Has it really been 20 years? The first home game of the final season of the old Jackson Generals was played on April 19, 1999, at Smith-Wills Stadium. It could’ve gone better, to say the least. Gov. Kirk Fordice bounced the ceremonial first pitch. The Generals, the Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros, then surrendered five first-inning runs and lost to Texas League rival Arkansas 9-2. Rick Ankiel got the win and also homered for the Travelers, who were managed by Jackson native and current Mississippi Braves skipper Chris Maloney. The loss dropped the Generals’ record to 3-8. Only 1,955 people turned out to see the lame-duck club, which had announced a year earlier that it was moving to Round Rock, Texas. The ’99 Gens would prove to be a pretty good team. Quite a few future big leaguers appeared on the roster, including Chris Truby (who hit 28 homers), Julio Lugo (.319, 25 steals), Keith Ginter, Brian Dallimore, Jeriome Robertson (15-game winner) and Wayne Franklin. They also occasionally started an all-Johnson outfield: A.J., J.J. and Ric. The Generals, managed by Jim Pankovits, finished 68-72 overall after making a run at the TL East second-half title. The championship actually came down to the last game of the season, also played at Smith-Wills. Alas, before the biggest crowd of the year (a turnstile count of 4,367), the Gens lost in heartbreaking fashion, 9-4 to Tulsa. It was 3-3 in the seventh inning when the Drillers’ Juan Pinella hit a grand slam that sucked the energy out of the old ballpark. The 25-year Texas League era at Smith-Wills began on April 19, 1975, with a pitch by the Jackson Mets’ Greg Pavlick. It ended on Sept. 8, 1999, on a pitch by Tulsa’s Matt Miller, a Delta State alum from Greenwood who would go on to pitch in the big leagues. … The M-Braves will pay tribute to the Generals and that bygone time during a series at Trustmark Park in Pearl from June 25-29.
The rapid ascent that began last spring for Nate Lowe culminated with a big league call-up on Monday. Former Mississippi State standout Lowe made his debut with Tampa Bay, going 1-for-4 with a double in the Rays’ win at Kansas City. “It’s awesome,” Lowe said in an mlb.com story. “It’s something you definitely dream of for so long.” Lowe, who spent one year in Starkville as a juco transfer, was a 13th-round pick by the Rays in 2016. He was in his second stint at high Class A Port Charlotte last spring when something clicked. He hit .356 with 10 homers in 51 games, then continued to rake in Double-A and Triple-A. He was invited to the All-Star Futures Game. He was named the Rays’ minor league player of the year after batting .330 with 27 homers and 102 RBIs over the three levels. He got a long look in spring training as a first baseman/DH and was summoned Monday from Triple-A Durham after a couple of injuries struck the big club. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound lefty hitter made a nice first impression. P.S. Lowe’s brother Josh is a Rays minor leaguer (and former first-round pick). They aren’t related to Brandon Lowe, another prospect currently on the team’s big league roster. … Nate Lowe is the second Mississippian (native or college alum) to debut in The Show in 2019 and the 22nd to appear in a game this season.
355. That is the most significant number to come out of the weekend of Mississippi college baseball. It’s the number of hits — an SEC record — in the four-year career of Mississippi State’s Jake Mangum, who’s not done yet, of course. But there are many other numbers to crunch. To wit:
9 — Number of wins by the state’s Big 3 Division I schools, each of which recorded a conference sweep. State put away nationally ranked Georgia, Ole Miss whipped nationally ranked Texas A&M and Southern Miss thumped Middle Tennessee State.
14-5-7-3 — Line over three games by USM’s Matt Wallner, who homered twice against MTSU. Wallner, finally beginning to flash some All-America form, is batting .296 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs.
10-2-4-5 — Line over three games by Ole Miss’ Thomas Dillard, who is hitting .323 with nine homers and 41 RBIs.
7 — RBIs in three games by State’s Tanner Allen, matching the number of hits by Mangum in the sweep of Georgia. Allen has 45 RBIs, second on the team to Luke Alexander’s 49.
15 — Jackson State’s winning streak before the Tigers dropped the final two games of their SWAC series against Alabama State.
20 — Gulf South Conference wins by both Delta State and Mississippi College. DSU won Sunday’s rubber game in their series at Clinton 6-4 — behind the clutch pitching of Dalton Minton and Patrick Rodgers — to finish 20-9 in the league to MC’s 20-7. The Choctaws will be the 2-seed in this week’s GSC Tournament and the Statesmen will be No. 3. Both will play on Friday in Oxford, Ala.
5-6 — The seedings for Blue Mountain College and William Carey University in this week’s SSAC Tournament. Both will play on Wednesday at Montgomery, Ala.
7 — Straight wins by Itawamba Community College, which swept Hinds in a pair of one-run games and continues to lead the MACJC pack at 20-4. Northwest. which has won five straight, is 20-6.
Though his path to the majors is essentially blocked, Austin Riley appears to be hitting his stride at Triple-A Gwinnett in Atlanta’s system. The former DeSoto Central High star, now in his fifth year of pro ball, has homered in three straight games and is batting .351 over his last 10. After a sluggish start to 2019, the 22-year-old third baseman is now at .253 with five homers and 16 RBIs. He also has cut down on strikeouts. “If I could figure that out, I’ll be a complete player and able to help the big league team,” he told milb.com. Riley’s power is unquestioned; he has 76 career homers. Though there was chatter in the spring about playing him at other positions (left field, first base) this year, he has played almost exclusively at third. Josh Donaldson, a big money free agent, currently occupies that spot in Atlanta, which also has Johan Camargo available for the job. But Riley, who hit .294 with 19 homers at Gwinnett and Double-A Mississippi in 2018, is champing at the bit and is going to force the Braves’ hand on his future very soon. The No. 35 overall prospect (per MLB Pipeline), Riley will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft after this season if he doesn’t make the 40-man roster.
Tim Anderson flipped the bat again on Friday night. This one seemed more appropriate for the moment. Anderson, the former East Central Community College star, belted his first career walk-off home run to give the Chicago White Sox a 12-11 victory over Detroit. Anderson generated a little — a lot? — of controversy with his bat-flip on April 17 (see previous post). Friday’s flip, a virtual replay of the other, set off a wild celebration of a wild comeback win by the ChiSox. “I knew I had to do it,” Anderson told mlb.com. Anderson went 4-for-6 with three runs, two RBIs and his MLB-best 10th stolen base. He also made two sterling defensive plays at shortstop in the top of the ninth inning, setting the stage for his two-out game-winning bomb. “I want those moments,” he said. Anderson led ECCC to an MACJC championship in 2013 and then was picked in the first round of the draft by Chicago. He reached the big leagues in 2016 and may well be blossoming as an All-Star this season. He is batting .402 with five homers, 16 RBIs and 20 runs. For the record, Richton High product JaCoby Jones hit his first home run of the year for Detroit, which led 9-2 at one point, and ex-Mississippi State standout Hunter Renfroe hit a game-winning homer for San Diego. But from a Mississippi perspective, this night belonged to Tim Anderson.
The proverbial injury bug continues to plague Zack Cozart. The former Ole Miss star has landed on the 10-day Injured List for the Los Angeles Angels with a stiff neck, which he hurt diving into a base on Monday. He also missed time in spring training with a calf injury. Considering the miserable start (.109, four RBIs in 23 games) he is off to, maybe some downtime will help. Cozart missed a big chunk of 2018, his first season with the Angels, because of a shoulder injury. He was an All-Star in Cincinnati in 2017, when he was relatively injury-free, but ended both the 2016 and 2015 seasons on the old DL with knee injuries. … Cozart joins a small crowd of Mississippians on the IL: Corey Dickerson, Mike Mayers, Bobby Wahl and Kendall Graveman. Dickerson, the ex-Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College standout, has been out since April 4 with a shoulder injury; he is expected to begin a rehab assignment for Pittsburgh soon. Ole Miss alum Mayers, now with St. Louis, has a lat strain that may keep him down until July. Wahl, another ex-Rebels star with Milwaukee, tore an ACL in the spring and is likely out for the season, while Mississippi State product Graveman, signed as a free agent by the Chicago Cubs, had Tommy John surgery last July and could return late this season.
The all-time series is rather lopsided between Delta State and Mississippi College. The Statesmen lead 122-44-2. More telling about the rivalry is the recent history: 5-5 over the last 10 games, 3-3 in 2018. And MC won the two biggest games last year, eliminating DSU in both the Gulf South Conference Tournament and NCAA Division II South Regional. The schedule brings them together again in Clinton on Saturday (doubleheader) and Sunday to conclude the regular season. Buckle up. MC, ranked No. 4 in the South Region, is 19-5 in the GSC and first in the standings. DSU, No. 3 in the South Region, is 18-8 and third. Delta State’s pitching (see Dalton Minton, Hunter Riggins, Melvin Frazier, et al.) has been outstanding; the Statesmen lead the league (by a wide margin) in ERA with a 2.50. Can MC’s hurlers (Chris Crosby, Garrett Hollinghead, Ryan Lane, et al.) keep pace? … Blue Mountain College and William Carey University get their final tuneups this weekend for next week’s Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament, with BMC playing a three-game set at Bethel (Tenn.) and Carey hosting Loyola of New Orleans. The Toppers are 25-21-1 and 14-9 in the SSAC, third behind NAIA powerhouses Faulkner and Middle Georgia State. The Crusaders are 20-24 and 12-11, seventh in the league. … A tough year for Millsaps College will likely end this weekend in Conway, Ark., where the Majors will play in one of the Southern Athletic Association’s two four-team tournaments that decide the championship series teams. The Majors (9-31) are the 8-seed overall and face No. 1 Hendrix in Friday’s opening round. Rhodes and Centre, the 4- and 5-seeds, are also in this bracket. Hendrix (28-12) swept the Majors three straight by a cumulative score of 28-5 during the season. Pitching (7.28 ERA) has been Millsaps’ biggest issue, though the defense (102 errors) has been shaky, as well. But, upsets do happen in postseason baseball. Teams go on improbable runs. Millsaps has done it before. … MUW’s second season ended on Tuesday with a pair of losses to Stillman in Columbus. The Owls are 16-11 and may get an invitation to the USCAA championships as they did in 2018. MUW, a non-scholarship program, went 3-1 vs. Rust, 2-0 vs. Tougaloo and 1-3 vs. Blue Mountain. … Belhaven University hired Kyle Palmer, formerly director of baseball operations at California Baptist University in Riverside, as the retired Hill Denson’s replacement for 2020. The Texas Lutheran graduate will be a first-time head coach. BU, completing its transition from NAIA to NCAA Division III, is expected to be eligible for the American Southwest Conference championship next season.
He came up in the ninth inning Wednesday needing a home run for the cycle. Delvin Zinn had to settle for a double, his fifth hit of the game in what was the best performance in his four years of pro ball. “One-hundred percent I was (thinking home run), but I guess if you miss with a double, that’s alright,” the ex-Itawamba Community College star from Pontotoc told milb.com. Zinn is batting .375 through 13 games in his second season with South Bend, the Chicago Cubs’ Class A club. The 21-year-old middle infielder was drafted in the 23rd round in 2016 by the Cubs. He had hit .411 and drawn raves for his defense during his one season at ICC, but he’s moved slowly in pro ball. He spent two years at the rookie level, helping the Cubs win an Arizona League title in 2017. He batted .286 in 59 games for South Bend last year. The five-hit game might be a springboard for him. … Five was also a number of note for Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz. The big lefty got his first win for San Francisco, throwing six shutout innings at Toronto. He now has big league wins for five different clubs. The fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft by Cleveland, Pomeranz has been a relatively effective pitcher (45-50, 3.91 ERA) who just never stays in one place for very long.
DeSoto Central High, the only Mississippi school appearing in the Collegiate Baseball and MaxPreps national rankings, starts its postseason journey against visiting Warren Central on Thursday in the second round of the MHSAA Class 6A North playoffs. The Jaguars are 26-2, ranked No. 2 by Collegiate Baseball and 11th by MaxPreps. Sophomore third baseman Blaze Jordan leads the Jags’ attack with a .448 average, eight homers and 38 RBIs. The Mississippi State commit was the MaxPreps national player of the week for April 8-14, when he went 8-for-9 with three homers and nine RBIs (eight in one game). Junior outfielder Kyle Booker is batting .417 with 34 runs, and senior Colby Crocker (6-1, 1.09 ERA) leads a strong pitching staff. Warren Central, which beat Tupelo in the first round, is 20-9-1. … DeSoto Central may be on a collision course for the state championship with Biloxi (25-3), which is actually rated above the Jaguars in MaxPreps’ computer poll. Biloxi starts 6A South postseason play at home against Petal on Thursday. Senior catcher Nick Skaggs leads the Indians, batting .374 with four homers and 37 RBIs. … The 6A championship series is slated to start May 15 at Pearl’s Trustmark Park.
Ole Miss alum Ryan Rolison, the first player from Mississippi chosen in the 2018 MLB draft, had an impressive pro debut in rookie ball in Colorado’s system. He started this season at low Class A Asheville and impressed there, too, earning a quick promotion to high-A Lancaster. The left-hander made his California League debut on Tuesday night and was – as you might’ve guessed – impressive. Rolison threw six shutout innings, yielding two hits and no walks with seven strikeouts at Lake Elsinore, which won the game in 10 innings. Rolison, 21, the No. 22 overall pick in 2018 and already rated the Rockies’ No. 5 prospect by MLB Pipeline, posted a 1.86 ERA in 29 innings at the rookie level last season and was even better this year at Asheville, going 2-1, 0.61. He seemed totally unfazed by the new challenge he faced Tuesday. “Really, it just comes down to me challenging with my stuff and just pitching my game, not worrying about the other things, attacking and going right at them,” he told milb.com. P.S. Kudos to Spencer Turnbull, the former Madison Central High standout who notched his first big league win for Detroit on Tuesday. He worked five shutout innings and beat the world champion Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. As he said in an mlb.com story: “Such a historic place. To get my first win here is pretty cool.” The rookie right-hander is 1-2, 2.77 in five starts this season.