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.
Billy Wagner gained some support in the Hall of Fame balloting this year — but just a little. The former Jackson Generals star was named on 11.1 percent of the ballots, getting 47 votes. He was named on 10.2 percent (45 votes) in 2017. The cutoff for election is 75 percent. It would appear that Wagner, who ranks sixth on the all-time saves list, isn’t going to rise to that benchmark. The little left-hander is among five former Jackson Mets or Generals to rank in the MLB top 20 in career saves. None of the others – Jeff Reardon, Randy Myers, Todd Jones, Rick Aguilera – came close to making the Hall. With 422 saves, a 2.31 career ERA and seven All-Star Game appearances over 16 seasons, Wagner has great credentials. But tickets to Cooperstown are hard to come by, especially for closers. Trevor Hoffman, No. 2 on the all-time saves list, became just the sixth reliever to make the Hall of Fame when he was announced on Wednesday. P.S. There are no former Jackson area Double-A players — JADAPs — in the Hall of Fame, though recently retired ex-Generals outfielders Bobby Abreu and Lance Berkman surely will get strong consideration when they become eligible. And there are a couple of ex-Mississippi Braves still out there building a case, including a closer: Craig Kimbrel, who is still in his prime in Boston and ranks 29th on the saves chart. Catcher Brian McCann, nearing the end of his brilliant career, should get in someday. … Worth noting: Mississippi State alum Jonathan Papelbon, ninth on the saves list and not yet officially retired, could also be a viable Hall candidate down the road.
The Jackson Mets arrived at newly constructed Smith-Wills Stadium in 1975 and proceeded to send a boatload of players to the big leagues during the team’s 16-year run on Lakeland Drive. Lee Mazzilli, who was on the second JaxMets team in 1976, is generally regarded as the Double-A club’s first “star,” and he made the majors in September of ’76. But he was not the first JaxMets alum to reach the big leagues. Who was? The first Jackson Generals player to get the call was catcher Tony Eusebio, who went up briefly with Houston in 1991, the first year the Astros’ Double-A team played at Smith-Wills. (Neither the Jackson DiamondKats nor the Jackson Senators had a player advance to the big leagues, though both independent clubs employed a former big leaguer. Mark Carreon played for the D-Kats, and Jeff Ware pitched for the Sens.) Brian McCann was the first Mississippi Braves star to make The Show, going up to Atlanta in 2005, the first year the franchise operated in Pearl. Which brings us back to the trivia question: Who was the first Jackson Met to get the call? Answer: Bobby Myrick, the Hattiesburg native and former Mississippi State star who was on the original JaxMets roster in ’75. New York called him up from Triple-A in May of 1976, and the left-hander pitched parts of three seasons in the majors, posting a 3.48 ERA in 82 games. Injuries ultimately ended his pro career in 1981. He passed away in 2012.
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.
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.
Three members of the Mississippi Braves’ original opening day roster from 2005 are on MLB postseason teams this year. Catcher Brian McCann, the first M-Brave to get the big league ticket, is with Houston – along with fellow ex-M-Braves Charlie Morton, Evan Gattis and James Hoyt – heading into the American League Division Series battle with Boston. Right-hander Blaine Boyer, who was the second M-Brave to be promoted to Atlanta, works out of the Red Sox’s bullpen, as does Craig Kimbrel. Outfielder Gregor Blanco, who waited a little longer – until 2008 – than McCann and Boyer to make The Show, is a bench player for Arizona, which hosts Colorado in tonight’s National League wild card game. Blanco has had a journeyman career but has played in 37 postseason games and won two World Series rings – with San Francisco in 2012 and ’14. Released by the Giants after last season, Blanco signed with the Diamondbacks. In 90 games, the speedy left-handed hitter batted .246 with three homers, 13 RBIs, 43 runs and 15 steals. He is also a good defensive outfielder. His advice for his D-backs teammates, many of whom are making their first postseason appearance? “Have fun and play the game,” Blanco told sfgate.com. “Whatever happens, happens.” P.S. Several other former Jackson area Double-A connections are with teams who made the postseason, including ex-Jackson Mets shortstop Ron Gardenhire, now Arizona’s bench coach, and ex-JaxMets infielder Dave Magadan, the D’backs’ hitting coach. Former JaxMets pitcher Neil Allen is the pitching coach for Minnesota, which was eliminated Tuesday by the New York Yankees. M-Braves alum Chasen Shreve, a Las Vegas native who threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium, is a reliever for the Yanks. Dave Hudgens, a onetime Jackson Generals hitting coach, now fills that role for Houston. M-Braves products Alex Wood and Luis Avilan pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Jason Heyward and Tommy LaStella play for the Chicago Cubs. … Tuesday marked the end of an era in Tampa Bay with the unexpected departure – by mutual agreement? — of former Generals pitching coach Jim Hickey from the Rays’ staff. Hickey has been the Rays’ pitching coach for 11 years. He’ll have no trouble finding another job. Also on Tuesday, Seattle announced that ex-JaxMets shortstop Tim Bogar will not return as bench coach.
When thinking back about a minor league team from a particular season, there is usually one player who jumps to the forefront in the memory bank. The Jackson Generals of 1997? Oh yeah, that was the Daryle Ward year. There were other players of note on the club – Carlos Guillen, Scott Elarton, Mitch Meluskey, Donovan Mitchell – but Ward was the man. He is famously remembered by old Smith-Wills Stadium cranks for hitting a foul ball through the wooden fence down the right-field line. Of course, he did a lot of damage with fair balls, as well, batting .329 with 19 homers, 25 doubles and 90 RBIs for Houston’s Double-A club. He also got a lot of attention for a bomb he launched in an exhibition game against the Astros. Listed at 6 feet 2, 240 pounds, the lefty-hitting outfielder/first baseman was all about power. Ward, son of a former big leaguer, made the majors with Houston in 1998 and mashed 90 homers over 11 MLB seasons, 20 with the Astros in 2000. Now a coach in the Cincinnati organization, he was still playing in independent ball as recently as 2015. All told, he hit 290 homers in pro ball. Twenty years after his star turn with the Generals, Daryle Ward is not forgotten.