If you could gather together in some astral realm all the Mississippi natives who’ve ever played in the big leagues, oh, the stories they could tell. Willie Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth in his first at-bat. Gee Walker cycled on opening day. Claude Passeau threw a one-hitter in the World Series. Dave Parker was an All-Star Game MVP. Jay Powell won a Game 7 in the Series. Billy Hamilton stole four bases in his first start. But for sheer shake-your-head wonderment, it’d be hard to top Marcus Thames’ tale of his first major league at-bat. Sixteen years ago Sunday – June 10, 2002 – Louisville native Thames, playing for the New York Yankees, walked to the plate at Yankee Stadium to face Arizona’s Randy Johnson, reigning Cy Young award winner, and smashed the first pitch he saw for a home run. Thames, a 30th-round pick by the Yankees in 1996 out of East Central Community College, took a while to reach The Show but was not a one-trick pony. He hit 114 more MLB bombs – including seasons of 26 and 25 – over his 10-year career and averaged one homer per 15.9 at-bats, which, a Cut4 article on mlb.com points out, is one of the best ratios in history. Thames is now the Yankees’ hitting coach. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff returned to the majors with Milwaukee on Sunday and, sans red beard, threw four strong innings before being lifted for a pinch hitter in a game the Brewers would lose to Philadelphia. … Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers, back up for a seventh stint this season with St. Louis, worked 2 1/3 innings in two games over the weekend. … Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton contributed a triple, two runs and two outfield assists in Cincinnati’s win against the Cardinals on Sunday. A two-week slump has seen Hamilton’s average dip to .193. … Former State standout Adam Frazier was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis by Pittsburgh, presumably to get regular at-bats. In his third big league season, Frazier is batting .237 in 135 ABs.
Congratulations to Marcus Thames, the former East Central Community College star from Louisville who was named hitting coach of the New York Yankees on Monday. Thames, 40, was the club’s assistant hitting coach the past two seasons. A 30th-round draft pick out of Texas State in 1996, Thames played 10 seasons in the big leagues and homered 115 times in 640 games with a batting average of .246. One of his career highlights came on the first AB of his career. On June 10, 2002, playing for the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, he homered on the first pitch he saw from the great Randy Johnson, then with Arizona.
Marcus Thames, the slugger from Louisville, is on a list that is both short and long at the same time. In its current issue (May 18), Sports Illustrated highlights the players who homered on the first pitch they saw in the big leagues. Minnesota’s Eddie Rosario became the 29th to achieve that feat on May 6. Just the 29th. And yet, it seems crazy that it has happened 29 times! First pitch. Home run. Thames did it on June 10, 2002. The former East Central Community College star, debuting for the New York Yankees, took Randy Johnson deep at Yankee Stadium. Thames, now a coach in the Yankees’ minor league system, is one of the few players on the list the casual fan might actually have heard of. There’s Bert Campaneris, Junior Felix, Adam Wainwright (yes, the pitcher), Starling Marte, Daniel Nava and Jay Bell. Bell went on to hit 194 more homers and has the most of any player on the first-pitch-homer list. Thames is second with 115. He hit just .246 over his career, but he did have some thump, averaging a home run every 15.4 at-bats, a remarkable ratio. P.S. Kudos to Oxford High’s Jason Barber, who is featured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd, which makes note of his 0.00 ERA and two no-hitters this season. … Kudos also to former Mississippi Braves star Todd Cunningham, who went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs in his first big league start, sparking Atlanta’s 5-3 win at Miami on Friday night. … Former Ole Miss star Zack Cozart and Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton homered for Cincinnati, the only runs yielded by Madison Bumgarner in San Francisco’s 10-2 rout of the Reds. Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier went yard (on his 28th birthday) for Minnesota, and ex-UM standout Seth Smith homered for Seattle. Cozart leads all Mississippians in the majors with six homers.