31 May

welcome to the show

On Friday, Shae Simmons was in Pearl. Today, he was in Miami. And in the eighth inning of a one-run game between Atlanta and the Marlins, the former Mississippi Braves closer was on the mound. With two men on and two out, Simmons struck out former M-Braves star Jarrod Saltalamacchia for a clutch hold in his MLB debut. In the ninth, former M-Braves closer Craig Kimbrel was summoned from the Braves’ pen with two on and one out and nailed down his team-record tying 154th career save as Atlanta won 9-5. Simmons, a hard-throwing right-hander, had 14 saves in 14 opportunities and a 0.78 ERA for the M-Braves. He is the 86th M-Braves alum to advance to the major leagues. (Wondering what the M-Braves will do for a closer now as they chase a championship in the Southern League South Division.) … Just for the record: Former M-Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella, who made his big league debut on Wednesday, scored his first run and picked up his first RBI in today’s win.

31 May

wow

Jackson State — No. 271 in the RPI — beats No. 1-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette 1-0 in the NCAA regionals at Lafayette, La., on Friday night. Biggest win in Tigers history. Definitely. … Hinds Community College beats Madison (Wis.) 12-6 in the NJCAA Division II World Series. The Eagles play for the national championship tonight against No. 1 Mesa (Ariz.). Only two Mississippi colleges have ever won national baseball titles: Delta State in 2004 and William Carey in 1969. … The Mississippi Braves sweep a doubleheader (7-0 and 7-0) from Pensacola — completing a sweep of the five-game series at Trustmark Park — and are now just 1 game back of first-place Mobile in the Southern League South.

30 May

staying with it

Watched a few innings of the Pacific Coast League game of the week on TV Thursday night. Eli Whiteside, the ex-Delta State star from New Albany, was catching for Iowa (Chicago Cubs) and Mississippi State product Ed Easley was behind the plate for Memphis (St. Louis Cardinals) at AutoZone Park. These are two guys who must really love the game. They are backup catchers in Triple-A. Both are scuffling in their limited time: Whiteside is batting .168, Easley .204. Whiteside, who’ll be 35 in October, is in his 15th pro season. He has 208 MLB games under his belt and won a World Series ring with San Francisco in 2010. The Cubs are the seventh organization Whiteside has played for. He last appeared in the majors — briefly — in 2012. Easley, 28, is in his eighth season. He has yet to play in a big league game. He hit .334 with six homers and 49 RBIs in Triple-A for Arizona in 2013, never got a call-up, then signed with St. Louis in the off-season as a minor league free agent. The chances that either Whiteside or Easley will get called to the big leagues this season are pretty slim. Yet they keep plugging away at the game’s most demanding position. There is something admirable about that kind of devotion. P.S. Tony Sipp has shown that he still has some gas in the tank. The Pascagoula native has not allowed a run in 9 2/3 innings over eight appearances with Houston. Sipp, given his release from a minor league contract with San Diego so that he could sign with the Astros, has yielded just one hit and one walk with 13 strikeouts for a club that is suddenly playing well. The Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum is in his 11th pro season.

29 May

a few atta-boys

Toler Robinson of Pearl delivered a walk-off RBI double in the 13th inning on Wednesday night as Hinds Community College beat Madison (Wis.) 8-7 in the NJCAA Division II World Series. Austin Sanders of Madison worked four scoreless innings for the win. The Eagles are 4-0 in the tournament and play No. 1-ranked Mesa (Ariz.) in a semifinal round game today in Enid, Okla. … Mycal Jones got three hits, scored a run and drove in one as the Mississippi Braves beat Pensacola 5-4 in 13 innings at Trustmark Park. Jones is hitting .322 for the M-Braves, now 30-22 on the campaign. … JaCoby Jones, the former Mr. Baseball from Richton, went 3-for-6 with a home run, two runs and two RBIs for Class A West Virginia (Pittsburgh Pirates). Jones is batting .270 with six homers, 23 RBIs and 32 runs. … Tommy La Stella got two hits in his first major league game for Atlanta; the second baseman is the 85th M-Braves alumnus to advance to The Show. … Former M-Braves standout Brian McCann played flawlessly in his first pro start at first base and delivered two hits in a New York Yankees victory over St. Louis. … Jarrod Dyson, the ex-Southwest Mississippi CC star, stole two bases for Kansas City to boost his season total to nine. In limited playing time, Dyson is fourth in the Mississippians in MLB Stolen Base Race, trailing Billy Hamilton (18), Brian Dozier (12) and Desmond Jennings (11). … Last but certainly not least, T.J. House, the Picayune High product, worked 6 1/3 innings, allowing just one run on five hits with eight strikeouts and a walk in his second career MLB start for Cleveland. The Indians wound up losing 3-2 to the Chicago White Sox. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss pitcher Phil Irwin has been claimed on waivers by Texas (from Pittsburgh) and assigned to Triple-A Round Rock.

28 May

standing tall

It’s getting very interesting for Hinds Community College in the NJCAA Division II World Series. Only two unbeatens remain in the double-elimination tournament – and the Eagles are one of them. Half of the original 10-team field has been sent home, and another will be eliminated in today’s first game at Enid, Okla., when Mercer County (N.J.) plays Pasco-Hernando (Fla.). Hinds (38-19 overall, 3-0 in Enid) meets fellow unbeaten Madison (Wis.) in the second game. Hinds beat Pasco-Hernando 9-4 on Tuesday behind the brilliant pitching of freshman Houston Case (five-hit complete game) and homers from Matt Jones (his 10th) and Marshall Boggs. Madison, which has played only two games, had Tuesday off. The Wolfpack is 44-15. Keith Browning leads the hitters with a .372 average and 42 RBIs. The pitching staff has a 2.84 ERA for the season and has yielded just three runs in the tournament. For what it’s worth, Madison also has a lot of impressive history: eight juco World Series appearances and three national titles (the last in 1997). The Wolfpack finished third last year. Win or lose tonight, Hinds will play again on Thursday. Mesa (Ariz.) will play the Hinds-Madison winner.

28 May

mission accomplished

Ole Miss product Lance Lynn had made 146 career starts, minors and majors, heading into Tuesday’s turn against the New York Yankees. For the first time, the St. Louis Cardinals right-hander finished what he started. Lynn notched his first complete game, beating the Yankees 6-0 with a five-hitter. “It was definitely one to remember,” Lynn told The Associated Press. “To do it against the Yankees is exciting, especially if it’s your first one as a professional.” Lynn walked three and struck out two, throwing 126 pitches. He had won just one of his previous six starts but is now 6-2 with a 3.12 ERA. For his MLB career, Lynn is 40-20. And his Cardinals have won 10 of 13 to get to 29-23, 1½ games behind Milwaukee in the National League Central. P.S. Another name to watch in the upcoming MLB draft: Justin Steele, a left-hander at George County High. Baseball America ranks the Southern Miss signee as the No. 120 prospect overall. Steele, 6 feet 2, 170 pounds, went 5-1 with a 0.98 ERA, struck out 92 and walked just 12 in 43 innings.

27 May

blossoming in may

Cedric Hunter might hate to see May come to an end. The Mississippi Braves outfielder is batting .339 this month with two homers and 14 RBIs. He has 14 hits since May 15. For the season, Hunter is at .298 with four homers, 18 RBIs and 15 runs, helping the M-Braves climb to 28-22 and into the Southern League South first-half race. That Hunter, 26, is having success in Double-A isn’t really surprising. After all, he’s been in the big leagues. More interesting is how he wound up back at this level in his ninth pro year. Plucked in the third round of the 2006 draft by San Diego out of a Georgia high school, Hunter established himself as the Padres’ top prospect after his first pro season. The left-handed hitter made San Diego’s opening day roster in 2011. That was a high point. From there, his career curve turned. He got just four at-bats with the Padres in 2011 before being shipped back to Triple-A, where he put up mediocre numbers. Taken off the 40-man roster in that off-season, he was snatched by Oakland, then traded to St. Louis, which stuck him in the minors. He bounced from there to the Cleveland organization, where he split time between Triple-A and Double-A in 2013. The 6-foot, 195-pound Hunter is a .288 career minor league hitter; the knock appears to be that he has neither great speed nor big power. But as he has shown this month, he can make offensive contributions. While some of the younger M-Braves outfielders have struggled and/or suffered injuries, Hunter has seized the opportunity and given the team a big lift. We shall see what June holds in store. P.S. The M-Braves host Pensacola tonight in Game 2 of a five-game series at Trustmark Park.

27 May

senators vs. m-braves

On this date in baseball history, Carl Hubbell notched his 24th straight win, the oversized catcher’s mitt for knuckleballs debuted, a Boston-Cleveland game was fogged out – and, in central Mississippi, the Jackson Senators and Mississippi Braves played at home on the same day for the first time. The independent Senators, playing at Smith-Wills Stadium, and the Southern League’s M-Braves, playing at Trustmark Park in Pearl, coexisted for only one season — 2005. On May 27, a Friday, they went head-to-head for fans for the first time. The M-Braves drew an announced crowd of 5,747 — their biggest since opening day at the brand new TeePee — for a 9-4 loss to Montgomery. The Senators, who were in their fourth season, drew an announced crowd of roughly 2,500, which was much better than what they averaged that season (about 1,500). The Sens did win, however, beating Shreveport 2-1 in a 15-inning affair that ended after midnight. The Senators ceased operations after the 2005 season. P.S. Props to Jackson State for being the only four-year school in the state to win a conference tournament title. Condolences to the SWAC champs for drawing Louisiana-Lafayette — the No. 6 national seed and the No. 1 team in the country in Baseball America’s new poll — in the first round of the NCAA regionals. Nationally ranked Mississippi State and a surging San Diego State are also in the Lafayette Regional. JSU’s postseason figures to be short-lived. … Hinds Community College is 2-0 in the NJCAA Division II World Series and plays Pasco-Hernando (Fla.) State tonight in Enid, Okla.

26 May

next up for hinds

The skinny on Hinds Community College’s next opponent: Vincennes (Ind.) University’s Trailblazers can hit and they can run. Hinds gets back on the field today in a winner’s bracket game in the NJCAA Division II World Series at Enid, Okla. Vincennes, which knocked off No. 1 Mesa CC 9-4 in its opener on Saturday, features four regulars who are batting .398 or better, and the team has 30 triples and 117 stolen bases in 59 games. The Trailblazers (43-16) are making their second juco World Series visit. Their leading hitter is Lance Myers at .416, but the best all-around offensive player might be Robbie Doring (.406, five homers, 54 RBIs, 80 runs, seven triples and 24 steals). Hinds (36-19), playing in its fifth juco World Series, won its opener 14-11 over Lincoln Land CC, powered by Quade Smith (3-for-3, three walks, four runs, two RBIs) and Luke Reynolds (four RBIs). At .399, Reynolds is the Eagles’ top hitter.

25 May

managing (mostly) fine

Eyebrows were raised when John Gibbons was re-hired to manage the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013. Here lately, eyebrows have been raised over how well the Jays have played under the former Jackson Mets catcher. As we approach the Memorial Day pole – always a key marker in the MLB season – Toronto has won 10 of 12 games and surged to the top of the American League East with a 28-22 record. Gibbons had a losing record in his first run with the Jays from 2004-08, and the club went 74-88 last season. Former Mississippi State star Buck Showalter has his Baltimore Orioles in third place in the AL East at 24-23. Ex-Jackson Mets shortstop Ron Gardenhire, who has endured three straight miserable seasons in Minnesota, is enjoying better days so far in 2014. The Twins, fueled by Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier’s big numbers, are 23-23, tied for second in the AL Central with Kansas City (24-24). The Royals, whom everyone keeps expecting to break out, are managed by ex-JaxMets catcher Ned Yost. Former JaxMets star Billy Beane, the GM in Oakland, has worked more magic in 2014. The A’s are 30-19, leading the AL West. In the NL, former JaxMets skipper Clint Hurdle, manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, has seen his club slide to a 22-26 start, fourth in the Central Division. The Bucs made the playoffs last year for the first time since 1992; they’ve got work to do to get back in. P.S. On the MLB transaction watch: Cincinnati has signed former Ole Miss left-hander Matt Maloney to a minor league deal. Maloney debuted with the Reds in 2009. He last pitched in the big leagues in 2012 with Minnesota and has a 5.74 career ERA in 31 games. … Pascagoula’s Joey Butler, who got only five at-bats during his brief stint with St. Louis, is off to Japan, where he will play for the Orix Buffaloes. … Ole Miss alum Phillip Irwin was designated for assignment by Pittsburgh, which took him off the 40-man roster. The right-hander may very well wind up back with the Pirates’ Triple-A team.