31 Jul

summer’s end

The Magnolia State will be represented in the venerable National Baseball Congress World Series this year. The Hattiesburg Black Sox, champions of the Mississippi Baseball Congress (semi-pro) state tournament, are among the 13 teams from five states invited to play in the Kansas-based NBC event, which starts Aug. 3. The Black Sox open the double-elimination tourney against the Colorado Cyclones in Hutchinson. Some games are also being played at Wichita State’s Eck Stadium. The Black Sox won the state title – their third in a row — last weekend, beating the Jackson 96ers 5-2 in the final at Vicksburg’s Sports Force Parks on the Mississippi. Tournament MVP Casey Echols, a former Hinds Community College and Mississippi College standout, drove in two runs for the Black Sox. Hinds CC alum Justin Smith had an RBI, and ex-Warren Central and East Mississippi CC star Marcus Ragan scored the game’s first run. Delta State product Layne Tedder got the win and Clyde Kendrick, a former Texas Rangers farmhand from Vicksburg, notched the save. “These are guys that should be playing on TV,” Black Sox coach Trey Aby told the Vicksburg Post. … The Cotton States League’s postseason tournament starts tonight when the Black Prairie Mudcats play the Golden Triangle Jets and the Tallahatchie Rascals meet the Toccopola SwampMonsters in the opening round in New Albany. Round 2 of the 10-team event is Saturday. The North Delta Dealers are the top seed after a 13-3 season led by Alex Frillman (Holmes Community College), who hit .450; Dylan Hale (Northwest CC), a .405 hitter with 21 RBIs; and Walker Johnson (East Central), who is 2-0, 3.24 ERA. The Woodall Mountain Lookouts (12-6) are the 2-seed. Trace White (Delta State) batted a league-best .455 for the Lookouts. … The Deep South Collegiate League’s eight-team playoffs were slated to start Wednesday and Thursday in Poplarville and Petal. Seven Southern Miss players participated in the first-year league, including Gabe Montenegro, Hunter Stanley and Reed Trimble.

30 Jul

numbers game

Fast starts have been deemed vital in this truncated, long-delayed MLB season. A check of the stat sheets reveals a handful of Mississippi-connected players who have come out with their engine running hot. To wit: JaCoby Jones, the ex-Richton High standout, is hitting .421 after a 3-for-3 performance for Detroit on Wednesday and is tied for the big league lead with three home runs, two of which have been game-winners. … Mitch Moreland, the Mississippi State product from Amory, is batting .357 after a 2-for-4, two-RBI effort for Boston on Wednesday that included his 200th career double. … Brandon Woodruff, the MSU alum from Wheeler, allowed two baserunners and punched out 10 batters in 6 1/3 innings for Milwaukee on Wednesday, retiring 17 straight at one point. … And Lance Lynn, the ex-Ole Miss star, yielded one hit and two walks with eight K’s in six innings for Texas on Wednesday and remains unscored upon in 2020. Details, details: Jones was starting to put things together last summer when he was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken wrist, ending his year. He was hit in the faceguard of his helmet by a Kansas City pitcher on Tuesday night, a scene scarily reminiscent of April 2017, when he was hit in the face by a pitch and went on the injured list for a long spell. He bounced back with a vengeance on Wednesday with a homer and two doubles. “I’m just trying to be smooth, nice and easy, just letting my hands work. It’s paid off,” Jones told mlb.com. He’s also made some big plays in center field. … The veteran Moreland, 34, who also missed a chunk of the 2019 season with injuries, has two home runs and five RBIs for a scuffling Red Sox team that was 1-4 entering Wednesday’s game against Jacob deGrom and the New York Mets at CitiField. Moreland’s fourth-inning double ended deGrom’s 31-inning scoreless streak. Moreland picked up another RBI in the eighth on an infield hit, helping Boston rally to a 6-5 win. … Woodruff, mixing a fastball that hit 99 mph and a devastating changeup against Pittsburgh, got 20 swings-and-misses. The one hit he yielded was an infield dribbler. Said Brewers manager Craig Counsell in an mlb.com piece: “Overpowering, I think, is probably the word that best describes it.” Woodruff is 1-1 with a 1.59 ERA, 15 K’s (tied for fourth-most in MLB) and two walks in 11 1/3 innings on the season. … Lynn actually has been more dominant than Woodruff. His 0.00 ERA is tied for the majors lead, and he’s the only pitcher with two starts at that number. His 17 strikeouts rank third in MLB, and he has allowed just three hits in 12 innings of work. Lynn (1-0) is stuck on 99 career wins after taking a no-decision on Wednesday against Arizona, though the Rangers won the game late. “(I)f you give your team a chance to win every day, that’s what I’m about. So far I’ve done that,” Lynn told the Dallas Morning News. P.S. Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier, making his New York Mets debut tonight, has now been with five MLB teams in three years: Minnesota, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington, San Diego and now the Mets. The 33-year-old second baseman has been an All-Star, won a Gold Glove and earned a World Series ring. … USM product Cody Carroll and UM alum Bobby Wahl have been sent to the alternate camp by Baltimore and Milwaukee, respectively.

29 Jul

something familiar

There was a case of Bulldog on Rebel crime on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. Former Mississippi State star Adam Frazier belted a go-ahead, two-run home run off Ole Miss product Bobby Wahl in the eighth inning at PNC Park, lifting Pittsburgh to an 8-6 win against Milwaukee. It was the first homer – and just the third hit – of the season for Frazier, the Pirates’ leadoff batter. “First ball I’ve driven all year, so I kind of forgot what it felt like,” Frazier said in an mlb.com story. “It felt pretty good.” It was the second homer allowed in 2 1/3 innings this season by Wahl, who missed the 2019 season because of a torn ACL. For Frazier and Wahl, there may have been something familiar about their encounter. The two had never faced each other in an MLB game before, but they did cross paths during their college careers. Wahl left the field disappointed each time then, too. In 2011, when both were freshmen, Wahl took the loss in relief in a game won by the Bulldogs 7-6. Frazier struck out in his one appearance vs. Wahl. In 2012, State – and Chris Stratton, who pitched in relief for the Pirates on Tuesday – beat UM and Wahl 4-0. Frazier went 1-for-3 with a run against Wahl. And on May 12, 2013, in Oxford, Frazier and the Bulldogs rallied from an early six-run deficit to beat the Rebels 7-6. Frazier had a single and a walk against Wahl, who started but wasn’t in the game in the seventh when Frazier delivered a two-run single that put State ahead. Both were drafted that June, Wahl by Oakland in the fifth round, Frazier by the Pirates in the sixth. Both were in the New York-Penn League that summer as they began their climb to the majors, Frazier arriving in 2016, Wahl the next year. On Tuesday, they met up again, much to Wahl’s chagrin. P.S. Frazier will face a former State teammate tonight when Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff gets the start in Game 3 of the series between the National League Central rivals. Frazier is 4-for-10 career vs. Woodruff.

28 Jul

one step forward

The pitching line from Monday’s game wasn’t pretty for Kendall Graveman: 4-plus innings, 6 hits, 3 walks, 7 runs (6 earned), 7 strikeouts. But, as Seattle manager Scott Servais told The Seattle Times, “I thought he threw the ball a lot better than what his line will look like. It was his first time out in 800 some days.” Indeed, just being healthy and back on a big league mound for the first time since May 2018 was a measure of success for Graveman, the Mississippi State alum who made his Mariners debut in an 8-5 loss at Houston. Graveman, 29 and entering his sixth MLB season, had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and made only a couple of minor league appearances in the Chicago Cubs’ system last summer. He signed with Seattle as a free agent in the off-season and reportedly had been sharp both in spring training and summer camp. After posting two scoreless innings Monday, he ran into trouble in a four-run third, giving up a three-run homer to Alex Bregman. Graveman was lifted after a fifth-inning homer by Jose Altuve, disappointed but not discouraged. “It was a blessing and a privilege to be back out there, but, man, I wanted the outcome to be better as I’m sure many people did,” he told The Seattle Times. Drafted out of MSU by Toronto in 2013, Graveman spent four years (2015-18) with Oakland, going 23-29 with a 4.38 ERA. Houston, defending American League champion, might not be the team you’d want to make your comeback against, but it won’t get any easier for Graveman. His next start will come next weekend against the A’s, another AL West power. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss star Bobby Wahl, who also last pitched in the majors in 2018, has made two appearances for Milwaukee to date. He got a one-pitch out vs. the Cubs last Friday, then yielded a homer in his one inning of work on Sunday.

27 Jul

‘absolutely annihilated’

If you were watching, this might seem hard to believe: According to Statcast, Austin Riley’s home run on Sunday night was just the fifth-longest by an Atlanta player since this type of data began to be collected in 2015. Former DeSoto Central star Riley’s blast, part of the Braves’ 17-hit assault in a 14-1 win against the New York Mets, was measured at 458 feet. That’s 8 feet shorter than the Braves’ best, per Statcast, a 466-footer by Ronald Acuna on May 10, 2019. Freddie Freeman has a 464-footer, Acuna a 463 and Freeman a 460. Though somehow short of the team record, Riley’s majestic homer, which struck a façade on one of CitiField’s upper decks while still rising, will no doubt stick in the memory of Braves fans. “This ball was absolutely annihilated,” said ex-Braves star Chipper Jones, who was part of the ESPN broadcast team. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Riley, only 23, now has 19 homers in 284 big league at-bats, plus 86 bombs over parts of five minor league seasons. Yes, he needs to make more consistent contact (.225 average), but when he does barrel one up, take cover. “My God, that’s a big strong kid,” Braves manager Brian Snitker told mlb.com.

27 Jul

very streaky

On this date in 2008, in the midst of a memorable season for the Mississippi Braves, Matt Young set a remarkable and yet somewhat unappreciated Southern League record. The 2008 season is still the M-Braves’ lone championship year. It was also the year of Jordan Schafer’s suspension before the home opener, the team’s 6-20 April, Tommy Hanson’s no-hitter, Jeff Francoeur’s three-game return to Double-A, Tom Glavine’s rehab appearance, the “I Smell Blood” T-shirts and the dramatic run to the pennant, capped by a wild walk-off in the 10th inning of the decisive fifth game. Considering all that, it’s easy to overlook Young’s record-setting performance. Playing against Chattanooga at Trustmark Park on July 27, Young got hits in his first four at-bats, giving him hits in 11 consecutive ABs over four games. The previous SL mark was 10, and it had stood for some 30 years. Hits in 11 straight games is a nice feat. Hits in 11 straight at-bats is something else indeed. The MLB record is 12, and it was last achieved in 1952. (Young also reached base in 16 straight plate appearances from July 24-27, 2008, another league record.) The 5-foot-8 Young, who played parts of four years in Pearl, batted .289 and stole 30 bases for the ’08 M-Braves and was named the team’s player of the year. He reached the big leagues with Atlanta in 2011 but spent only a brief time in The Show and didn’t make much of an impression there. He left his mark at Trustmark Park and in the Southern League record book.

26 Jul

put it on the board

Let the record show, the first home run by a Mississippian in this long-delayed major league season was struck Saturday by Mitch Moreland, the Amory native and ex-Mississippi State standout who went yard for Boston. His 167th career bomb was a wall-scraper to right field at Fenway Park, and it came in a 7-2 loss to Baltimore. Moreland did not play in the Red Sox’s opener, a 13-2 win on Friday. Let the record also show that the first game-winning homer by a Mississippian in 2020 also was struck on Saturday. Richton High product JaCoby Jones blasted a 400-footer in the top of the ninth inning at the Great American Ball Park, giving Detroit its margin of victory in a 6-4 takedown of Cincinnati. The backstory is a good one: Jones had been directed to bunt a runner over from first but fouled off two attempts. So, swinging away with a 2-2 count, he hit his 25th career homer, beating Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. “Screw bunting,” Jones reportedly, jokingly, told Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire after he reached the dugout. “Let me hit.” … Former Mississippi Braves star Phil Gosselin went deep twice for Philadelphia on Saturday and is currently tied for the MLB lead. But Gosselin wasn’t the first former M-Brave to homer in 2020. Rio Ruiz hit one out Friday for the Orioles.

25 Jul

remember him?

Given a new lease on his baseball life by Boston in the off-season, former Mississippi Braves star Jose Peraza showed his gratitude with a smashing debut on Friday night. Peraza, starting at second base, went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs in the Red Sox’s 13-2 season-opening rout of Baltimore at Fenway Park. Cincinnati gave up on Peraza after the 2019 season — he was not offered a contract after a .239 campaign — and the Red Sox, looking for a replacement for Dustin Pedroia, signed the five-year veteran. M-Braves fans might recall that Peraza arrived in Pearl in mid-2014 as a hot-shot prospect who would play in the Futures Game that summer. Atlanta sent him, along with Alex Wood and Luis Avilan, to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015 in the infamous Hector Olivera trade. Peraza was traded again in 2016 to Cincinnati, where he had some good moments before slumping last season. A career .275 hitter with 77 steals, he looks like a good fit in Boston. P.S. William Contreras, a 2019 M-Braves catcher, made his MLB debut with Atlanta on Friday. At least 150 players have now advanced from Double-A Mississippi to The Show since Brian McCann first made the trip in 2005.

24 Jul

on your mark …

From a Mississippi perspective, there is much to absorb today on Opening Day Take 2 of the 2020 season. Brandon Woodruff goes to the bump for Milwaukee, while Lance Lynn starts for Texas in the first game at Globe Life Field. Former Mississippi Braves Mike Soroka (Atlanta) and Charlie Morton (Tampa Bay) also drew Game 1 assignments. Austin Riley makes his first Opening Day appearance for the Braves, starting at third base. Faces in new places include Corey Dickerson with Miami, Jarrod Dyson in Pittsburgh, Hunter Renfroe in Tampa Bay, Kendall Graveman with Seattle, Mike Mayers with the Los Angeles Angels and Drew Pomeranz in San Diego, where the peripatetic lefty actually has been before. Anthony Alford and Jacob Waguespack made the roster for the team with no home, the Toronto Blue Jays. Billy Hamilton is now with San Francisco and Brian Dozier with the New York Mets (as of Wednesday), but neither made the Game 1 roster. Bobby Wahl, who made Milwaukee’s roster, was in the team’s system in 2019 but down most of the year with an injury, so he has yet to make his Brewers debut. Cody Reed, who made just three big league appearances in 2019, is on Cincinnati’s 30-man roster. Cody Carroll, who didn’t get an MLB look in an injury-marred 2019, made Baltimore’s roster. Perhaps no player appreciates being back in a big league unie more than Graveman, the former Mississippi State star who last pitched in the majors more than two years ago. He said in a recent mlb.com piece that he’ll likely get emotional when he makes his first start next week. He also said he’ll miss the crowds: “To me, that interaction with a fan on a daily basis, giving a ball to a 10-year-old kid at his first game or whatever it may be, kids are going to remember that. That’s the thing I’ll miss the most. And the electricity the fans bring. So it’ll be different.” Yes, it will — in many ways.

23 Jul

support staff

As recently as 2018, there were seven managers with Mississippi ties running games in the big leagues. As the 2020 season finally opens, there are but two left: Ex-Mississippi Braves manager Brian Snitker in Atlanta and former Jackson Mets infielder Ron Gardenhire in Detroit. State-connected coaches on MLB staffs are a bit more plentiful, and the list includes one making a special debut on the big stage: Antoan Richardson. The former M-Braves outfielder, who spent parts of 2010 and ’11 in Pearl, is the first-base coach for San Francisco, having been added to new manager Gabe Kapler’s crew in January. Richardson is the first native of the Bahamas to coach in the majors. He also made a name for himself as a player in 2014, when he scored the game-winning run on Derek Jeter’s walk-off hit in his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium. Other connected coaches: Louisville native and ex-East Central Community College star Marcus Thames is again the hitting coach for the New York Yankees. … Former Jackson Generals hitting coach Dave Hudgens – the Houston Astros’ hitting coach during the scandalized 2017 season — is the bench coach for Toronto. … Gardenhire’s Detroit staff includes JaxMets alum Rick Anderson as pitching coach and Jackson State product Dave Clark as first-base coach. … Al Pedrique, a fan favorite as a JaxMets shortstop in the early 1980s, is the third-base coach in Oakland. … Ole Miss alum Mickey Callaway, manager of the New York Mets in 2018-19, is now the pitching coach under Joe Maddon with the Los Angeles Angels. … JaxMets alum Tim Bogar returns as first-base coach for World Series champ Washington. … Marty Reed, a former M-Braves pitching coach, is the bullpen coach in Atlanta. … Ex-M-Braves standout Eric Duncan is now an assistant hitting coach in Miami. … Chris Young, a Mississippi State product from Biloxi who was Philadelphia’s pitching coach in 2019, is now bullpen coach for the Chicago Cubs. … Alan Zinter, a former JaxMets catcher, is the new hitting coach in Cincinnati. … Former Biloxi Shuckers pitching coach Chris Hook new fills that role in Milwaukee. … Colorado’s staff includes a pair of JaxMets alums: Dave Magadan is the hitting coach and Ron Gideon the first-base coach. … Laurel native and veteran big league coach Bobby Dickerson is in his first year as bench/infield coach in San Diego.