current and former big leaguers who knew Cole give testimony to his tremendous talent and engaging personality. P.S. William Beckwith was at Trustmark Park today with the Atlanta Braves Future Stars team. He won’t start the 2013 season in Pearl — he’s ticketed for high Class A Lynchburg — but the former West Lowndes High star should make Double-A soon enough. A 21st-round pick out of an Alabama junior college in 2010, Beckwith hit .291 with 15 homers at low-A Rome last year and was named the team’s player of the year. He’s a left-handed hitting first baseman who’s listed at 6 feet 1, 230 pounds but looks bigger.
The GPS is set for Memory Lane. The Atlanta Braves are coming to Trustmark Park in Pearl on Saturday and déjà vu, not just pollen, is in the air. First stop on this trip is 1986, when the New York Mets came to Jackson to play their Double-A affiliate. An overflow crowd of 7,061 showed up at Smith-Wills Stadium to watch as a New York team that would go on to win the World Series beat Our Jackson Mets 6-0. Former Jackson Mets star Lenny Dykstra went 3-for-4 for New York and another OJM alum, Rick Aguilera, struck out nine batters in seven innings. The New York club also included Darryl Strawberry and Kevin Mitchell, both ex-JaxMets, as well as Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, Howard Johnson and Ray Knight. The Jackson team, which seemed a bit overwhelmed, featured future big leaguers Kevin Elster, Greg Olson, Shawn Abner and Jeff McKnight. Managed by Mike Cubbage, the ’86 JaxMets made it to the Texas League Championship Series. Moving on to the next stop … it’s 1997, when the Houston Astros trekked to Smith-Wills to play the Double-A Generals. Another overflow crowd — 6,196 officially — turned out to see the big league team, which would win the National League Central that year, beat the Gens 7-2. The game was played on what was a scheduled off-day in the regular season for both teams. The Astros were on their way to Atlanta. The Generals left afterward for Shreveport. And the game was played with a sense of urgency: The 7-inning affair lasted just 88 minutes. Astros stars Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio batted in the first inning and were then removed from the lineup. Derek Bell and Bill Spiers hit home runs for Houston, but the lasting memory of the game was the monster shot into the pines in right-center field launched by the Gens’ Daryle Ward. “That looked like one of (John) Daly’s zero irons,” Generals manager Gary Allenson said after the game. Ward was one of several future big leaguers on the ’97 Jackson team that also included Carlos Guillen, Mitch Meluskey and Scott Elarton. Now it’s back to the future … and Atlanta’s game against the Future Stars. The TeePee is sold out; the tally could hit 8,000. The Braves’ big league roster is packed with star power, including many former Mississippi Braves. It’s a playoff contender, to be sure. There are prospects aplenty on the minor league team that will be managed by Bobby Cox. It should be fun. It should be memorable – a future stop on Memory Lane.
Chris Coghlan reportedly has made Miami’s opening day roster. The Ole Miss product, whose career has been skidding since he won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2009, has had a good spring, batting .311 through Wednesday. There was a crowd in the Marlins outfield, which includes former Mississippi Braves standout Gorkys Hernandez. He is expected to be traded. Coghlan, a lefty hitter, batted .321 with nine homers, 47 RBIs and 84 runs in 128 games in 2009. He hit .268 in 2010, the year he injured his knee in an on-field celebration. He’s had other injury issues, as well. Coghlan batted just .230 in 2011 and .140 last year in limited big league time. … Starkville native Julio Borbon is apparently still in contention for a spot on Texas’ club, but the outfielder — who hit .304 in Triple-A in 2012 and has had some good big league numbers — could also be traded. … Former Pillow Academy star Louis Coleman, a reliever, was sent to Triple-A today by Kansas City, and Ole Miss alum Alex Presley, an outfielder, was sent down on Wednesday by Pittsburgh. … Watch for it: Evan Gattis, who belted nine homers in his 49 games with the M-Braves last year, could be the next alum to play in the big leagues. The catcher/outfielder, recently featured in Sports Illustrated, has made Atlanta’s roster; he’ll be in Pearl for Saturday’s Futures Game. Also making the Atlanta club as a reserve outfielder is Jordan Schafer, who played on the M-Braves’ 2008 Southern League title team.
There are many familiar names on the roster for the Atlanta Braves Future Stars team that will play the major league club on Saturday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The 2:05 p.m. game is sold out. The Future Stars, who’ll be managed by Braves legend Bobby Cox, feature 2012 Mississippi Braves Sean Gilmartin (who will start on the mound), J.R. Graham, Christian Bethancourt, Todd Cunningham, Joey Terdoslavich, Mark Lamm and Phil Gosselin. Graham, Bethancourt, Lamm and Gosselin are expected to open the new season with the M-Braves. Also on Cox’s club are likely 2013 M-Braves Alex Wood and Edward Salcedo, as well as Class A-level prospects Matt Lipka and Jose Peraza. Former M-Braves star Mike Minor is slated to start for Atlanta, whose roster includes a large number of M-Braves alums (Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Kris Medlen, Craig Kimbrel, et. al.) Also on the Atlanta roster is former Mississippi State star Paul Maholm.
A check of the MACJC standings finds Jones County Junior College atop the South Division with Northeast, Northwest and Mississippi Delta setting the pace in the North. Jones moved to 8-2 in the division and 20-8 overall with a sweep of Hinds on Tuesday. Pearl River, which swept Hinds on Sunday behind eight RBIs from St. Stanislaus alum Krisjon Wilkerson, is 5-3 in the league and will host JCJC on Friday. East Central swept Copiah-Lincoln on Tuesday and moved to 7-3 in the South. The Warriors were led by highly rated prospect Tim Anderson, who went 4-for-4 in the opener, then doubled and scored in Game 2. Northeast (5-1) swept Northwest (6-2) in a big North showdown last week as Tigers pitchers Ben Hellums and Tanner Gaines (a Mississippi State transfer) delivered complete game efforts. Northeast faces back-to-back division doubleheaders against Coahoma and Itawamba today and Thursday. Northwest took a twinbill from Holmes on Tuesday and faces a showdown today at Mississippi Delta, 5-1 in the division after a sweep of Coahoma on Tuesday.
Belhaven University ranks second in the NAIA in stolen bases (104 through Monday), so it should come as no surprise that thievery was a key element in the Blazers’ 7-6 win over Mississippi College today at blustery Smith-Wills Stadium. Down 6-5 in the ninth and down to their last out, the Blazers got a clutch hit from Emilio DeSilva, who promptly stole his third bag of the game. He went to third on a wild pitch. Caleb Baucum then drew a walk and — you guessed it — stole second, BU’s seventh bag of the game. Hamilton Harper stepped up and delivered a two-run single to give the red-hot Blazers their eighth straight win and also clinch the Maloney Trophy Series for this season. Belhaven (25-12) is 2-0 against both MC (10-15) and Millsaps. P.S. William Carey, BU’s rival in the Southern States Athletic Conference, is ranked 19th in the first NAIA poll of the regular season. The Crusaders are 22-10 and 13-5 in the league. BU is 10-5 SSAC. The teams don’t meet until April 25-26, in Jackson in the last series of the regular season.
Drew Pomeranz will start the season in Triple-A for Colorado, the club announced late Monday. Not a huge surprise. The signing of veteran pitcher Jon Garland pushed the 24-year-old former Ole Miss standout out of the Rockies’ rotation, at least for the time being. He’ll open the campaign at Colorado Springs, where he spent part of 2012. “I’m ready for whatever,” Pomeranz told mlb.com. Pomeranz went 2-9 with a 4.93 ERA for Colorado last year and is 2-2, 5.50 in four starts this spring. P.S. Delta State (22-4-1) remained No. 1 in the latest Collegiate Baseball NCAA Division II poll. DSU, 7-2-1 in the Gulf South Conference, hosts league foe West Alabama at Ferriss Field in Cleveland this weekend.
While the state’s Big 3 Division I schools were losing conference series over the weekend, Jackson State and Alcorn State battled it out in an overshadowed — but significant — Southwestern Athletic Conference series. After dropping the Saturday opener at Rat McGowan Stadium in Lorman, JSU bounced back to sweep a Sunday doubleheader, scoring 27 runs on the day. Stephen Curtis had five hits and three RBIs in the twinbill for the Tigers, now 12-12, 9-3 SWAC. Alcorn is 5-22, 5-4. … Playing at Smith-Wills Stadium (on the artificial surface) because of inclement weather, Millsaps pounded Centre 13-0 on Sunday and moved to 14-7, 6-3 in Southern Athletic Association play. Daniel Ross allowed just two hits over seven innings for the W. … Keith Case, coach at Copiah-Lincoln Community College for 21 years, has announced his retirement at season’s end. His current club is 15-10 and 5-3 (tied for second) in the MACJC South. … On the MLB front: Former Jackson Generals stars Freddy Garcia and Ramon Castro have been released by San Diego and the Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively, and Nettleon’s Bill Hall was cut by the L.A. Angels. … Former General Lance Berkman, playing first base for Texas on Sunday, went 2-for-2 with a homer and raised his spring average to .275. … Edward Salcedo, expected to be the Mississippi Braves’ third baseman this season, hit two home runs for Atlanta on Saturday. … Southern Miss product Brian Dozier, hoping to nail down the second base job with Minnesota, had a 3-for-4 Sunday and is batting .278. … Ole Miss alum Seth Smith is up to .341 with Oakland. … Mississippi Gulf Coast CC product Tony Sipp now has a 2.70 ERA for Arizona, his new team. … Meridian CC alum Cliff Lee has a 5.94 ERA and Mississippi State star Jonathan Papelbon an 11.37 for Philadelphia.
Mississippi State fans have been waiting for Hunter Renfroe to throw the power switch, and he appears to have done it. The junior outfielder from Crystal Springs belted his seventh home run on Friday night to help the Bulldogs (21-4, 2-2 SEC) beat Kentucky 8-4 in a showdown of nationally ranked clubs. After his 3-for-4, 2-RBI effort, Renfroe is batting .427 with a team-best 32 RBIs; he is slugging an impressive .853. The 6-foot-1, 216-pound right-handed hitter smacked a line drive homer to left-center field at Trustmark Park last week against Southern Miss. It’s not easy to hit one out there. After playing sparingly as a freshman at State, Renfroe batted .252 with four homers last year. That was not the kind of production expected from a player who hit a Mississippi private school record 20 bombs at Copiah Academy in 2010 and was drafted in a late round. But something may have clicked for Renfroe last summer in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League, where he hit a loop-record 19 homers and was named MVP. That juice is still flowing this spring. P.S. State’s win was part of a sweet sweep by the Magnolia State’s Big 3 on Friday: Ole Miss, now 21-2 and 3-1 SEC, beat nationally ranked Texas A&M; and USM took down nationally ranked Rice.
In Colorado’s 10-4 Cactus League win over San Francisco on Thursday, two Mississippi-connected players made an impression. Former Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, battling for a spot in the Rockies’ rotation, went five innings to get the win (beating Matt Cain, by the way). And McComb native and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson added another hit and an RBI to his ledger. Left-hander Pomeranz, the former first-round pick by Cleveland who struggled with the Rockies in 2012, has had a decent spring: 2-2, 5.50 ERA. He allowed 10 hits and two walks on Thursday but limited the Giants to three earned runs. “(I) have more in the tank (this year),” Pomeranz told mlb.com. “I can reach back when I need to.” Dickerson, an outfielder who is not on the 40-man roster, is hitting .409 with a homer and eight RBIs. The lefty-hitting Dickerson batted .274 with 13 homers in a partial Double-A season in 2012 and then played well in the Arizona Fall League. His chance will come.