29 Jul

movin’ on up

Cliff Lee just made a big jump, from one step out of the cellar in the American League Central to the top of the NL East. The left-hander out of Meridian Community College was traded today by lowly Cleveland to Philadelphia, which greatly improved its chances of repeating as World Series champion. Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young winner, wasn’t having a great statistical season for the Indians; he was 7-9 with a 3.14 ERA, 3-2, 2.37 in his last five starts. But he’ll get much better run support from the Phillies’ power-packed lineup. This is bad news for Atlanta, of course. The Braves might need to officially change their focus from the division to the wild card race.
P.S. Curious to see what the next report will be on Roy Oswalt’s back injury. He had an injection today and likely will have his next start pushed back. Houston, still contending for a playoff spot, has a real problem if the Weir resident and former Holmes CC star misses significant time. … The Astros sent former Delta State star Edwin Maysonet back to Triple-A yet again, but it probably didn’t hit him too hard. Maysonet’s wife just had a baby back in Puerto Rico, so he’s got other things on his mind.

28 Jul


Tim Dillard, the former NJCAA All-American from Itawamba Community College, will become the 30th Mississippi-connected player to appear in the majors this season when he makes his first appearance with Milwaukee, which could come tonight. The tall right-hander from Saltillo, son of former Ole Miss standout and ex-big leaguer Steve Dillard, got some big league time in 2008 but had spent the first few months of this year at Triple-A Nashville. On the clock for possible 2009 appearances: Vicksburg native Dmitri Young and ex-Grenada star Terrell Young (no relation), both of whom apparently are still on the DL with the Washington Nationals.
P.S. Upon further review, Ole Miss had 11 players drafted in June, matching Georgia for the most draftees from one college. Baseball America had reported the Rebels’ total at 10; they missed somebody.

24 Jul

perfect timing

Ramon Castro hadn’t done a lot to distinguish himself over an 11-year major league career. Until Thursday, when he became a significant footnote to an historic performance. The former Jackson General was the catcher for Mark Buehrle’s perfect game. Castro, the Chicago White Sox’s backup catcher, had never caught Buehrle before. Odds are he’ll catch him again real soon. Castro was a first-round pick in 1994 by the Houston Astros out of Puerto Rico. He reached Double-A Jackson in 1998, showing promise as both a receiver and a hitter (.256, 8 homers) at Smith-Wills Stadium. The Astros traded him to Florida (for former Mississippi State star Jay Powell), and he debuted with the Marlins in 1999. Then he went to the New York Mets. Now he’s in Chicago. Regardless of whatever else he does there, ChiSox fans will remember Castro for a long time.

23 Jul

rebel yells

He was the 1,494th player picked in last month’s draft, not the last to go but near it. For that reason alone, it’ll be interesting to track the pro career of former Ole Miss catcher Brett Basham, selected as a senior in the 50th round by San Diego. Basham had a good junior year with the Rebels — he was drafted in the 16th round — but played less and produced less this past spring. No doubt he’ll be hungry to prove himself as a pro — and he’s off to a good start in the Arizona League, going 4-for-9 in his first three games. Meanwhile, former Rebels outfielder Jordan Henry, a seventh-round pick by Cleveland, may prove to a steal. He was hitting .316 with 22 runs, 10 RBIs and 11 steals through 28 games at short-season A Mahoning Valley. The Rebels, for the record, had 10 players drafted, more than any school in the country save Georgia (11). Most of them have signed, including much-heralded but oft-injured pitcher Scott Bittle, who, at last look, had yet to make his pro debut with St. Louis.

22 Jul

tommy gun

Caught former Mississippi Brave Tommy Hanson’s 11-strikeout performance at Turner Field on Monday night. Very impressive. He was dominant at times last year in Pearl, but it looks like he is even better now. He was able to dial up the 95-96 mph fastball when he needed it and commanded most of his stuff well. He allowed 5 hits, 3 walks and 3 runs in his seven innings against San Francisco, but he never seemed to be in trouble. … Fred Lewis, the former Stone County High and Gulf Coast CC star, got in that game for the Giants as a pinch hitter, drew a walk from Hanson and stole a base. The Giants were expecting much more this season from Lewis than what he has produced. He may be giving Nettleton’s Bill Hall a run for Most Disappointing Performance by a Mississippian in the big leagues this year.
P.S. Kudos to Craig Tatum, the Hattiesburg native and Mississippi State alumnus, on his call-up by Cincinnati. He becomes the 29th Mississippi-connected player (not counting M-Braves) to make The Show in 2009. Tatum is a strong defensive catcher; if he can hit just a little bit (he went 0-for-2 in his debut), he’s got a chance to stick in the big leagues for a while.

17 Jul

deja vu

Never saw Darryl Strawberry at Smith-Wills Stadium. But Jason Heyward, an eerily similar player, may be stirring the same kind of buzz a few miles away at Trustmark Park. The 19-year-old Heyward, one of the top prospects in all of the minors, hit his first Double-A home run Thursday night, a towering blast to the deep gap in right-center. He had three other hits, including a pair of opposite-field doubles. After 10 games with the M-Braves, Heyward is hitting .417 with 5 doubles, 2 triples, the one homer and 10 RBIs. Strawberry, who was 20 when he played for the Jackson Mets in 1982, hit .283 that year with 19 doubles, 9 triples, a franchise-record 34 homers and 97 RBIs. He was in New York the next year. Heyward might be in Atlanta this September. Strawberry was a left-handed hitting right fielder who stood 6 feet 4 and weighed 180 pounds in ’82. Heyward is a left-handed hitting right fielder who stands 6 feet 4 and weighs (a chiseled) 220. Both have basketball backgrounds. Both were first-round picks. Strawberry became a big league star in short order after leaving Jackson, where tales of his homers are legend. Heyward’s just get started, really, but he looks to be on that track. If you were there Thursday night, you know. You’re talking about it today.

16 Jul

close encounters

From the You Never Know Who You’ll See at the Ballpark Dept.: On Wednesday night, there was an NBA point guard (Mo Williams) and an NFL running back (Jerious Norwood) in the press box at Trustmark Park. Tonight, former major league catcher and manager Bob Boone was in the house. And almost every night, former Olympic long jumper Savante Stringfellow is working on press row. That’s a full house, isn’t it?

14 Jul

star turns

The major league All-Star Game has always been a pretty big deal, even before the contrived significance of World Series home-field advantage was added a few years back. Putting all those great players on one field for a midsummer game … how can it be anything but grand? Winning the World Series is every player’s ultimate goal, but making the All-Star Game rates pretty high, too. Years ago in the old Negro Leagues, making the East-West Game, as their showcase was called, was an even bigger deal than winning the season-ending championship. The game drew like nothing else those leagues put together. It was the event of the season, and Mississippians had their share of star turns, as research in Robert Peterson’s path-breaking “Only the Ball Was White” shows. In the inaugural East-West Game, at Chicago’s Comiskey Park in 1933, Starkville native Cool Papa Bell started and hit leadoff for the East, but fellow Hall of Famer Bill Foster, who grew up in Lorman and later was a dean at Alcorn State, pitched for the West, got the win and a hit. Bell played in almost every East-West game over a 12-year stretch. Howard Easterling of Mount Olive was a five-time All-Star. In 1940, he went 2-for-5 with a run in the East’s 11-0 win. In 1946, at Washington’s Griffith Stadium, Easterling had three hits, two runs and an RBI in a 5-3 win. Bubba Hyde, from Pontotoc, was 2-for-3 with an RBI in a second 1946 game, back at Comiskey. In 1949, Easterling again came up big in the classic, going 2-for-4 with an RBI and a steal in a 4-0 East win. Charleston’s Bill Hoskins had a hit and an RBI in the East’s 8-3 win in 1941, played before a crowd of 50,000-plus. Jackson native Buddy Armour went 2-for-4 with a couple of runs and a stolen base in the 1944 game and rapped out two hits in ’47, as well. Oh, if only there were a time machine for baseball fans …

12 Jul

it’s a start

If there were doubts that Hunter Owen could hit at the pro level, with a wood bat, he has provided some answers in his first two games with the independent Edinburg Roadrunners. The former Millsaps star, the school’s career homer and RBI leader, went 2-for-4 with an RBI in his Friday debut, then followed that effort by going 2-for-3 with a homer and four RBIs on Saturday. Owen, who tried out but couldn’t get a job with a major league organization, is hitting cleanup for Edinburg, which plays in the United League. There is a fairly long list of players who have used indy ball as a springboard to the affiliated game. Owen could be another.
P.S. Congratulations are in order for former Jackson State star Tommie Campbell, who will be inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in September. He was a first-round pick by the New York Mets in 1967 and, by all accounts, a pretty good player. He played four years in the Mets’ system, reaching the Double-A level. For the record, and contrary to JSU’s information, Campbell did not play for the ’69 champion Mets. There is no record that he was ever on their 40-man roster that season.

11 Jul


It’s sad. It was inevitable, perhaps, but it’s still sad. Jeff Francoeur, the hometown hero in Atlanta, was traded away. To the New York Mets, no less, the Braves’ biggest rival over the last 10 years or so. Francoeur was a big hit with the Mississippi Braves in 2005; people still show up at Trustmark Park in his jersey. But he was an even bigger sensation in Atlanta, having played high school ball in the area. For 2 1/2 years, he looked like a rising star. But then he lost his swing. Came back to Pearl last summer looking for it. Still hasn’t found it. Even the biggest Francoeur supporters had to know his time with the Braves was running short. But it was a shock the way it went down. After having one of his best games of the season (3-for-4, 3 doubles) at Colorado on Thursday night, Jeff Francoeur was shipped out for an older, injury-prone player, Ryan Church. Don’t know how that’s going to work out. This much is certain, though: No. 7 will be missed in right field at the Ted.
P.S. How about that Seth Smith. The former Hillcrest Christian and Ole Miss standout got his 12th pinch hit of the season Friday night for Colorado (against the Braves). He is now 12-for-25. Pinch hitting seems to be Smith’s main role with the Rockies these days, and he’s playing it well.