In a dugout interview during ESPN’s coverage of Thursday night’s game, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon sang the praises of former Mississippi Braves star Jason Heyward, calling his first-half performance a key ingredient in the team’s charge into first place. Heyward rose to the occasion with a three-hit, two-RBI game as the Cubs beat St. Louis 9-6 to begin the second half. After a couple of seasons of scuffling in Wrigleyville, Heyward is hitting .290 with six homers and 43 RBIs in 2018. Resurgent seasons by Heyward and Gorkys Hernandez, All-Star campaigns by Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies and the unyielding brilliance of Craig Kimbrel give rise to the idea that you could put together a competitive team of former M-Braves now in the big leagues. An infield of Freeman, Albies, Andrelton Simmons and Martin Prado is pretty darn solid. At catcher, there’s the seven-time All-Star Brian McCann, backed by Jesus Sucre. In the outfield, Heyward, Hernandez and either Ronald Acuna or Mallex Smith would be outstanding defensively. Evan Gattis is a scary man at DH. On the bench: Choose from Johan Camargo, Jose Peraza, Dansby Swanson, Tommy La Stella, Jose Martinez. Charlie Morton, also a 2018 All-Star, would head up a rotation that includes Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Sean Newcomb and Mike Minor. All-Star Kimbrel would be the closer in a bullpen with some combination of Arodys Vizcaino, Jesse Biddle, A.J. Minter, Chasen Shreve, Randall Delgado, Luis Avilan and Cory Gearrin. Such a team could probably win the American League Central this year.
Though he is not heading to the MLB All-Star Game, Brian Dozier put on a star-worthy performance in his final game before the break. The Southern Miss product smacked a walk-off grand slam Sunday to give Minnesota a wild 11-7 win over Tampa Bay. He had five RBIs all told and scored a run by drawing a balk. The victory wrapped up a 9-2 homestand for the Twins, who are scrapping to stay in playoff contention. “I love it,” Dozier said in a postgame TV interview. The subject of trade speculation, Dozier hit .321 with three homers and 10 RBIs over the last seven games of the first half. He leads all Mississippians in the majors with 16 homers and 48 RBIs. East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox has 13 homers, and ex-Mississippi State standout Mitch Moreland – who is headed to the All-Star Game – has 11 for Boston. Moreland is second to Dozier among Mississippians with 46 RBIs and second to Meridian CC alum Corey Dickerson of Pittsburgh in batting average, .278 to .306. Dickerson, a 2017 All-Star with Tampa Bay, went 2-for-5 with his seventh homer on Sunday. … Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, with Cincinnati, has 22 steals, one more than Anderson. … The break may have come at a bad time for State product Hunter Renfroe, who homered on Saturday and Sunday for San Diego to boost his season total to seven. He hit 26 in 2017, when he played more regularly. P.S. Dakota Hudson threw a clean inning and fellow MSU alum Nate Lowe went 1-for-2 with an RBI in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game in Washington, D.C. … Down on the farm, Gulfport’s Bobby Bradley rated a headline on milb.com after hitting his 18th homer and diving into the stands to catch a pop fly for Double-A Akron. Bradley, a top Cleveland prospect at first base, is on an 11-game hit streak that has raised his average to .213. His homer total ranks second in the Eastern League.
The preseason magazines didn’t give Mitch Moreland much attention. Sports Illustrated’s Boston Red Sox preview didn’t mention him at all. The Amory native and former Mississippi State standout had re-signed as a free agent with the Red Sox in mid-December with no guarantee of a spot in the lineup. But Moreland did what he does: Keep grinding. And on Sunday, Moreland got a spot on the American League All-Star roster, voted in by his fellow players. It’ll be the first trip to the Midsummer Classic for the humble nine-year veteran. Funny how things work out. Boston had five players make the All-Star squad. When Boston manager Alex Cora informed the team of this news, his announcement of Moreland’s selection reportedly got the loudest response. “Out of all of them — I’m very proud of all of them — but to tell the team that he’s an All-Star, that was amazing,” Cora said in an mlb.com article. Moreland wasn’t in the lineup for Games 1 or 2 of the season, coming in late as a defensive replacement at first base for Hanley Ramirez. When his at-bats did come, Moreland started slowly. But by mid-May, he had taken the everyday job. Ramirez was released at the end of that month. As a 17th-round draft pick, Moreland said he always felt like he had to battle for everything he got in the game. “I might not be the fastest or have the quickest hands or whatever, but I’m going to work as hard as anybody out there,” he told masslive.com on Sunday. That lunch-pail mentality has served him well. He reached the big leagues with Texas in 2010 – his fourth pro season — and has been in The Show ever since. He’s had some good years. He has 143 career homers. He has a Gold Glove. And, hey now, he’s an All-Star. P.S. Props also to former Mississippi Braves Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Craig Kimbrel and Biloxi Shuckers alum Josh Hader for making the All-Star rosters.
On July 8, 1941, Ted Williams hit perhaps the most famous All-Star Game home run. His two-out, three-run, walk-off bomb at Briggs Stadium in Detroit gave the American League a 7-5 win over the Nationals. The victimized pitcher was Waynesboro native Claude Passeau. Passeau wore No. 13 most of his big league career and wore it well. The right-hander won 162 games – third-most ever for a Mississippi native – and threw a one-hitter in the 1945 World Series for the Chicago Cubs. He earned five All-Star Game nods. But luck frowned on the Millsaps College alumnus in the Midsummer Classic. In the ’41 game, his first, a botched double play would have ended the game before Williams batted. In 1942, he worked two scoreless innings in relief in a game the NL lost 3-1. He didn’t get in the ’43 game and the ’45 game wasn’t played. In 1946, Passeau, now 37 years old, got the start and went three innings, yielding just two hits. One of them, however, was a two-run homer in the first inning by Charlie Keller. The NL never scored and Passeau was saddled with another loss.
American League All-Star DH Corey Dickerson, in an interview on MLB Network on Monday, didn’t offer up a very complex analysis of his resurgent 2017 season. “I gotta be me,” he said. “Be the hitter I am.” Dickerson, the McComb native and Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College alumnus, is batting .312 (.355 on-base percentage) with 17 homers in 85 games in his second season with Tampa Bay. He hit 24 bombs in 2016 but batted just .245 (.293 OBP). A .299 hitter in three years in Colorado and a .321 hitter in the minors, Dickerson said it was the first time in his career that he had struggled at the plate: “I was searching, didn’t know who I was.” He got fitter in the off-season and made subtle changes to his free-swinging approach. He appears to be Corey Dickerson again – and that’s a good thing. He’ll bat seventh for the AL tonight at Marlins Park in Miami. Ole Miss product Zack Cozart bats ninth and plays shortstop for the NL. … Putting the best players in the game on the field at one time won’t necessarily produce a great game. Baseball doesn’t work that way. But the All-Star Game has produced its share of drama. This year marks the 10th anniversary of one such game, and a couple of Mississippians were involved. Flash to 2007 and San Francisco’s AT&T Park. The National League scored two runs in the ninth to make it a 5-4 game and had the bases loaded when Aaron Rowand popped out against Francisco Rodriguez to end it. Vicksburg native Dmitri Young got a one-out hit for the NL in that final inning and scored on Alfonso Soriano’s home run. Mississippi State alum Jonathan Papelbon pitched a scoreless eighth for the American League, preserving the 5-2 lead, but yielded to J.J. Putz (who was followed by Rodriguez) in the ninth. Holmes Community College alum Roy Oswalt of Weir was on the NL roster but didn’t get in the game. … Other All-Star anniversaries of note: Forty years ago, at Yankee Stadium, Mississippi native Dave Parker, batting third for the NL, singled and scored as part of a four-run first inning against Jim Palmer that carried the Senior Circuit to a 7-5 win. That was one of Parker’s seven All-Star game appearances. … Seventy years ago, Pascagoula’s Harry “The Hat” Walker, then with Philadelphia, batted leadoff for the NL and went 0-for-2 in a 2-1 loss at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Walker made two All-Star Games during an 11-year career. … Eighty years ago, in Griffith Stadium in Washington, adopted Mississippian Dizzy Dean suffered a broken toe when struck by a line drive off the bat of Earl Averill. After the All-Star Game (in which he took the loss), Dean tried to pitch through the injury, hurt his arm and hastened the end of his brilliant career. Ellisville’s Buddy Myer was on the NL team that year but didn’t play, and Gulfport native Gee Walker, selected as a starter for the NL, couldn’t play because of injury.
Ole Miss product Zack Cozart, eligible to come off the disabled list (thigh strain) on Wednesday for Cincinnati, could be activated today, according to reports. The Reds host the Chicago Cubs this weekend at Great American Ballpark. Cozart is batting .320 with nine homers and 33 RBIs and led the voting for National League All-Star shortstop at last look. The rosters will be announced on Sunday on ESPN. … McComb native and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson was leading the vote for American League DH in the most recently released results. He is batting .330 with 17 homers and 39 RBIs for Tampa Bay. … Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton, the ex-Taylorsville High standout, was passed by Trea Turner for the MLB stolen base lead on Thursday, but with Turner now on the disabled list (broken wrist), Hamilton is the leading active thief with 33 bags. Turner has 35, Miami’s Dee Gordon 29. … Former Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe hit his first home run in 13 days on Thursday, helping San Diego beat Atlanta. Renfroe has 16 homers – a record for a Padres rookie before the All-Star break – though he is batting just .225. … Former Mississippi Braves standout Freddie Freeman is expected to make a rehab start for Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday. He could return to the Braves – at third base – next week. It’ll be interesting to see how that works out. M-Braves alum Johan Camargo has played fairly well at third for Atlanta and is batting .293 with 12 RBIs and 10 runs in 31 games all told. … Current M-Braves Mike Soroka and Ronald Acuna have been chosen for the World team in the All-Star Futures Game, set for July 9 in Miami. Former Biloxi Shuckers shortstop Mauricio Dubon, now in Triple-A, is also on the World roster. … Jake Mangum is off to a sizzling start in the Cape Cod League. The MSU star out of Jackson Prep is batting .359 with hits in nine of the 10 games he has played for Hyannis. Mangum had two hits in each of his first five games in the summer league. He was drafted in the 30th round by the New York Yankees as an eligible sophomore but is expected to return to Starkville for the 2018 season. … Brandon’s John “J.T.” Ginn and Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray have been participating in the Tournament of Stars this week in Cary, N.C. They are among the 80 prep players invited to the USA Baseball complex to compete for spots on the Under-18 National Team.
It’s really not a fair fight. Zack Cozart plays in the 65th biggest city in the country, Cincinnati. Corey Seager plays in Los Angeles, No. 2 on that list, Addison Russell in Chicago, No. 3. And yet, former Ole Miss standout Cozart still leads the fan voting for National League All-Star shortstop by a decent margin. Yes, Reds fans are very passionate, and yes, Cozart is having a big year — .320, nine homers, 32 RBIs – but one would think the big-market boys would have a substantial built-in edge. Nevertheless, Cozart, who’s never made the All-Star Game, leads Seager by more than 300,000 votes and Russell – last year’s fan vote winner — by almost 500,000. All the news wasn’t good for Cozart on Monday: He went on the 10-day disabled list with a quad strain.