This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Jackson Mets’ first playoff team. The ’78 JaxMets beat Arkansas in the Texas League East playoffs and then fell to El Paso in the title series. Mookie Wilson was the hub of the offense, batting .292 with seven homers, 15 triples and 72 RBIs. Kelvin Chapman, another future big leaguer, hit .266 and led the club with 84 runs. Juan Monasterio batted .289, and Bobby Bryant belted eight homers. Jeff Reardon was the ace, going 17-4 with a 2.54 ERA. Neil Allen led the league in ERA. Scott Holman won 11 games and Kim Seaman 10. The ’78 season was the fourth year the Mets’ Double-A club operated at Smith-Wills Stadium, an affiliation that lasted 16 years. The OJMs missed the playoffs in 1979 but then went on a rip where they made it eight straight years and won three league titles. The ’78 JaxMets were managed by Bob Wellman, no relation to Phillip Wellman, who, 30 years later, managed the Mississippi Braves to the Southern League pennant. That remains the only title claimed by the M-Braves, now entering their 14th year at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The ’08 M-Braves featured a great young pitching staff: Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, Todd Redmond, James Parr, et al. Kala Ka’aihue led the team in homers (14) and RBIs (61) and swung a big bat in the postseason. But the club was defined more by the scrappiness of Matt Young and J.C. Holt, who combined for 52 steals. Wellman loved to get aggressive on the bases, and the M-Braves scored the pennant-winning run against Carolina on a walk-off double steal. … This season also marks the 25th anniversary of the first Jackson Generals team to win a Texas League title. The 1993 season was the third at Smith-Wills Stadium for the Houston Astros affiliate. Stars of that club, managed by Sal Butera, included Brian Hunter, Roberto Petagine, Jim Dougherty, Tom Nevers and Jackson native Fletcher Thompson.
Tony Sipp got the word on Thursday that he was going to make Houston’s opening day roster. On Friday night, the veteran left-hander out of Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College responded with a three-strikeout, scoreless inning against Washington in a Grapefruit League contest. It hasn’t been a great spring for Sipp, now 34 and about to start his 10th MLB campaign. He has a 5.19 ERA. He didn’t have a great 2017 for the Astros, either — 5.79 ERA, eight homers allowed in 37 1/3 innings – and wasn’t on the roster for their World Series run. Still, Sipp has a career ERA of 3.83 and will be the lone lefty in the Astros’ bullpen. “We’ve wanted Tony on the team to give us some balance and also because we feel like he’s got a track record where he can help us,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch told msn.com on Thursday. An injury to former Mississippi Braves star James Hoyt apparently paved the way for Sipp to make the 25-man roster. How long he keeps that job is up in the air. P.S. Brandon Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State standout from Wheeler, yielded four runs in five innings for Milwaukee against the Chicago Cubs on Friday. The right-hander, bidding to make the opening day roster, saw his spring ERA swell to an inconvenient 7.11. … With both Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija down with injuries, there is little doubt now that State alum Chris Stratton has won a job in San Francisco’s rotation. He has pitched well this spring with a 4.03 ERA in six outings. … Former Bulldogs star Hunter Renfroe, competing for a role in San Diego’s outfield, smacked his sixth homer of the Cactus League season on Friday and is batting .254 with 13 RBIs this spring.
There are hurdles ahead for Chuckie Robinson, but the former Southern Miss star certainly has built a head of steam. After one full season in pro ball, the 23-year-old Robinson is the second-highest rated catcher in Houston’s system and the No. 27 prospect overall in the world champion’s organization. He has made a couple of appearances in big league spring training games and has earned a great reputation. “He’s one of our most-liked players by staff just because he’s such a hard worker,” Astros director of player development Pete Putila told milb.com in a recent feature on Robinson. “Physically, he’s an explosive player. It shows up in his arm strength and bat speed.” Robinson threw out 40.9 percent of baserunners attempting to steal last season at Class A Quad Cities while also batting .274 and mashing 15 homers with 77 RBIs. He was a driving force behind the River Bandits’ run to the Midwest League pennant, belting four postseason bombs, and was named an MWL All-Star. Robinson, an Illinois native, was a 21st-round selection by the Astros in 2016 and, though he had a big junior year at USM, didn’t enter pro ball with a lot of hype. “I know good ballplayers. I think I’m a good ballplayer. I know what I’m capable of and, honestly, I just wanted to get an opportunity,” Robinson said in the milb.com article. He is making the most of it.
You’re dating yourself if you admit to remembering when Freddy Garcia pitched at Smith-Wills Stadium. Hillary Clinton’s husband was president, “Saving Private Ryan” hit the theaters and the second Harry Potter book was published. It was 1998. Garcia, who’ll be 42 in April, is still out there pitching. On Saturday, in Guadalajara, Mexico, he started for Venezuela in its 15-4 win against the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean Series. Garcia threw four shutout innings before running into trouble in the fifth, when he had to leave one out shy of qualifying for the win. The big right-hander was a standout for the ’98 Jackson Generals before Houston sent him to Seattle as part of the big Randy Johnson trade. Garcia made the big leagues in 1999 and won 156 games, plus an ERA title, over 15 seasons. He last pitched in the majors for Atlanta in 2013, including a postseason start. … There are a handful of familiar names in the Caribbean Series, including former Mississippi Braves Christian Bethancourt (three hits for the D.R. on Saturday) and Joey Meneses (with Mexico). P.S. Southern Miss product Cody Carroll, who had a brilliant showing (0.00 ERA, four saves in 11 2/3 innings) in the Arizona Fall League after reaching Double-A last season, has received a non-roster invitation to the New York Yankees’ big league spring camp. Carroll, 25, was a 22nd-round draft pick in 2015.
Winning a World Series ring as a member of the Houston Astros should propel Brian McCann a little farther down what the MLB Network guys call “the Hall of Fame Highway.” McCann was the first Mississippi Braves player to earn a promotion to the big leagues back in 2005 and will almost certainly be the first M-Braves alumnus to make the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The 33-year-old catcher has a lifetime average of .264 (1,481 hits) with 263 home runs, 950 RBIs and a 30.2 WAR. He has hit 20 or more homers in 10 seasons and smacked 18 for the Astros in 2017. He is a seven-time All-Star and six-time Silver Slugger winner. He is also pretty good behind the plate. … Big props to Charlie Morton, M-Braves Class of 2007, for his World Series work: 10 1/3 innings, two runs allowed in two appearances. Notching the Game 7 win with four innings in relief puts Morton in select company. … The Jackson Generals were the Astros’ Double-A affiliate from 1991-99, and one connection to that era was in a Houston uniform on Wednesday night: hitting coach Dave Hudgens, who served in the same capacity for the Gens in 1993, when the team won a Texas League championship. … Houston was in the postseason six times between 1997 and 2005, and a large number of ex-Generals were on those teams, including the likes of Bobby Abreu, Lance Berkman, Billy Wagner and Richard Hidalgo. Mississippi natives Roy Oswalt, Jay Powell, Dave Clark and Charlie Hayes also suited up the Astros during that time, which preceeded some lean years, including a 10-year playoff drought. … It has to be noted also that the first manager of the Houston franchise, born the Colt .45s in 1962, was Harry Craft, a native of Ellisville who managed the team for three seasons. He died in 1995. … Mississippi native Tony Sipp will get a ring, his first in a nine-year MLB career. Though he wasn’t active for the postseason, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product pitched in 46 games for the Astros this season, his fourth with the club.
Before Game 4 gets too far behind us, let’s make sure the record shows that Charlie Morton vs. Alex Wood – a matchup of onetime Mississippi Braves pitchers – was one of the great pitchers’ duels in World Series history. Neither went past the seventh inning — that’s the nature of baseball today – so it doesn’t quite measure up to, say, Morris-Smoltz from 1991 or McNally-Drysdale ’66 or Sain-Feller ’48. But for five innings Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, Houston’s Morton and Los Angeles’ Wood were spectacular, evoking references to the game’s greats. Left-hander Wood, who starred for the M-Braves in 2013, his second pro season after being drafted out of Georgia, didn’t allow a hit through five, becoming the first Dodgers starter ever to do that in a World Series game. Righty Morton, who reached Double-A Mississippi in 2007 (see previous post), his sixth pro year, yielded one hit – a leadoff single – through five and had seven strikeouts to that point. It was still scoreless in the sixth when Wood finally was touched for a hit – George Springer’s two-out home run that sent Wood to the bench. Morton left in the top of the seventh after yielding a one-out double to Cody Bellinger, who later scored the Dodgers’ first run. The Dodgers’ five-run ninth-inning outburst, which carried them to a 6-2 victory and 2-2 Series tie, somewhat obscured the brilliance of Morton and Wood. It was the first time in World Series history that both starting pitchers allowed four or fewer baserunners, according to mlb.com. There’s a chance we won’t see either of them again in the series, so let’s not forget the shining moment they shared. P.S. Props to Craig Kimbrel, another ex-M-Braves pitcher, for winning the Mariano Rivera American League Reliver of the Year award. Kimbrel is Boston’s closer.
Mickey Callaway, the former Ole Miss pitcher; Ron Gardenhire, the Jackson Mets shortstop from way back when; and ex-Jackson State slugger Dave Clark are among the candidates for the four managerial openings in the big leagues, according to various reports. Callaway, Cleveland’s pitching coach, is rumored to be the favorite in Philadelphia but is also said to be a good fit for the New York Mets. Gardenhire, currently bench coach for Arizona, is reportedly under consideration for the job in Boston and also Detroit, where Clark has been the third-base coach for four years. Gardenhire managed in Minnesota for 13 seasons, winning over 1,000 games and making six postseason trips. Clark was an interim skipper in Houston in 2009. … Charlie Morton, one of three former Mississippi Braves on Houston’s current roster, will start Game 3 of the American League Championship Series tonight at New York. CC Sabathia starts for the Yankees. Morton, a 14-game winner this season, yielded two runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 4 of the ALDS at Boston, a game the Astros won 5-4 to claim the series. M-Braves alums Brian McCann and Evan Gattis also play for the Astros, whose hitting coach is onetime Jackson Generals coach Dave Hudgens. … Former M-Braves star Jason Heyward went 0-for-3 in the Chicago Cubs’ 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Sunday night’s NLCS Game 2. Heyward is just one of numerous Cubs slumping this postseason; he is 2-for-15 this year and is batting .155 in 35 career postseason games. … Ole Miss alum David Goforth, who pitched briefly for Milwaukee in 2017, is now working in the Mexican Pacific League, and Southern Miss product Scott Copeland, a Miami minor leaguer, is pitching in the Dominican Winter League. Those leagues started last week.