Ready for some live baseball? Head for Blue Mountain on Jan. 30. The much-anticipated 2021 college season will commence in the Magnolia State two weeks from today, when Blue Mountain College hosts Rust College in a twinbill at the BMC SportsPlex. The Toppers are slated to play their first 19 games at home. BMC went 10-15 before play was abruptly halted in 2020, the NAIA program’s 11th season. … NCAA Division II members Mississippi College and Delta State are scheduled to open Feb. 6, as is NAIA Tougaloo. NAIA William Carey opens Feb. 12. Belhaven University’s schedule lists an invitational tournament, co-hosted with fellow NCAA Division III member Millsaps College, for Smith-Wills Stadium between Feb. 12-21. The NCAA Division I start date is Feb. 19, though the Big 3’s schedules have not been posted. Jackson State’s schedule lists the Tigers’ first game as Feb. 23 at Mississippi State.
Three Mississippi State products avoided arbitration hearings by agreeing to new MLB contracts on Friday. Brandon Woodruff, who has emerged as the ace of the Milwaukee staff, got a nice pay raise, jumping from a 2020 salary of $633,100 to a reported $3.3 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility. The right-hander from Wheeler, a 2019 All-Star, is 19-11 with a 3.66 ERA in three-plus seasons in the majors. He went 3-5, 3.05 in last year’s abbreviated campaign. Chris Stratton, also an MSU alum, got $1.1M deal from Pittsburgh in his first year of arbitration eligibility. The Tupelo native, who made $507,500 in 2020, is 18-18 with a 4.97 ERA over parts of five seasons and posted a 3.90 in 27 relief outings last season. Ex-State star Adam Frazier, Pittsburgh’s second baseman last year, agreed to a $4.3M contract as a second-year arbitration eligible player. The .273 career hitter made $2.8M last year, when he batted .230. There has been speculation he’ll be traded before the season starts.
For Luke Easter, it was Sept. 29, 1951. For Dmitri Young, it was May 6, 2003. Great days at the plate by those two Mississippi natives have been rated among the top 5 all-time single-game performances for their respective MLB teams. Writers for mlb.com compiled the lists. Jonestown native Easter’s big day came in at No. 4 for Cleveland and Vicksburg native Young’s was No. 4 for Detroit. Easter — who became on Aug. 11, 1949, the first black Mississippian to play in the major leagues — went 4-for-6 with two homers, a triple, three runs and five RBIs against Detroit on Sept. 29, 1951. One of his homers was a grand slam and the other a game-tying blast in the bottom of the eighth inning. Young went 5-for-5 with two homers, two triples and five RBIs on May 6, 2003, at Baltimore. His 15 total bases were one shy of Ty Cobb’s club record. On April 4, 2005, Young hit three homers on opening day for the Tigers. That rare feat – only three others have ever done it — didn’t make Detroit’s top five. … The Kansas City Royals’ page on mlb.com didn’t have a top 5 list as of Tuesday, but if one was produced, Frank White’s Aug. 3, 1982, performance would surely be on it. The Greenville native hit for the cycle with four RBIs. His fourth and final hit was a two-out triple in the bottom of the ninth that drove in the game-winning run against Detroit. P.S. Easter hit .274 with 93 homers in his brief big league career; he was 34 when he debuted. Young, who went to high school in California, hit .292 with 171 bombs and made two All-Star Games over his 13 seasons. White, who grew up in Missouri, was a .255 hitter, five-time All-Star, eight-time Gold Glover and a world champ (in 1985) who ought to be in the Hall of Fame.
The likely delayed start of spring training for most minor leaguers scuttles what might have been a cool scene this spring in Fort Myers, Fla., site of Boston’s spring training facility. Imagine a batting practice session that includes three big dudes from Mississippi, each a newcomer to the Red Sox, each with a well-earned reputation as a masher. Imagine Hunter Renfroe, Tyreque Reed and Blaze Jordan taking their hacks in a group. Wouldn’t that be something to see? Renfroe, 6 feet 1, 230 pounds, from Crystal Springs by way of Mississippi State, has 97 home runs over his four-plus big league seasons. The Red Sox signed him as a free agent in December. Reed is from Houlka and an Itawamba Community College product. The 6-1, 250-pound first baseman has hit 41 bombs in two-plus minor league seasons at the rookie and A-ball levels. The Red Sox took him from the Texas organization in December’s Rule 5 draft. Jordan, from prep powerhouse DeSoto Central, was drafted in the third round in 2020 and jumped in as the organization’s No. 15 prospect. The 6-2, 220 third baseman has yet to play a game above the high school level, but he has been making headlines as a slugger since he was a pre-teen. He won the high school home run derby at the 2019 MLB All-Star Game. Renfroe, Reed and Jordan, launching missiles into the Florida sky at JetBlue Park. Maybe next year. P.S. Baseball America has reported that Double-A and Class A level players won’t start spring training until after the big league and Triple-A clubs have left. That means a later start and finish to the season for the lower minors, including the Class AA Mississippi and Biloxi teams. Additionally, there will be no postseason at those levels. MLB, now running the streamlined minor leagues, has not released any schedules.
Professional baseball will return to Mississippi in 2021. Presumably. The Double-A Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers are selling season tickets, though the Southern League doesn’t have a schedule up yet. The cancelled 2020 minor league season left central Mississippi without a pro team for the first time since 2001 and just the second time since 1975, when the old Jackson Mets moved into Smith-Wills Stadium. The Texas League franchise departed in 1999 and the independent DiamondKats played just one season (2000) before folding. The indy Senators began their four-year run at Smith-Wills in 2002. But there was a pro team playing in the state 20 years ago. This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the swan song of the Greenville Bluesmen. The independent team played at Legion Field from 1996-2001 in first the Big South League and then the Texas-Louisiana League (along with the DiamondKats). The Bluesmen are remembered in some circles as the team that made a 1998 trade for a pitcher involving 10 pounds of catfish. (You can look it up.) They also won back-to-back Big South titles in 1996 and ’97. Alas, their Texas-Louisiana League years weren’t so good. They finished last every season, going 34-62 overall in 2001. Patrick O’Sullivan was the best player on that team; the former New York Mets draft pick, who played many years of pro ball, hit .323 with 18 homers. Tunica native Keith Dunn won 11 games. Southern Miss alum Danny Stout and Jackson native Sim Shanks also played on that club. There’s rich baseball history in Greenville. It’s the birthplace of former MLB stars George Scott and Frank White, and the city hosted minor league clubs in various leagues going back to 1902.