There was a reference to Jermaine Van Buren in the wind of the internet today. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, a seamhead of great renown, compiled an All-Presidential team in honor of a visit he made to the White House on this date in 2006. On a 25-man roster with the likes of Gary Carter, Homer Bush, Lou Clinton, Dan Ford and J.J. Hoover was – ta da — Jermaine Van Buren, the former Hattiesburg High star who pitched in 16 MLB games in 2005-06. Van Buren, no relation to the eighth president, Martin, was a dominant prep pitcher (21 strikeouts in one seven-inning game) and a second-round draft pick by Colorado in 1998. He stalled in the Rockies’ system, revived his career in the indy Central League and finally made the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs. He got his lone win with Boston in ’06, finishing up with a 9.00 ERA. Van Buren pitched in various leagues, including China, until 2010.
The New Albany-based Cotton States League has expanded from six to eight teams for 2020 and is scheduled to begin its season on June 5. The wood-bat college summer league celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019, with the Tippah County Tribe winning the championship. Returning for the Tribe are pitcher Braden Quesinberry, a Harding (Ark.) University alum who went 6-1 with a 1.41 ERA; J.T. McGee (Northern Kentucky), a .350 hitter with two homers and 13 RBIs; and Brandon Hale (Southeastern Louisiana), a .327 hitter. New to the Tribe roster is catcher Matthew Priest, a redshirt freshman at Mississippi College in 2020. More than 120 players from roughly 30 different schools participated last year, per the league’s website. Most of the players have a Mississippi connection. Many of the state’s junior colleges are represented, as are a number of four-year schools from various divisions. Mississippi State commit Blayze Berry is on the HillCountry Generals’ roster. The XPlorers’ roster lists Kyle Crigger from Louisiana Tech, Chris Swanberg from Memphis and Austin King from Alabama State. Another Memphis player, Ian Bibiloni, is with the North Delta Dealers along with Mississippi College’s Markarius “Woogie” Lee. Delta State’s Trace White is on the Tallahatchie Rascals team. Belhaven’s Nathan Herron (one of the CSBL’s top hitters in 2019) and Jared Heun are with the Golden Triangle Jets, as is UAB’s Hunter Hill. Blue Mountain’s Easton Williams is with the Tupelo Thunder, and Millsaps’ Sam Suggs is on the Mudcats’ roster. P.S. The Cape Cod League, widely considered the best of the college summer loops, cancelled its season, as did the New England Collegiate Baseball League and the Valley League. The popular Coastal Plain League delayed its start to July 1, and the Prospect League and Alaska League also have announced a tentative July 1 start. The Texas Collegiate League plans to open on July 3. The National Baseball Congress World Series, the big late summer amateur event in Wichita, hasn’t made a decision on hosting the event.
Setting Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine for 90 years takes us to 1930, the year Ludlow native Hal Lee made his big league debut. There was an offensive explosion in the game that season, due in large part to a juiced ball. The average batting average was .294. Both leagues set records for home runs and runs. Hack Wilson drove in 191 runs, a record that still stands. Lee didn’t quite catch that wave. He only got 37 at-bats for the Brooklyn Robins in 1930 and hit .162. Two years later, with the Philadelphia Phillies, he redeemed himself. The right-handed hitting outfielder, nicknamed Sheriff, hit .303 with 18 homers, 45 RBIs, 42 doubles and 10 triples. Nice numbers. Lee was overshadowed on his own team, however, by the likes of Chuck Klein (.348, 38 homers, 137 RBIs, 50 doubles), Don Hurst (.339, 24 homers, 143 RBIs) and Pinky Whitney (.298, 13 homers, 124 RBIs). Yes, hitters generally flourished in the ’30s. Lee, who died in 1989, is one of six former Mississippi College players to reach the majors and is arguably the most accomplished. He hit .275 over seven seasons with 33 homers and 323 RBIs. He played in more games, hit for a better average, drove in more runs and scored more runs than the better-known Harry Craft, who batted .253 over his six seasons (1937-42).
The first Mississippi native to hear his name called in the 2020 MLB draft could very well be Garrett Crochet, an Ocean Springs product who pitched at Tennessee the last three years. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound left-hander was pegged to go 14th overall to Texas in a recent mock draft by mlb.com’s Jim Callis. Crochet made just one appearance this season because of a sore shoulder but is 10-9 with four saves and a 4.64 ERA in 36 career games (13 starts). From Prospects Live scouting report: “He hides the ball well, and then delivers from a tremendously difficult angle for hitters right or left handed to barrel. His plus velocity and movement make it an even more treacherous task to overcome.” Crochet was a late-round pick in 2017 at Ocean Springs High. The first round of the remote draft, which has been whacked to five rounds this year, is set for June 10. Justin Foscue, the Mississippi State second baseman (and an Alabama native), was listed as the 29th pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in mlb.com’s mock draft. P.S. Taking a look back at the draft of 2015, two Mississippi products were picked in the first five rounds: DeSoto Central’s Austin Riley (supplemental first round by Atlanta) and Pearl River Community College’s Jacob Taylor (fourth round, Pittsburgh). Riley, a third baseman, reached the majors in 2019. Taylor, a pitcher, saw injuries end his career in A-ball in 2018. Two other Mississippians went in the 10th round that year: Ole Miss’ Scott Weathersby and Delta State’s Witt Haggard, both pitchers. Both are out of the game. Two late-round picks are still kicking: Cody Carroll (22nd round, Southern Miss) has pitched in The Show, and Demarcus Evans (25th round, Petal High) is on Texas’ 40-man roster. … In 2010, only one Mississippian was picked in the first five rounds: Drew Pomeranz, the fifth overall selection out of Ole Miss by Cleveland. The tall lefty has had a peripatetic MLB career but has enjoyed some success, including an All-Star Game appearance. Corey Dickerson, then at Meridian CC, went in the eighth round in 2010 to Colorado. Dickerson, from McComb, is also an established big leaguer who has been an All-Star and won a Gold Glove. There were two ninth-round picks from the state that year: pitcher Aaron Barrett out of Ole Miss and Chris Lofton from Jones County JC. Barrett has pitched in the majors, making a valiant comeback in 2019. Lofton, an outfielder, topped out in A-ball in 2014.
Mitch Moreland, the pride of Amory, has played in three World Series. Two of his teams — the 2011 Rangers and 2018 Red Sox – are included in “Dream Bracket 2: Dream Seasons,” another mlb.com production that starts next week. The 64-team computer-generated tournament features some of the best teams in history (two from each current franchise post-World War II, plus three Negro League clubs and the 1994 Expos) in single-elimination best-of-7 series. And, yes, Mississippians abound on the rosters. Like Mississippi State alum Moreland, Grenada native Dave Parker is on two teams: the ’79 Pirates and the ’88 A’s. The ’84 Tigers feature Jackson native Chet Lemon and Sunflower’s Larry Herndon as starting outfielders. Joe Gibbon of Hickory and Ole Miss and Vinegar Bend Mizell, from Leakesville, are on the ’60 Pirates, who shocked the Yankees in the World Series. The ’97 Marlins, another surprise champion, list Southern Miss product Pat Rapp and MSU alum Jay Powell on their pitching staff. The ’35 Pittsburgh Crawfords, a truly great Negro League team, also had two Mississippians: Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell (Starkville) and Bill Harvey (Clarksdale). The ’61 Yankees, one of the best teams of all-time, deployed Silver City’s Jack Reed from their bench. The Royals’ two world title winners featured Magnolia State natives: Greenville’s Frank White on the ’85 club and McComb’s Jarrod Dyson on the ’15 team. Fulton and USM product Brian Dozier is on the roster of the reigning champion, the ’19 Nationals, and Ole Miss alum Jeff Fassero was a starting pitcher for the ’94 Expos, who were denied a postseason opportunity by the players’ strike. There are other natives and college alums scattered among these teams, and quite a few ex-state minor league products, as well. The champion ’86 Mets roster shows 13 former Jackson Mets. Might be a team to watch.
Hughie Critz, a Starkville native who played his final big league game in 1935, holds a career record among Mississippi-born players that is truly unassailable. Think small for a moment, as in small ball. Critz, an infielder who batted .268 and was an excellent defender, racked up 187 sacrifice bunts over his 12-year career. Critz had 20 or more sacs in a season six times, including 24 with Cincinnati in 1926, when he batted .270, scored 96 runs, drove in 79 and finished second in the MVP voting. Ellisville’s Buddy Myer, a standout infielder who also played in the ’20s and ’30s, is second on the all-Mississippi sac list with 151, and third is Weir’s Roy Oswalt, a pitcher, at 106. Oswalt last played in 2013. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, an outfielder, is the active leader among Mississippians with 39 sacs in seven seasons, one more than McComb native Jarrod Dyson, an outfielder who has played 10 years. The all-time record for career sacrifice bunts (or hits, as they used to be called) is one of the game’s unbreakable milestones. Hall of Famer Eddie Collins, who played from 1906-30, gave himself up 512 times. That’s 120 more sacs than the next highest total (Jake Daubert’s) and 404 more than the active career leader (Clayton Kershaw). That says a lot about how the game has evolved. Speed is still important, but small ball – bunting, in particular – has largely gone out of fashion, probably never to return. Critz’s record is safe.
Ran across an interesting old scoresheet while missing baseball and rummaging through some folders of baseball stuff. It’s from April 30, 2009, a game at Trustmark Park between the Mississippi Braves and the Montgomery Biscuits. It’s memorable not for any particular milestone but because it turned into a sort of showcase for Mississippi junior college baseball. The Biscuits, a Tampa Bay affiliate, won the game 9-2, fueled by the offensive exploits of state juco products Desmond Jennings, Rhyne Hughes and J.T. Hall. They combined to reach base 11 times, score five runs and drive in five runs. Collectively, they hit for the cycle. Leadoff batter Jennings, drafted by the Rays out of Itawamba Community College in 2006, went 2-for-3 with a walk and a double. He was on his way to Southern League MVP honors and a seven-year major league career with the Rays. No. 3 hitter Hughes, a 2004 Rays draftee out of Pearl River CC, went 3-for-5 with a homer off M-Braves starter Ryne Reynoso. Hughes made The Show in 2010, playing 14 games for Baltimore. Hall, drafted by Tampa Bay in 2004 (41st round) out of Southwest Mississippi CC, was the 6-hole hitter that day and went 3-for-3 with two walks, a triple, a homer (off Reynoso), a stolen base and three RBIs. The 2009 season was the last in affiliated ball for the 6-foot-3, 210-pound outfielder, who batted .253 with 43 homers in six minor league seasons. April 30, 2009, might’ve been Hall’s best day in pro ball. Bottom line: You never know what treasure you’ll find in an old scoresheet.
Several Mississippians, all pitchers, have found success in the Korean Baseball Organization, which is getting a lot of attention these days (thanks to ESPN) as the only professional league going. Gary Rath, the Gulfport native and ex-Mississippi State All-American, won 43 games over parts of four years in the KBO between 2001 and ’08, including a 17-8, 2.60 ERA season with Doosan in 2004. Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway, now the Los Angeles Angels pitching coach, went 32-22 in three seasons in the KBO, including a 16-win campaign in 2005. Rath and Callaway, both of whom had some big league time, went to Korea at the end of their careers. Former Southern Miss standout Scott Copeland used a recent stint in the KBO as a route back to the big leagues. After making the majors with Toronto in 2015 (his sixth pro season), Copeland was released early in 2016 and went to Korea, where he made 13 starts for the LG Twins and then re-signed with the Blue Jays later that summer. He ultimately returned to the big leagues with the New York Mets – for one game — in 2018. Copeland spent last season in Washington’s system and is currently a minor league free agent. Meridian native Jamie Brown (2006-08), Jackson State alum Mike Farmer (2000-01), Columbus’ Luther Hackman (2005), UM alum Phil Irwin (2015) and ex-Purvis High star Kenny Rayborn (2007-08) also pitched in the KBO. Brown, Farmer, Hackman and Irwin had MLB appearances on their resumes.
ESPN will televise LIVE baseball from the Korean Baseball Organization beginning Tuesday morning (midnight CDT). As Jack Buck might’ve said, “Go crazy, folks.” If you’re wondering about a Mississippi connection in the KBO, there are at least a couple. Former Mississippi Braves Jake Brigham (2015) and Mel Rojas Jr. (2016) are established three-year veterans there, Brigham with the Kiwoom Heroes and Rojas with the KT Wiz. Brigham, a right-handed starter, went 6-3 with a 3.05 ERA for the M-Braves in 2015 and made the Southern League All-Star Game. He reached Atlanta later that summer and got into 12 games, his only MLB appearances. Brigham is 34-18, 3.72 in the KBO. Rojas, son of the ex-big league pitcher, batted .244 with two homers in 35 games for the ’16 M-Braves. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound switch-hitting outfielder has been a force in South Korea, belting 85 homers and hitting .310 over his three seasons. Quite a few former major leaguers are on KBO rosters.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of what some might consider a lost classic among the bundle of college games played at Pearl’s Trustmark Park over the years. At least it was classic from Jackson State’s perspective. Playing a rare home game at the TeePee, JSU beat Mississippi State 3-1, ending a 23-game losing streak in their series. The pitcher the Tigers beat that night was a true freshman who is now a major league veteran, Kendall Graveman. While SWAC schools rarely beat SEC schools, this one might not have been an upset. JSU was 28-14 going in and on its way to a 36-win season and a league championship. The Bulldogs were 20-23 at the time, en route to a 23-33 finish under second-year coach John Cohen. On this particular night, JSU’s pitching was impressive: Cortney Nelson and Quintavious Drains combined to hold the Bulldogs to three hits. Connor Powers’ sixth-inning home run accounted for State’s scoring. The Tigers, who had scratched out a run in the third inning on Chad Hall’s infield hit, reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the sixth on a squeeze bunt by Braneric Holmes and a Graveman wild pitch that plated Cortez Cole. Drains allowed just one hit over the final three frames to save it for Nelson. JSU hasn’t beaten State since that night and trails in the series 52-8. But on May 4, 2010, the Tigers roared.