30 Oct

a fall report

Three weeks into the Arizona Fall League season, three candidates for the 2012 Mississippi Braves’ roster are faring quite well. First baseman Joey Terdoslavich is hitting .373 with a home run and seven RBIs for the Surprise Saguaros, catcher Christian Bethancourt is at .350 with two homers and eight RBIs (in 11 games) and switch-hitting outfielder Todd Cunningham is batting .326 with 11 RBIs. Also of note: Lefty Sean Gilmartin, Atlanta’s top pick in June from Florida State, is 2-0 with a 3.43 ERA in five starts. Gilmartin isn’t likely to make Double-A next season but it may not be long thereafter. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier, a rising prospect with Minnesota, is hitting .294 with a homer, 14 RBIs and 14 runs for the Mesa Solar Sox.
P.S. Former Southwest Mississippi Community College standout Jarrod Dyson, a Kansas City Royals outfielder, has left the Venezuelan Winter League because of a minor shoulder injury. He was hitting just .227.

29 Oct

scatter shots

Lance Berkman, the former Jackson Generals star who has been in the big leagues since 1999, earned his first World Series ring on Friday night. Ole Miss alumnus Lance Lynn, in the big leagues since, oh, mid-summer, also got one. Berkman (.423 in the Series) had another hit and scored twice and Lynn threw a perfect inning in relief as St. Louis beat Texas 6-2 in Game 7 for the championship. … Ex-Mississippi Braves standout Matt Harrison wasn’t sharp in his start for Texas, allowing three runs in four innings and taking his second loss of the Fall Classic. You gotta think Harrison and the Rangers have the talent to get back to the Series, but it’s no given. … Mississippi State product Craig Tatum was claimed on waivers by Houston and becomes, for the moment, the fourth catcher on the Astros’ 40-man roster. Tatum, a defensive specialist, came up with Cincinnati and played this season with Baltimore, batting .195 in 31 games. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Matt Tolbert, who hit .198 in 87 games with Minnesota in 2011, has become a free agent. The versatile infielder is a .230 career hitter in 247 games. … Keep an eye on former Oak Grove star Taiwan Easterling, the state’s Mr. Baseball in 2008. A 27th-round pick by the Chicago Cubs in June, Easterling, an outfielder, advanced three levels this summer, hitting .307 overall with two homers, 17 RBIs and 10 steals. Easterling, a two-sport star at Florida State, passed on his last year of football eligibility to launch his baseball career. He caught 43 passes in 2010 at FSU.

28 Oct

seventh heaven

Maybe the best thing about Game 6, which will go down as one of the most exciting World Series games ever, is that it sends us to a Game 7. Nothing like a Game 7. Former Mississippi Braves standout Matt Harrison will get the start for Texas; it’s only the biggest game of his life. Mississippi State alumnus Mitch Moreland, the lefty-hitting first baseman, might get a start tonight, too, with St. Louis throwing right-hander Chris Carpenter. It’ll be interesting to see where the Rangers’ heads are. As Texas pitcher Derek Holland said in a postgame TV interview, “The mood swings were ridiculous.” And the Rangers, so tantalizingly close to the championship, came out on the wrong end of the 10-9, 11-inning contest. The Cardinals, on the other hand, should be pumped. They were one strike away from losing the Series in the ninth; former Ole Miss hurler Lance Lynn, rocked for two homers in Texas’ three-run seventh, stood to get the loss. Then David Freese tripled to tie it. Again in the 10th, the Cards were one strike away from being done when former Jackson Generals star Lance Berkman, who’s having a tremendous postseason (.435 in the Series alone), swatted a game-tying single. Then Mr. Freese strikes again with a homer in the 11th. Game 7 is on.

26 Oct

old times here

With the announcement that Game 6 of the World Series has been postponed by weather from tonight to Thursday, there was no immediate word as to whether Matt Harrison would still draw the Game 7 (if necessary) start for Texas. The former Mississippi Braves left-hander had gotten the nod on Tuesday from manager Ron Washington, who said then that it didn’t matter whether the series was pushed back, Harrison would still be the guy. He’s 1-1 with a 5.02 ERA this postseason. We’ll see. Surely it would be a dream come true for Harrison to start a Game 7 of the Fall Classic, but there has to be some butterflies, too. It seems like only yesterday that Harrison was making his M-Braves debut. That was on June 25, 2006, the day he was promoted from A-ball with an 8-4 record, a 3.10 ERA and some hype. He was a third-round draft pick out of high school in 2003 and already was showing up on Atlanta’s prospect lists. He lost his first start at Trustmark Park to Huntsville but pitched well enough. He went six innings, yielding seven hits and four runs with six strikeouts and a walk. Harrison didn’t get his first Double-A win until his fourth start, when he threw seven shutout innings at Huntsville on July 15 of ’06. On Aug. 1, he threw five hitless innings in relief to notch his second win. He finished the season 3-4, 3.61, and he returned to the TeePee in 2007, going 5-7, 3.39 and helping the M-Braves win a first-half championship. On July 31, he was traded, along with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus in the Mark Teixeira deal. Harrison made his big league debut the next year. … To be fair, here’s a note on the other former JADAP (Jackson area Double-A player) in the Series, Lance Berkman. Berkman also was in the news Tuesday, when it was announced that he would hit cleanup (instead of fifth) for St. Louis in Game 6. Berkman’s debut as a Jackson General at Smith-Wills Stadium isn’t as easily recalled, but it was worth looking up. On April 8, 1998, on the first pitch Berkman saw at Smith-Wills, he homered. He hit it left-handed off Shreveport righty Jason Grilli, another future big leaguer. Berkman went on to hit .306 with 24 homers for the Gens and was in The Show with Houston a year later. Old times are not forgotten.

25 Oct

caribbean cruising

An interesting name popped up during a surf of the box scores from the Caribbean Leagues. Vicksburg native Dmitri Young, believed to be retired for a couple of years now, is playing for Caribes de Anzoategui in the Venezuelan Winter League. Young, now 38, hit 171 homers in his big league career, which ended in 2008. He’s hitting .158 for Caribes. Also in Venezuela is Jarrod Dyson, the McComb native and Southwest Mississippi Community College product who has been up and down with Kansas City the last two seasons. The speedy Dyson, with Caracas, had a typical game last Friday: 1-for-3, 2 walks, 2 runs and a stolen base. Fred Lewis, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast CC star from Wiggins, is playing for Hermosillo in the Mexican Pacific League. The veteran big leaguer finished the 2011 campaign in the minors and is now a free agent. Expected to play in the Puerto Rican League, which starts next week, is Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, who stole 103 bases in A-ball this season. He’ll face some good competition in Puerto Rico.

24 Oct

attention grabbers

Both of the Mississippi college alums in the World Series got noticed in Game 5 tonight. First, Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland launched a tape measure home run in the third inning, providing Texas with its first run in what would be a 4-2, come-from-behind win. Much later, in the decisive eighth, ex-Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn came on in relief for St. Louis — to intentionally walk the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler. This came after Mike Napoli had delivered his tiebreaking two-run double. Very odd. Through some kind of bizarre miscommunication between Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and his bullpen, Lynn warmed up even though he wasn’t supposed to. He had worked 2 1/3 innings on Saturday, earning the win in Game 3, and LaRussa wasn’t going to use him tonight. LaRussa had wanted another right-hander, Jason Motte, to get ready to face the right-handed hitting Napoli but had to stick with lefty Marc Rzepczynski when he saw that Motte wasn’t warm. After Napoli’s big hit and a strikeout by the lefty-swinging Moreland, LaRussa brought in Lynn to walk Kinsler because, apparently, Motte still wasn’t ready. Motte did finally come on to get the third out. LaRussa blamed the communication problems on the noise at the Texas ballpark. Very odd, indeed.

24 Oct

oh, to be young

Three former Mississippi Braves made Baseball America’s All-Rookie team for 2011, a group headed by closer Craig Kimbrel, who stands a good chance of winning the National League’s rookie of the year award. Kimbrel had 46 saves and a 2.10 ERA, despite some well-chronicled late-season hiccups. The Braves’ collapse had more to do with their lack of offensive punch than bullpen breakdowns, which are always magnified. Freddie Freeman made the BA team at first base. He hit .282 with 20 homers and played outstanding defense, though he, too, seemed to tire down the stretch. Right-hander Brandon Beachy, picked for one of the five rotations spots on BA’s team, was a revelation, going 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 25 starts. With better run support, he would easily have won in double figures. Also on the BA chart is ex-Itawamba Community College outfielder Desmond Jennings, a late July call-up by Tampa Bay who hit .259 with 10 homers and 20 steals. Atlanta may have more rookies — and ex-M-Braves — in key spots in 2012, with Tyler Pastornicky a viable option at shortstop, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado up for jobs in the rotation and Arodys Vizcaino a strong bullpen candidate.
P.S. The Philadelphia Phillies will not pick up the option on Roy Oswalt’s contract for 2012, but, according to mlb.com’s story, will consider re-signing the former Holmes CC right-hander. Oswalt had a tough, injury-marred 2011 campaign, going 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA. He also got roughed up in the postseason by St. Louis as the Phils fell in the division series.

22 Oct

ode to ’46

You don’t have to watch the TV broadcast of the World Series for very long before Fox starts hitting you with historical nuggets. “This is the first time since … .” “The last player to do that … .” The World Series brings out the history buff in all of us. So, on that note, let’s revisit what is arguably the best Mississippi-flavored World Series of all time. It was 65 years ago, 1946. Boston vs. St. Louis, Ted Williams vs. Stan Musial — one of the greatest Fall Classic matchups. Naturally, it went seven games. And it’s remembered mainly for Cardinals star Enos Slaughter’s going from first base to home plate with the Series-deciding run in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 7. Two Mississippians also had a profound impact on this World Series. Shaw’s Dave “Boo” Ferriss, in just his second season, was an emerging ace on the Red Sox’s staff, posting a 25-6 record with a 3.25 ERA. And Pascagoula’s Harry “The Hat” Walker was the Cardinals’ starting left fielder most of that season, batting .327. Ferriss started Game 3 and beat the Cardinals 4-0 on a six-hitter to give Boston a 2-1 edge. It was Ferriss’ 14th straight win at Fenway Park. St. Louis rebounded to win Game 4 12-3, with Walker picking up his first RBI. The series was tied 2-2. Walker drove in three more runs in Game 5, but Boston won 6-3. Back at Sportsman’s Park for Game 6, St. Louis stayed alive with a 4-1 win. Game 7 on Oct. 15, 1946, saw Ferriss return to the hill for Red Sox. But the big right-hander couldn’t match his Game 3 success and was knocked out in the fifth inning when St. Louis jumped ahead 3-1. Boston rallied, and the game went to the eighth tied 3-3. Slaughter led off the St. Louis half with a single but was still at first with two outs. Walker, a left-handed hitter, came to the plate to face Boston’s Bob Klinger. The Cardinals had Slaughter running with the pitch, and when Walker lashed it into left-center, Slaughter just kept running, apparently catching the Red Sox’s fielders off guard. He scored easily, and St. Louis held in the ninth to take the championship. The RBI was the sixth of the series for Walker, who hit .412. Slaughter’s “mad dash” gets top billing in the history books, but the contributions of Walker — and Ferriss, too — in making the ’46 World Series such a great one should also be recognized.

21 Oct

wait for it …

Lance Lynn got into the World Series on Thursday night, getting the last two outs in the ninth inning as his St. Louis team lost to Texas 2-1. The former Ole Miss standout, the third of three pitchers to work the ninth for the Cardinals, yielded the sac fly by Michael Young that put the Rangers ahead. Amory native and former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland hasn’t played yet for Texas; he was on deck as a possible pinch hitter in the eighth Thursday but was called back. Still think we’ll see a Lynn-Moreland confrontation before this one’s over. … On Saturday, in Game 3, we’ll definitely see a matchup between former M-Braves left-hander Matt Harrison and ex-Jackson Generals star Lance Berkman. The switch-hitting Berkman, 3-for-8 in the series for the Cards, will have to bat from his least favorite side, right-handed, against Harrison, who has made two solid postseason starts for the Rangers (1-0, five runs in 10 2/3 innings). But Berkman did get a big two-run hit against lefty C.J. Wilson in Game 1.
P.S. Southern Miss’ recruiting class was ranked No. 3 in the nation by Baseball America. Ole Miss checked in at No. 5 and Mississippi State at No. 14. All three schools ranked in the top 20 of Collegiate Baseball’s recruiting rankings released last month.

19 Oct

winds of change

Aaron Holbert is the fifth manager of the Mississippi Braves — and the first to come from outside the organization. Brian Snitker, Jeff Blauser, Phillip Wellman and Rocket Wheeler all played, coached and/or managed in the Atlanta organization before arriving in Pearl. Holbert, who had a brief major league career, came up with St. Louis as a first-round draft pick — old Smith-Wills Stadium denizens will remember him as a shortstop for the Arkansas Travelers in 1994 — and managed the last four years in the Cleveland Indians’ system. He was the Carolina League manager of the year this past season. The Braves did not announce the Double-A coaches on Tuesday but did make several other appointments. Don Long will be the new roving hitting instructor, Luis Lopez the infield instructor and Doug Dascenzo the outfield and baserunning instructor. Atlanta’s minor league operations department is under new management since mid-September, when Kurt Kemp resigned. Bruce Manno, an assistant general manager in Atlanta, took the minor league department under his wing, and Ronnie Richardson, a former Kemp assistant, became the new director of player development. Change seems to be a theme for the system, which might be a good thing for the Double-A club. The M-Braves went 61-79 (36-34 in the second half) last season under Wheeler, who will manage the rookie Gulf Coast League club in 2012. In seven years in Pearl, the M-Braves have sent 57 players to the majors but won just two (of 14 possible) half-season titles and one Southern League pennant.