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.
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.
Ronald Acuna didn’t waste much time producing a wow moment for the Mississippi Braves. First at-bat. First pitch. Boom. Home run. Acuna was named Baseball America’s minor league player of the year today, capping a season that saw the 19-year-old Venezuela native dominate at three levels of pro ball. He started at high-A Florida and finished at Triple-A Gwinnett, batting .325 with 21 homers and 82 RBIs combined. In his Double-A debut on May 9, he went 3-for-4 with that jaw-dropping homer and three RBIs. He played only 56 more games for the M-Braves, moving up after batting .326 with nine homers, 30 RBIs and 19 steals. He goes 6 feet, 180 pounds and can play center or right field. Atlanta will have to make room for him in its outfield in 2018. … This is the fourth time a Jackson area Double-A player (JADAP) has earned BA’s minor league POY award. Gregg Jefferies won it twice, in 1986 and ’87, after spending part of both of those seasons with the Jackson Mets. Former M-Braves star Jason Heyward, who blew through Pearl much like Acuna did, took the honor in 2009.
It’s showtime for JaCoby Jones, the ex-Richton High star now playing center field for the Detroit Tigers. Jones took a star turn on Tuesday in a 13-2 win over Kansas City, smacking a pair of home runs and driving in three runs all told. The Tigers want to see more of that from the 25-year-old rookie over the next few weeks. It has been a rocky year for Jones, who has been up and down from Detroit to the minors several times after winning the center field job in spring training. Now getting regular playing time again for an also-ran club, he has eight hits in his last 31 at-bats, a modest .258 average but a jump from his season clip of .183. The homers on Tuesday were his first since his only other big league bomb in April. He has 10 RBIs. He also has 38 strikeouts in 82 ABs. A converted infielder, Jones is an athletic center fielder at 6 feet 2, 205 pounds with speed and power. This is only his fifth year of pro ball, but he is 25. If he’s going to be an impact player, the time is at hand. P.S. Former Mississippi State standout Hunter Renfroe of Crystal Springs is San Diego’s nominee for the 2017 Roberto Clemente Award. The award goes to the major leaguer who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Renfroe, who was the Padres’ opening day right fielder, is currently back in the minors. … Ex-Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle has been given a four-year extension (through 2021) as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hurdle, who won the National League Manager of the Year award in 2013, has been with the Pirates since 2011.
Baseball weaves a web of connections that never fails to surprise. Take a trip to Vancouver. Go to a Canadians game at Nat Bailey Stadium. Who’s managing the home team? Rich Miller, a member of the original Jackson Mets team of 1975. Miller played parts of four seasons for the JaxMets. He is in his second stint with the Canadians, a short-season Class A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. He won a championship with the team in 2011. … Minnesota Twins fans should be pumped today. Former Southern Miss star Brian Dozier hit a tie-breaking home run — his 13th of the year — in the eighth inning as the Twins beat Cleveland 4-2 on Saturday and moved within a half-game of the first-place Indians in the American League Central. Dozier told The Associated Press it was “the most high energy game we’ve had in a while.” Meanwhile, down in rookie ball, Mississippi State product Brent Rooker hit his first pro home run in a 4-for-5 game for Elizabethton. Rooker, the 35th overall pick by the Twins in the recent draft, is 5-for-11 in three games as a pro. “The hard work went in this past season at school,” Rooker told milb.com. An advanced player at age 22, Rooker could move up quickly in the Twins’ system. … Ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson, bidding for an All-Star Game berth, belted his 17th homer for Tampa Bay; he leads the All-Mississippi Home Run Derby. Former State standout Mitch Moreland got his 10th dinger for Boston. … Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn surrendered seven runs for the second straight game as St. Louis lost to Pittsburgh 7-3. Lynn (5-5) has yielded 20 home runs this season.
He arrived in Jackson with a great deal of fanfare, a former first-round draft pick from California who batted .354 with 80 RBIs in 95 games in high-A ball before getting promoted to Double-A at age 19. Gregg Jefferies hit .421 in five games for the Jackson Mets in 1986. He was named Baseball America’s minor league player of the year and returned to Jackson, with even more hype, for the 1987 season. Thirty years later, that season at Smith-Wills Stadium still resonates. Jefferies, a switch-hitting shortstop, put up great numbers for the JaxMets: .367, 20 homers, 101 RBIs, 81 runs, 26 steals, 48 doubles, a .598 slugging percentage. He was shaky at shortstop and wound up moving to third base. And, yes, he was a little cocky. But he could ever more hit, and he led the team, managed by former Ole Miss player Tucker Ashford, to a Texas League East Division second-half title. Alas, the New York Mets summoned Jefferies as a September call-up, and he missed the TL playoffs, including the championship series loss to Robbie Alomar-led Wichita. Jefferies repeated as BA’s player of the year in ’87 and also won Texas League MVP honors. He became a regular with the New York Mets in 1989, displacing Wally Backman at second base, but hit just .258. He became a target of fan and media criticism in the Big Apple. Traded from New York after the 1991 season, he played nine more years in the big leagues, 14 seasons all told. While some would say he didn’t live up to the great expectations, Jefferies batted .289 with 1,593 hits and was a two-time All-Star. In 1993 in St. Louis, he batted .342 with 16 homers and 46 steals. That was the kind of season he seemed destined for in 1987. The 30th anniversary of that big year in Jackson is worthy of a salute.