21 Jan

spotlight on …

Jackson State’s baseball team will get some prime exposure on MLB Network next month. The Tigers are playing in the annual Andre Dawson Classic, a showcase event for HBCU programs, and will face SWAC rival Southern University on MLB Network on Feb. 19 (1 p.m.). The Andre Dawson Classic runs Feb. 18-20 in New Orleans and features seven HBCUs in its eight-team field. JSU is playing in the event for the first time. The Tigers open on Feb. 18 against Grambling State and will play Prairie View on Feb. 20. JSU went 24-0 in the SWAC and 34-9 overall in 2021 but lost in the ninth inning of the league tournament title game and missed out on an NCAA bid. JSU returns Nik Galatas and Chenar Brown, picked by Collegiate Baseball Magazine as the preseason pitcher and player of the year in the SWAC. P.S. The start of the college season is less than two weeks away. On Feb. 2, NAIA member Rust College visits Tuskegee for a doubleheader. William Carey University, another NAIA program, opens at home in Hattiesburg on Feb. 4 against Lindsey Wilson. NAIA Tougaloo College starts Feb. 5 with a twinbill at Xavier in New Orleans. … Defending MACCC champion Pearl River Community College starts its season on Feb. 9 at home against Baton Rouge CC. PRCC is one of four state jucos ranked in Collegiate Baseball’s Division II Top 20. East Central (the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament runner-up) is No. 6, Pearl River No. 9, Meridian No. 14 and Itawamba No. 17. Jones College has a new coach for 2022 with Wes Thigpen moving to Ellisville after a stint at Gulf Coast. The Bobcats open on Feb. 7 at Shelton State (Ala.). Bob Keller is the new coach at Gulf Coast, which opens Feb. 5 in a tournament at Bay Minette, Ala.

18 Jan

off-season stuff

Bobby Abreu is among the most accomplished former Jackson Generals players. He hit .291 for his big league career with a .395 on-base average, 288 homers and 400 steals, one of just six players all-time in the 250/400 club. He was a two-time All-Star, won a Silver Slugger, a Gold Glove and a Home Run Derby. Abreu, a star right fielder for the 1994 Generals (Houston’s Double-A club), is on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot for the third time, and there is an interesting piece on mlb.com in which a panel of experts debate Abreu’s credentials. The consensus would seem to be that he won’t make the writers’ cut and likely would need to get in down the road via one of the veterans committees. Pitcher Billy Wagner, also still on the writers’ ballot, stands a much better chance of being the first ex-Gens star to be elected. … Jackson native and longtime big leaguer Chet Lemon is featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s weekly e-newsletter. The Card Corner item, which includes a nice story, is Lemon’s 1988 Fleer card. Lemon batted .273 over 16 years in MLB before an illness ended his career in 1991. He was a three-time All-Star, won a ring with the 1984 Detroit Tigers and still holds the American League record of 512 putouts, set in 1977 with Chicago. Lemon’s son Marcus played for the Mississippi Braves in 2011. … Former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim is playing for Mayaguez in the Puerto Rican (Roberto Clemente) League Championship Series, which is being televised on FS2. Game 4 is Wednesday night at 5 p.m. Crim, a Texas Rangers farmhand, batted .406 for Mayaguez this season after mashing 29 homers in the minors in 2021. … Mississippi State product Justin Foscue was named a Rangers Organization All-Star by milb.com after batting .275 with 17 homers at three levels in 2021. He also played well in the Arizona Fall League. But the second baseman’s big league path is currently blocked by Marcus Semien, who signed a huge free agent contract with Texas.

05 Jan

’22 targets

Assuming there is a major league season in 2022, Mississippians in the majors will be chasing some noteworthy milestones. Start with Corey Dickerson, the Meridian Community College alum from McComb. He’s a free agent at the moment, but, at age 32, the left-handed hitting outfielder shouldn’t have trouble finding a team and adding to his career total of 917 hits. The thousand mark is within reach. He had 91 in an injury-shortened ’21 season. Making it to a 1,000 career hits in MLB is no minor feat. Mitch Moreland, another free agent, is sitting on 186 home runs. He could reach 200 with a healthy year. He hit 10 last season at age 36 despite missing a chunk of time with injuries. The ex-Mississippi State star from Amory currently sits sixth on the list of career homer leaders among Mississippi natives. Former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn needs nine strikeouts to reach 1,600 career, a mark reached by only 185 pitchers; the big right-hander could do it in his first start. He had 176 K’s last season in a banner year for the Chicago White Sox. Teammate Tim Anderson, the White Sox’s shortstop and an East Central Community College product, has 91 homers and 91 steals over six MLB campaigns. He should get to 100 in each category with ease. He put up 17 homers and 18 steals in 2021. Veteran outfielder Jarrod Dyson, 37, a free agent, has played in 992 games (.244 average, 266 steals in 12 seasons). The McComb native surely wants a chance to get to 1,000. Ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe, coming off a career year but joining a new team (Milwaukee), could crack 150 career homers in 2022. He has 128 after belting 31 for Boston a year ago. He also has 465 career hits; No. 500 is clearly in his sights. Former State ace Chris Stratton has worked 399 innings over six big league seasons. The right-hander, 31, is coming off his best year, having won seven games, saved eight and posted a 3.63 ERA for lowly Pittsburgh.

28 Dec

catching up

Colby White, a Mississippi State product drafted by Tampa Bay in 2019, made the Rays’ Organization All-Star team as selected by milb.com. White, a right-handed reliever, posted a 1.44 ERA while rising through four levels of the minors in 2021. Would not be a surprise to see him in the big leagues in 2022. One scout has compared White to Craig Kimbrel, which is some high praise. … Ole Miss alum and erstwhile big leaguer Jacob Waguespack has signed with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan. Waguespack spent all of 2021 in the minors for Toronto; he went 5-5 with a 5.08 ERA in 27 games for the Blue Jays in 2019-20. … Ex-State standout Jonathan Holder, who recently re-signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs, has been invited to big league spring camp. Holder, an MLB vet with a 4.38 ERA, did not pitch in the majors in 2021 because of a shoulder problem. He made two appearances in the Cubs’ minor league system and was dropped from the 40-man roster after the season. … Former MSU star Travis Chapman, a longtime minor league manager and coach, has been named the New York Yankees’ first base coach. … The Biloxi Shuckers got a shout-out (sorta) in Sports Illustrated’s year-end issue thanks to one of the craziest games of 2021. In a May 6 Double-A South contest at Birmingham, the Shuckers drew 13 walks and an HBP in one inning, scoring 12 runs en route to a 14-6 win over the Barons. SI’s Steve Rushin labeled it “Baron Wasteland” in his witty summary of the year’s oddest events. … The change in ownership of the Mississippi Braves franchise (from the Atlanta Braves/Liberty Media to Diamond Baseball Holdings) won’t affect the team’s affiliation with Atlanta or its location in Pearl, but one has to wonder if a name change might happen down the road. … Ready or not, the college season in Mississippi is slated to open on Feb. 2, when Rust College visits Tuskegee for a doubleheader that will also mark the debut of Bearcats coach John Bates. William Carey University, another NAIA program, opens at home in Hattiesburg on Feb. 4 against Lindsey Wilson. NAIA Tougaloo College starts Feb. 5 with a twinbill at Xavier of New Orleans. Tougaloo recently named its home field after longtime coach Earl Sanders, the ex-Jackson State star; the Bulldogs’ first game there is set for Feb. 19.

23 Dec

sad news

So saddened to learn of the passing this morning of a longtime friend, Bill Hetrick. We connected through baseball. One of my first assignments after moving to Jackson in 1984 was covering the Mets for the Daily News. Bill worked in the front office at Smith-Wills Stadium with Mike Feder, Bill Walberg and others. Those were fun times and memories I’ll always hold close. I later worked with Bill for a time at the paper, and we had stayed in touch over the years. He was as big a sports fan as I have ever known, with a jaw-dropping collection of autographed baseballs and other memorabilia. Bill had a big personality and a kind and generous soul. He’ll be missed.

19 Dec

it’s show-alter time

The New York Mets last won the World Series in 1986, when former Jackson Mets manager Davey Johnson and a bunch of ex-JaxMets players crushed Boston in a memorable Fall Classic. Since Johnson departed in 1990, the Mets have been through 11 managers — not including Carlos Beltran, who never managed a game — and experienced nothing but disappointment at season’s end. They finished 77-85 last season, collapsing down the stretch after leading the National League East much of the year. Division rival Atlanta went on to win the World Series. Steve Cohen, who became the Mets’ majority owner a little over a year ago, wants a winner. Now. He has thrown a lot of money at several big-name free agents, including Max Scherzer. And on Saturday, in a move that’s being widely hailed — and which he announced himself on Twitter — Cohen hired Buck Showalter to manage the club. Former Mississippi State All-America Showalter has done a lot of things as a big league manager, winning over 1,500 games in 20 seasons with four teams, claiming three manager of the year awards, making postseason appearances with three different teams. But Showalter hasn’t won a World Series, or even been in one. A ring would be the capper on a great career. Can he do it with the Mets? An ESPN article describes Showalter as “wired tight but with a sense of humor.” New York is a tough place to manage, but he’s been there with the Yankees, knows what he’s getting into. The Mets must contend with the Braves and Philadelphia in what figures to be a tough NL East in 2022 and beyond. The heat is on. Already. And for those of us who just sit back and watch, it’s going to be fun.

17 Dec

hits keep comin’

Blaine Crim keeps hammering home this fact: He can hit. The former Mississippi College star is leading the Puerto Rican (Roberto Clemente) Winter League in batting with a .400 average. Through 22 games, the 24-year-old Texas Rangers minor leaguer has two homers, eight doubles, 21 RBIs and 13 runs for Mayaguez. Crim, an Alabama native, hit .350 over four years at NCAA Division II MC, where he was the Gulf South Conference player of the year in 2019. Drafted in the 19th round by the Rangers, the right-handed hitting first baseman has a .314 average in two pro seasons. He was the rookie Northwest League MVP in 2019, when he hit .335 with eight homers in 53 games. Playing at the High-A and Double-A levels in 2021, Crim hit a combined .296 with 29 homers and 80 RBIs. He ought to get a look in the big league spring camp, whenever that might open.

15 Dec

star watch

They don’t play the game to pick up personal honors such as milb.com Organization All-Star, but the recognition is cool. Jake Mangum, the former Jackson Prep and Mississippi State standout, became the latest Mississippian to make the grade when milb.com released the New York Mets’ list earlier this week. After batting .285 with nine homers, 47 RBIs and 14 steals in 2021, the lefty-hitting Mangum was named one of the Mets’ minor league all-star outfielders. Mangum is 25 and spent most of last season — his second in pro ball — at the Double-A level. He isn’t a highly rated prospect in the system, but the SEC’s all-time hits leader certainly opened eyes with his 2021 production, flashing some much-needed power. Mets farm director Jeremy Barnes hailed Mangum’s “insane bat-to-ball skill.” He’s also fast and plays a pretty good center field. … Not all of the Organization All-Stars have been released. The list of Mississippi products who’ve been named so far includes Jordan Westburg (MSU), Baltimore shortstop; Jacob Robson (MSU), Detroit outfielder; J.P. France (MSU), Houston right-hander; Nick Fortes (Ole Miss), Miami catcher; Thomas Dillard (UM), Milwaukee first baseman; Joe Gray, Jr. (Hattiesburg), Milwaukee outfielder; and Ethan Small (MSU), Milwaukee left-hander. Robson and Fortes made their MLB debuts in 2021. P.S. Atlanta’s all-star team includes several 2021 Mississippi Braves and a player whose arrival in 2022 will be greatly anticipated: Michael Harris II. The lefty-hitting outfielder, 6 feet, 195 pounds, was the Braves’ minor league player of the year and is ranked as their No. 1 prospect by Baseball America. He hit .294 with seven homers, 64 RBIs and 55 runs at High-A Rome last summer.

09 Dec

birthday boys

What do Fred Lewis and Del Unser have in common? Both played college ball in Mississippi, both got a hit in their first major league game — and both were born on this date, 36 years apart. Lewis, who turns 41, was born in Hattiesburg, played high school ball at Stone County and juco ball at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College before moving on to Southern University. Drafted in the second round in 2002 by San Francisco, the lefty-hitting outfielder played parts of seven years in the big leagues and produced at least one game that Giants fans will never forget. On May 13, 2007, Mother’s Day, in just his 17th big league game, Lewis hit for the cycle at Colorado’s Coors Field. The homer he hit that day was the first of his career, a rare feat. He would hit 26 more and finish his MLB career in 2012 with a .266 average. Unser, who turns 77, is an Illinois native who played at Mississippi State in the mid-1960s, was drafted three times while in Starkville and ultimately signed with Washington after being a first-round pick in 1966. Unser enjoyed a 15-year career with five different clubs. He pounded out 1,344 hits — good for a .258 career average — and won a World Series ring with Philadelphia in 1980, going 5-for-11 with three RBIs and four runs in that postseason. … Also born on this date: former Jackson Generals third baseman Chris Truby, now 48, who played four years in the majors. P.S. Former MSU star Buck Showalter interviewed for the New York Mets’ manager job on Wednesday and team officials were “pretty impressed,” according to the New York Post. Showalter, 65, won 1,551 games as manager of four different MLB clubs between 1992 and 2018 and was a three-time manager of the year. He last managed with Baltimore in 2018, when a gutted Orioles team finished 47-115.

02 Dec

in other news

The lockdown in Major League Baseball was foreseeable. The Hunter Renfroe trade … not so much. In what reviewingthebrew.com called a “stunning” deal, Milwaukee acquired Renfroe, the former Copiah Academy and Mississippi State star, from Boston for Jackie Bradley Jr. and a couple of prospects. The trade was consummated Wednesday night just before the labor agreement expired. The Brewers reportedly were seeking to add power to their lineup, and they’ll get that from Renfroe, who has 128 career home runs. He had a big year in his one season with Boston, batting .259 with 31 homers, 96 RBIs and 16 outfield assists. He was both a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove finalist. And yet, Milwaukee will be his fourth team in four years. He signed with Boston as a free agent last off-season (one year, $3.1 million) and is arbitration-eligible entering 2022. The Brewers’ current roster features Renfroe’s former MSU teammate Brandon Woodruff, a staff ace, and their minor league prospect chart includes former Bulldogs ace Ethan Small, catcher/first baseman Thomas Dillard out of Ole Miss and outfielder Joe Gray, Jr., a Hattiesburg native. P.S. Left in limbo by the lockdown are Mississippi-connected free agents Corey Dickerson, Mitch Moreland, Billy Hamilton and Jarrod Dyson. … Ex-Richton High star JaCoby Jones has signed a minor league deal with Kansas City. He hit .170 for Detroit last year and ended the season in the minors. A former third-round pick out of LSU by Pittsburgh, Jones hit .212 with 32 homers over parts of six seasons with the Tigers, showing flashes of talent between a variety of injuries.