04 May

that’s baseball

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.

02 May

lost

Sometime in distant future — maybe in a galaxy far, far away — fans will look back at the 2020 college season and wonder what the heck happened here. It might be tagged with an asterisk, as in *season cancelled. It was all so sudden. Promising starts were stopped in their tracks. Dreams were dashed. The COVID-19 crisis did what only one opposing team had done to the Ole Miss Rebels in 2020. It beat them. UM was 16-1 when the season was halted. Tyler Keenan looked like an SEC Triple Crown threat, batting .403 with seven homers and 33 RBIs. Gunnar Hoglund was an emerging ace at 3-0, 1.16 ERA. Mississippi State, with a couple of potential first-round draft picks (Justin Foscue, Jordan Westburg) in the lineup, was 12-4. As with Ole Miss, we’re left to wonder how the Bulldogs’ season would have played out. A rebuilding Southern Miss club, with new stars stepping up, was also 12-4. Jackson State was 9-7, featured three .400 hitters, including Jaylyn Williams at .434, and was sure to be a force in the SWAC. Mississippi Valley State was 0-14 – and will have to live with that indignity for all time. Chad Ragland was crushing it for Delta State, batting .449 for a team that was off to a 13-10 start under new coach Rodney Batts. Chauncey Callier was having a huge season for 11-9 Mississippi College, hitting .357 with six homers. Justin Milam had swatted five homers with 19 RBIs for Belhaven, 8-8 in Kyle Palmer’s first year as coach. Fritz Walker III had four homers and 18 RBIs for 7-11 Millsaps. Five Mississippi jucos were ranked in the top 15 of the NJCAA Division II poll on the eve of conference play. Things were just heating up when the plug was pulled. Done in mid-March. Seems so unfair. All we are left with are some numbers and woulda, coulda debates.

29 Apr

remember when

There are no big league games today, which might make the memory a tad bittersweet for Nate Lowe. On April 29 of last year, ex-Mississippi State standout Lowe made his MLB debut, going 1-for-4 with a double for Tampa Bay in a win at Kansas City. Lowe became the 60th Bulldogs alumnus to make the majors and the second of five Mississippi-connected players (the others: Chris Ellis, Austin Riley, Jacob Waguespack and Bobby Bradley) to debut in 2019. Lowe, who batted .263 with seven homers in 50 games as a first baseman/DH last season, reported for spring training this year about 20 pounds lighter. He was getting more work at third base, versatility that likely would help him contribute more on a Rays team expected to contend – again — in the American League East. “It took a lot of spiritual maturation and physical maturation to kind of start over (this) off-season to get to be the player and the person that I need to be,” he told draysbay.com in February, shortly before baseball shut down. A 13th-round pick out of State in 2016, the lefty-hitting Lowe made some adjustments in his swing after his second pro season and rolled through three levels of the Rays’ system in 2018. He batted .330 with 27 homers, went to the All-Star Futures Game and was named the organization’s minor league player of the year. … Coincidentally, on this date in 2012, another former State first baseman, Tyler Moore, made his big league debut, going 1-for-3 for Washington. Brandon native Moore, who slugged 30 homers over parts of five MLB seasons, is no longer in the game.

24 Apr

stuff of dreams

The real Lance Berkman, the former Jackson Generals star, batted .296 with 366 homers over a sweet 15-year MLB career that rated more Hall of Fame consideration than it got. The virtual Lance Berkman, now “playing” for the all-time Astros team in the computer-generated MLB Dream Bracket tournament, has been pretty darn good, too. The “Big Puma” is batting .447 with three homers and 12 RBIs through 10 games over two series (see mlb.com for all the box scores). The Astros have reached the quarterfinals with wins against the Orioles and Tigers. Roy Oswalt, the Weir High and Holmes Community College alum, is 3-0 with a 3.05 ERA in three starts for the Astros’ dream team. Oswalt spent 10 years with Houston and was arguably as good in that stretch (143-82, 3.24 ERA) than any pitcher the Astros ever trotted out. That includes Nolan Ryan, J.R. Richard and Mike Scott, the other members of the Dream Bracket rotation. Billy Wagner, another ex-Generals standout with Hall of Fame cred, has three saves for the all-time Astros, who’ll meet the Yankees in the next round.

22 Apr

feeling a draft

Eight players in Mississippi are ranked among the Top 150 in mlb.com’s new list of draft prospects. That’s more rated players than all but five states – and more than the likes of Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama. Many things about the 2020 draft remain unclear, including when it might be held and how many players will be picked. The curtailed scouting season adds some extra intrigue. Mississippi State second baseman Justin Foscue is the highest rated of the local products at No. 32, which doesn’t necessarily imply that’s where he’ll be drafted. Bulldogs shortstop Jordan Westburg is No. 37 and teammate J.T. Ginn is 44th. DeSoto Central first baseman Blaze Jordan is the top-rated prep player in the state at No. 42 and is joined on the list by two other high schoolers, Biloxi’s Colt Keith (88) and Columbia Academy’s Slade Wilks (112). Ole Miss shortstop Anthony Servideo and third baseman Tyler Keenan made the list at Nos. 111 and 128, respectively. … Servideo is one player who no doubt improved his stock in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. After a poor showing in the Cape Cod League last summer, the Florida native came out sizzling for the Rebels this year, batting .390 with five homers, 17 RBIs and nine steals in 17 games. At 5 feet 10, 175 pounds, he’s a lefty hitter with good speed and defensive versatility.

20 Apr

way back when

Benn Karr, a Mount Pleasant native, made 177 pitching appearances in his big league career. But his first appearance came as a pinch hitter. He struck out. One hundred years ago today, Karr debuted for the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. A left-handed batter, he hit for Herb Pennock and fanned in the middle of a two-run rally in the ninth inning that gave Boston a 3-2 win on April 20, 1920. Two days later, Karr, a right-handed thrower, made his mound debut at Griffith Stadium against the Washington Senators. It didn’t go so well, either. Coming on in relief, he retired just one batter, yielded two hits, two walks and two earned runs as the Red Sox blew a lead. He took the loss. Undaunted, Karr, who picked up the nickname “Baldy,” went on to win 35 games over six seasons with Boston and Cleveland, including an 11-win campaign with the 1925 Indians. He even hit .245 for his career. After attending Union University in Tennessee, he first entered pro ball in 1914 at age 21. “I took a pro contract because it gave me, a farm boy, a chance to see the country,” he told The Sporting News in an interview many years ago. Karr bounced around the minors for several years and served in the military for two before Boston signed him in 1919. He died in 1968. … Other anniversaries to be celebrated this season: Eighty years ago, Pascagoula native Harry Walker, who won a batting title in 1947, debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals. Sixty years ago, Hickory’s Joe Gibbon, the former two-sport star from Ole Miss, broke in with Pittsburgh. Forty years ago, Jackson’s Stan Cliburn would make his debut with the California Angels. Twenty years ago, ex-Petal High star Nate Rolison had his one brief fling in the majors with Florida. And 10 years ago, four Mississippi natives broke in: Rhyne Hughes with Baltimore, Mitch Moreland with Texas, Jarrod Dyson with Kansas City and John Lindsey with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

16 Apr

the bomb

A walk-off home run isn’t just a bomb — it’s “the bomb,” to borrow the cringe-worthy slang of another era. Of the many cool things you miss about baseball, the sudden, exhilarating finality of the game-ending homer rates near the top of the chart. There were 77 walk-off homers in the big leagues in 2019. Mississippians accounted for five of them, and this seems like a good time to relive them. The first was struck on April 9 by Jarrod Dyson, the former Southwest Mississippi Community College standout from McComb. Dyson, not a slugger by any stretch, was sent up as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning for Arizona and surprised a lot of folks when he belted a two-run shot to beat Texas 5-4. It was Dyson’s first career walk-off homer and just the 15th homer of his 10-year career. Walk-off No. 2, Mississippi edition, came on April 26. East Central CC alum Tim Anderson stroked his first career walk-off – punctuated with an award-worthy bat flip – to give the Chicago White Sox a 12-11 win over Detroit. In a much-publicized incident a few days earlier, Anderson had ignited a benches-clearing kerfuffle when he bat-flipped after a mid-game homer against Kansas City. On May 5, Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, got into the walk-off act. Renfroe came up as a pinch hitter for San Diego in the ninth with the bases loaded and his team down a run to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Closer Kenley Jansen was on the bump. Renfroe delivered a 429-foot game-winner, his second career walk-off bomb, and threw his arms up as if signaling a touchdown. Next was Nate Lowe, another State product and a rookie with Tampa Bay. One Sept. 21, in the heat of the American League playoff battle, Lowe slugged a two-run homer in the bottom of the 11th inning to beat Boston 5-4. It was his seventh of the season (and career) and first walk-off. It snatched victory from the Red Sox, who had gone ahead in the top of the inning on a homer by former Bulldogs star Mitch Moreland. Two days after Lowe’s heroics, Petal High product Anthony Alford, playing for Toronto, launched a two-out solo homer in the 15th inning to beat Baltimore 11-10. It was Alford’s first career homer, and he broke out in a huge grin as he rounded the bases. “I was trying to hold my smile as best I could, but it was pretty tough,” he told mlb.com. “It was my first-ever walk-off, so it felt pretty good.” It’s a feeling we’re all missing.

15 Apr

inspired by the man

“When I saw Jackie Robinson go to the big leagues, I knew that was my way of getting out of the cotton fields.” It didn’t work out exactly that way for the kid from the Mississippi Delta who made that comment to mlb.com a few years ago. He was 13 when Robinson broke major league baseball’s color line on April 15, 1947, and he chased the baseball dream for many years. But his career path ultimately turned to music. And that worked out quite well for Sledge native Charley Pride, who is a Country Music Hall of Famer with 12 gold albums to his credit. Pride played in the Negro Leagues, briefly in the low minors and had a few tryouts with major league clubs before his music career took off. He remains a baseball fan and is part of the Texas Rangers ownership group. For many years, Pride has attended spring training with the club and sung the national anthem before Rangers games, including in the 2010 World Series.

13 Apr

on this date

On this date in 1952, Greenwood native Dave Hoskins became the first black player to appear in a Texas League game. His story is chronicled in an milb.com piece published today. Hoskins, a Negro Leagues alumnus, debuted for the Double-A level Dallas Stars on April 13 and beat San Antonio. The right-hander yielded just two runs while working around eight hits and seven walks. Hoskins went 22-10 with a 2.12 ERA for Dallas that season – he also batted .328 – and made the majors in 1953 with Cleveland, posting a 9-3 mark with a 3.99 ERA. (He claimed to be 27 at the time, but it was later revealed that he was 36.) Hoskins pitched briefly for the Indians in 1954 but was not on their World Series roster that fall.

08 Apr

make a toast

Most local baseball aficionados are well aware that this year marks the 15th anniversary of the arrival at Trustmark Park in Pearl of the Mississippi Braves, who moved from Greenville, S.C., in 2005. (Hopefully, there will be a 2020 season during which to celebrate that fact.) This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Jackson DiamondKats’ one and only – and otherwise forgettable — season at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium and the 30th anniversary of the Jackson Mets’ final season at Smith-Wills. The 1990 JaxMets, managed by Clint Hurdle, won a division title and made the Texas League playoffs, marking the 10th postseason appearance for the Double-A club in its 16 years in Jackson. This year also marks the 80th anniversary of a somewhat forgotten championship team, the 1940 Jackson Senators. Playing in the Class B Southeastern League, the Senators went a league-best 89-58 that season and crushed both the Selma Cloverleafs and the Pensacola Fliers in the playoffs, going 4-1 in each series. Managed by Footsie Blair, the unaffiliated Senators played at League Park, a stadium near what is now the Fairgrounds. (It was destroyed by a tornado in 1953.) That team was led by future big leaguer Tom McBride, a .316 hitter who topped the SL in hits with 194 (according to statscrew.com); Paul Fugit, who batted .317 with 11 homers; and 16-game winners Harry Durheim and Gordon Maltzberger, who led the loop in ERA and later coached in the majors for several years. The Senators’ championship in 1940 was the last league title celebrated in the Capital City until Davey Johnson’s JaxMets won the TL pennant in 1981.