As the Houston Astros marched toward their first World Series title last year, all Tony Sipp could do was watch. The veteran relief pitcher, who struggled through much of the 2017 season, wasn’t on the team’s roster for any of their three postseason series. Well, that was then. After an amazing resurgence in 2018, the former Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout is on the roster for the American League Division Series against Cleveland. Game 1 is today at Minute Maid Park. A couple of things happened for the 35-year-old left-hander this year. First, he had to battle just to make the team in spring training and essentially keep his career alive. “It all just came together to create that hunger again. It’s do or die; my back is against the wall,” Sipp told the Houston Chronicle last month. Then, he regained confidence in his best pitch, a splitter that had abandoned him in 2016 and ’17. In 54 appearances (38 2/3 innings) this season, Sipp put up a 1.86 ERA. He yielded just one home run after coughing up eight in 2017 and 12 in 2016. He is the lone lefty in Houston’s bullpen; he is best against lefties (0.90 ERA this year) but can also get right-handed hitters (2.89). P.S. Houston’s roster also includes former Mississippi Braves Brian McCann, Evan Gattis and Charlie Morton, a hero of last year’s title run. Hitting coach Dave Hudgens is a former Jackson Generals hitting coach, a last link to the Double-A Astros affiliate that played at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1991-99. … In that other ALDS, which starts tonight at Fenway Park, Boston’s roster includes former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland (but not Ole Miss alumnus Drew Pomeranz). The New York Yankees have an alum from both State (Jonathan Holder) and Ole Miss (Lance Lynn) in their bullpen, and the Bombers’ hitting coach is former East Central CC standout Marcus Thames.
All eyes – well, a lot of them — are on the National League Central and the two intra-divisional series that start today in Chicago and St. Louis. And, yes, Mississippi ties are all around. The first-place Cubs host fourth-place Pittsburgh – officially eliminated from postseason contention on Sunday – in a four-game series at Wrigley Field, while second-place Milwaukee – 2.5 games behind the Cubs – and the third-place Cardinals – 4.5 games behind the Cubs – tangle in a three-game set at Busch Stadium. The Brewers and Cardinals top the wild card standings, with Colorado lurking 1.5 games back. The Brewers’ roster includes former Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff and several other former Biloxi Shuckers, notably pitchers Josh Hader, Freddy Peralta, Jacob Barnes and Taylor Williams and shortstop Orlando Arcia. Brewers coach Carlos Subero is a former Shuckers manager. Ex-Ole Miss star Mike Mayers and State alum Dakota Hudson have been key contributors in St. Louis’ bullpen, and ex-Mississippi Braves John Gant and Chasen Shreve are also on the pitching staff. The Milwaukee-St. Louis season series is tied 8-8. The Cubs suit up a pair of M-Braves alums – Jason Heyward and Tommy LaStella – and their pitching coach is former Jackson Generals coach Jim Hickey. The Cubs have the best record in the NL but they’re in no position to breathe easy against a Pirates lineup that usually features Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson, one of the league’s leading hitters, and ex-State standout Adam Frazier. Pittsburgh is managed by former Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle, and the hitting coach is Waynesboro native Jeff Branson. P.S. Frazier hit his 10th home run on Sunday and joins Hunter Renfroe, Brian Dozier, Tim Anderson, Mitch Moreland, Dickerson and JaCoby Jones as Mississippians with double-digit bombs in the majors this season.
The career path that took Chipper Jones to the Hall of Fame veered through Mississippi in 2006. Anyone who was there for those two days in August surely has not forgotten. Jones’ visit to Trustmark Park in Pearl on a rehab assignment created a hoopla that hasn’t been matched by any other Mississippi Braves games played there in the 14 years of the stadium’s existence. The announced crowds on Aug. 11 and 12, 2006, were 7,577 and 7,652 — and those are legit figures. To his everlasting credit, Jones signed autographs for fans and did pre- and postgame media sessions. He was engaging. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy reminiscing about his previous Double-A days in 1992, when he crushed it in Greenville. They played his signature walk-up song, “Crazy Train,” on the P.A. when he batted, and the crowd went nuts when he got his one hit in the six at-bats he took. Fellow Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine also made rehab appearances with the M-Braves — Smoltz threw one inning in a road game — and HOFer Jeff Bagwell did a rehab stint with the Jackson Generals at Smith-Wills Stadium. But they didn’t generate the excitement that Jones did. Fernando Valenzuela’s visit to Smith-Wills in 1991 drew a standing-room only throng, but he came in with the visiting team, the Midland Angels. There was a very different vibe for Jones, a former No. 1 overall pick by Atlanta whose ascendance had been tracked for years by the many Atlanta Braves fans in the area. P.S. Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson worked a 1-2-3 inning in his MLB debut for St. Louis on Saturday, striking out the Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ. … Richton High alum JaCoby Jones, batting .122 over a 15-game stretch, needed a highlight moment and produced one on Saturday, belting a two-run homer in Detroit’s 2-1 win against Cleveland. Jones is hitting .208 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 95 games for the Tigers. He left Saturday’s game with an apparent injury that he later deemed “nothing serious.” … Former State star Mitch Moreland returned to Boston’s lineup after missing two games with a minor ailment; he contributed a hit and an RBI in the Red Sox’s 10-4 victory over Minnesota. … Corey Dickerson, the Meridian Community College product from McComb, went on the 10-day disabled list for Pittsburgh with a hamstring injury. Dickerson is hitting .318 with 11 bombs and 44 RBIs. … Former M-Braves Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna grace the cover of the latest issue (Aug. 3-24) of Baseball America, which has a feature piece on the “Baby Braves” behind Atlanta’s resurgent season.
Richard Hidalgo, Jackson Generals star of the mid-1990s, got some recognition today – his 43rd birthday – in a column on mlb.com by Joe Posnanski. Posnanski was highlighting “most surprising” major league seasons, of which Hidalgo had one in 2000. In his fourth MLB campaign, he batted .314 with 44 homers and 122 RBIs as Houston’s centerfielder, far and away the best year of a modest career. Hidalgo was a highly rated and impressive-looking Astros prospect when he played in Jackson in 1995 and ’96, hitting .280 with 28 homers over those two seasons. He could play the outfield, too, and throw and run. He spent nine years in the big leagues and finished with 171 bombs. As good as Hidalgo’s 2000 season was, it didn’t make Posnanski’s “most surprising” top 10. But former Jackson Mets star Kevin Mitchell’s 1989 season with San Francisco did. Mitchell, who played at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1983, hit .291 with 47 homers and 125 RBIs that year, winning National League MVP honors on a pennant-winning team that included Will Clark. (And, yes, that was also the year Mitchell made his famous over-the-shoulder, bare-handed catch.)
Voting ends Friday for the Triple-A All-Star Game, and if fans have been paying attention, ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson should be leading the pack for Pacific Coast League starting pitcher. Hudson, with the Memphis Redbirds in St. Louis’ system, leads the PCL in wins and ERA. The 23-year-old right hander, the Cardinals’ No. 3 prospect, has won six of his last seven starts to move to 9-2 with a 2.13 ERA. Hudson doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts but, according to scouting reports, generates a lot of weak contact and ground balls with a heavy sinker. Drafted in the first round in 2016, he was the Texas League pitcher of the year in 2017 and got a non-roster invite to 2018 big league camp, where he posted a 1.86 ERA in four games. The Triple-A All-Star Game (see the ballot on milb.com) is slated for Columbus, Ohio, on July 11. Considering all the injuries the Cardinals have had in their rotation, Hudson might be in St. Louis well before then. P.S. There was a Mississippi Big 3 summit of sorts at Minnesota on Wednesday, when Mississippi State’s Mitch Moreland, Ole Miss’ Lance Lynn and Southern Miss’ Brian Dozier all took the field. Dozier, who’s been slumping (.135 his last 15 games), went 2-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI in the Twins’ 4-1 victory over Boston. Despite fighting command issues, Lynn went five innings for the win, improving to 5-5, 4.64 ERA as he pitched around three hits and five walks. Moreland got one of those hits and drew one of the walks and scored an unearned run on a throwing error. … Pittsburgh put Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College standout, on the family emergency medical leave list and recalled MSU product Adam Frazier from Triple-A. … Houston produced back-to-back-to-back home runs on Wednesday, the first time the Astros have pulled that off in over 10 years. As you might have guessed, former Jackson Generals star Lance Berkman was involved in that previous trifecta.
If you enjoy baseball history – and doesn’t everybody? – you owe it to yourself to occasionally take a cyber-stroll through nationalpastime.com’s This Day in Baseball History. You’ll get hooked – and you’ll run across things like this item from the May 26 entry about Daryle Ward, the former Jackson Generals slugger (circa 1997), and his exploits in a 2004 game: “In the Pirates’ 11-8 win over St. Louis at Busch Stadium, Daryle Ward hits for the cycle with a two-run double in the first, a run-scoring triple in the fourth, a three-run homer in the fifth, and a single in the ninth. The Pirates first baseman and his dad Gary become the first father-son combination in major league history to hit for the cycle, with the elder Ward accomplishing the feat 24 years ago with Minnesota.” That’s ballpark-worthy chatter material right there. Daryle Ward, 6 feet 2, 240 pounds in his prime, played 11 years in the majors and hit 90 homers, 231 doubles and a grand total of five triples, two in 2004.
Catching up on many fronts in pro ball: Chris Coghlan, the ex-Ole Miss star and veteran big leaguer, signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs earlier this month but has not yet been assigned to a club. Coghlan, who played for the Cubs during their championship run in 2016, was released by Toronto last summer. … UM product Drew Pomeranz is expected to be activated from the disabled list by Boston on Friday; the Red Sox will be at Oakland, facing former Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman of the A’s. … Anthony Alford, the former Mr. Baseball from Petal, is 4-for-14 in five games on a rehab assignment with Class A Dunedin in the Toronto system. Alford, who made his big league debut last year, was injured in spring training. … Southern Miss alum Scott Copeland, Starkville native Julio Borbon and Hattiesburg’s Robert Carson have signed with teams in the independent Atlantic League. Copeland and Borbon, both ex-big leaguers, are with Somerset, Carson with York. A number of former Mississippi Braves also have signed on in the league, which opens next weekend. … Southwest Mississippi Community College product Kade Scivicque, released by Atlanta last week, signed with Detroit, the club that drafted him out of LSU in 2015. Scivicque, who played for the M-Braves in 2016-17, had just four at-bats with Triple-A Gwinnett this season. The Tigers sent him to Double-A Erie. … Rehabbing big leaguer Luiz Gohara, expected to be a key rotation piece in Atlanta, worked 3 1/3 innings (62 pitches) for the M-Braves against Pensacola on Tuesday night and yielded five hits, three walks and five runs (one earned). … Former M-Braves star Ronald Acuna hit his first homer and picked up his first two RBIs of 2018 for Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday. Acuna is batting just .175 after having a huge spring with the big league Braves. … Jacob Nottingham became (by unofficial count) the 18th Biloxi Shuckers alum to advance to the big leagues when he debuted with Milwaukee on Monday. … Former Jackson Generals ace and ex-big leaguer Freddy Garcia, at age 41, is pitching for Yucatan in the Mexican League; he’s 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA. The right-hander has logged more than 3,000 innings in a pro career that started in 1995.
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.