Here’s a timely trivia question: Who was the winning pitcher for the Jackson Senators in the deciding game of the 2003 Central League Championship Series? It was none other than Jeremy McClain, then a crafty right-hander for the independent Sens, now the newly named athletic director at Southern Miss. McClain enjoyed a highlight-filled playing career. The Houlka native went 45-9 at Delta State – where he is in the Hall of Fame – and still holds school records for career wins, strikeouts and innings pitched. He went 15-0 for the 1999 team that made the NCAA Division II regionals. He had a fling in affiliated ball with the Boston Red Sox, then pitched for two different independent teams at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium. McClain won seven games for an awful DiamondKats team in 2000 and spent two seasons with the Senators, helping them reach the CBL title series in 2002 and claim the pennant the next year. He was the starter for the Sens’ first home opener in 2002, and in Game 5 of the ’03 finals, he came on in relief in the 10th inning and earned the victory when Keto Anderson delivered a game-winning knock in the bottom half. It was McClain’s final appearance as a player, and he said after the game that season was as much fun as he had ever had playing baseball.
The Jackson Senators live. Well, the name lives. On the billboard out front of Smith-Wills Stadium. The Senators are 10 years gone from their short stay at the old ballpark, but the independent team’s name is still out there. It’s a safe bet that a lot of folks cruising by on Lakeland Drive are given to wonder: “Who the heck are the Jackson Senators?” For the uninitiated, they were the fourth pro team to occupy Smith-Wills, following the Mets, Generals and Bandits, uh, I mean, DiamondKats. The Senators reached the Central Baseball League championship series in their inaugural season in 2002 and won the pennant in Year 2. A pall was cast over the whole operation in 2004 when news broke that Atlanta was moving its Double-A club to Pearl for the 2005 season. By this time in ’05, the Sens were history. Nothing official had been announced by the local ownership group, but it seemed inevitable. The metro isn’t big enough for two pro baseball teams. The Central League split up after the 2005 season, and the Senators quietly faded away. Hill Denson managed the last Senators team, which finished 35-58. There were some good players on the roster, including Selwyn Langaigne, Josh Tranum, Gerard McCall, Fontella Jones, Rusty Camp, Jake Dickinson … . Erick Mejias hit a walk-off homer in the Senators’ last home game, on Aug. 13, 2005. And if you saw them play at all, you surely remember Vince Faison, the right fielder. Former No. 1 draft pick by the San Diego Padres. Also a prep football star in Georgia. He could flat-out play. Hit for the cycle in ’05. Hadn’t thought about him in years. But on a drive down Lakeland, there’s that billboard. The Jackson Senators live.