31 Jul

life of riley

With one out in the bottom of the ninth, runner at first base in a scoreless game in Atlanta, Austin Riley took a cutter down and in from Arizona’s Mark Melancon and drove it into the gap in right-center, scoring Matt Olson with the game-winning run. What else did you expect? Fans at Truist Park were chanting “MVP, MVP” as Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, came to the plate, and he certainly has made a case. Here are the juicy numbers:
26: Extra base hits in July, most in a month by a Braves player, topping Hank Aaron’s 25 in 1961.
11: Home runs in July.
25: RBIs in July.
.423: Batting average in July.
.301: Batting average for the season.
29: Homers for the season.
31: Doubles for the season.
68: RBIs for the season.
61: Runs for the season.
.360: On-base percentage for the season.
.604: Slugging percentage for the season.
Only one Mississippi native, high school or college product has ever won an MVP: Grenada native Dave Parker with Pittsburgh in the National League in 1978. Riley, a Memphis native who grew up in Southaven, still has work to do, obviously, but he is building a jaw-dropping resume.

31 Jul

officially famous

The baseball branch of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame is quite impressive, featuring major league Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell, William Foster and Dizzy Dean plus an array of other stars who could form a juggernaut of a dream team. That roster added a pair of luminaries on Saturday, when Barry Lyons and David Dellucci were formally inducted into the state shrine. Lyons, a catcher, was a standout at Biloxi High and Delta State (under the legendary Boo Ferriss) and with the Double-A Jackson Mets on his path to the big leagues. He was the proverbial aircraft carrier for the 1985 Texas League champion JaxMets. He debuted with the New York Mets in 1986, when they won their second World Series, and played parts of six more years in the big leagues. What’s more, he is one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet. Dellucci, an outfielder and also a very personable fellow, played four years at Ole Miss, earning All-America recognition and winning an SEC batting crown in 1995. He would go on to play 13 years in the big leagues, batting .256 and winning a World Series ring with the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, the team built (though not managed) by Buck Showalter. Dellucci now works for the SEC Network. Lyons and Dellucci join a Hall of Fame team that includes Guy Bush and Buddy Myer, Will Clark and Jeff Brantley, Don Kessinger and Joe Gibbon, Jim Davenport and Roy Oswalt, plus many more. Those are names to know. And if you don’t know them, perhaps you should visit the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson. You’d be impressed. P.S. On Saturday in San Francisco, Will Clark’s No. 22 was retired by the Giants in a big pregame ceremony. The former Mississippi State star was drafted No. 2 overall by the Giants in 1985 at a time when the club was struggling. Two years later, they won the National League West. Two years after that, they went to the World Series. Clark “made it cool to be a Giants fan again,” a teammate said. No. 22 jerseys and T-shirts were all over Oracle Park on Saturday. Clark was a five-time All-Star during his eight seasons with the Giants and still ranks among the franchise leaders in numerous hitting categories.

30 Jul

bring the wood

Since coming off the injured list in late June, Brandon Woodruff has been putting the hurt on opposing batters. The Mississippi State product from Wheeler, now working for the Milwaukee Brewers, beat Boston at Fenway Park on Friday night, his fourth win (against no losses) in six starts since his IL stint. Woodruff (9-3, 3.55 ERA, on the season) checked the Red Sox on four hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings, allowing one run and punching out nine in the 4-1 win that kept the first-place Brewers 3 games up on St. Louis in the National League Central. “If I can get ahead and mix it up a little bit …,” he told mlb.com in casually explaining his success. Over his last six starts, Woodruff has a 2.06 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and 48 strikeouts in 35 innings. “Very happy to hand him the ball every five days,” manager Craig Counsell told Sportsnaut before Friday’s game. Woodruff has matched his win total from a hard-luck 2021 and seems certain to surpass his career-high 11 wins in 2019. He was an All-Star in both of those seasons. The big right-hander was an 11th-round draft pick in 2014 after an uneven career at State; it might rank as one of Milwaukee’s shrewdest picks ever. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn, who started this season on the IL, allowed three homers in the Chicago White Sox’s 7-3 loss at home to Oakland. Lynn is 1-4, 6.42 ERA, in nine starts. He was an 11-game winner and an All-Star in 2021. The White Sox fell to 49-50 and might lose Tim Anderson to a suspension. The East Central Community College alum appeared to bump the home plate umpire in Friday’s game while arguing his ejection for protesting a strike call. … Former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley, who homered and doubled twice in Atlanta’s 5-2 win vs. Arizona, is batting .427 with 11 homers, 13 doubles, 21 runs and 24 RBIs in July. … Southern Miss left-hander Dalton Rogers, the third player picked from the state in this year’s draft (third round), has signed with Boston for a reported $447,500, according to mlb.com. USM pitcher Landon Harper (14th round) reportedly has signed with Atlanta.

29 Jul

still grinding

In the category Best Performance by a Mississippian on a Team Going Nowhere, here’s a nominee: Nathaniel Lowe, Texas Rangers. Ex-Mississippi State standout Lowe hit a home run and a triple off Shohei Ohtani on Thursday night in the Rangers’ 2-0 win against the Los Angeles Angels. Lowe, hitting .370 over his last seven games, is batting .276 with 15 homers and 43 RBIs for the Rangers (44-54). A 13th-round draft pick out of State back in 2016, Lowe is now in his fourth MLB campaign, second with Texas. He has 97 hits this season and his next will be his 300th total in The Show. He is a .265 career hitter. A few other praiseworthy performances from Thursday down on the farm: Ex-Columbia High star Ti’Quan Forbes hit two doubles and a homer, driving in six runs, for Double-A Amarillo in the Arizona system. Forbes is at .247 with seven homers. … Ole Miss product Thomas Dillard went 2-for-3 with his eighth homer for Double-A Biloxi, which got a win over Montgomery but is in last place in the Southern League South. … Davis Bradshaw, a Meridian Community College product from McLaurin, went 1-for-3 for High-A Beloit in the Miami chain and raised his average to .322. He has 23 RBIs, 23 runs and eight steals in 67 games. He is a career .302 hitter in four pro seasons. … Southern Miss alum Reed Trimble, only recently activated from the injured list, extended his hit streak to four games and is 6-for-20 (.300) for Low-A Delmarva in the Baltimore system. He was the 65th overall pick in 2021. P.S. Tyler Stuart, the 6-foot-9 right-hander from USM, has signed with the New York Mets, per mlb.com. He was a sixth-round pick. … Detroit has announced that Spencer Turnbull, the Madison Central High alum, won’t pitch in the big leagues this season. The right-hander had Tommy John surgery last summer, shortly after throwing a no-hitter on May 18. He was 4-2, 2.88 ERA, in 2021 and is 11-25, 4.25, for his MLB career with the Tigers. … On this date in 1966, Clarksdale native Fred Valentine had a day: a franchise-record seven hits, including two doubles, and four RBIs in a doubleheader for the Washington Senators. He hit .247 over a seven-year career.

28 Jul

clearing ahead?

A corrective lens in his right eye may have put Joe Gray Jr. back on track in his fourth pro season. The Hattiesburg High product, a second-round pick by Milwaukee in 2018 and a highly regarded prospect in the system ever since, got off to a slow start this season at High-Class A Wisconsin. The right-handed hitting outfielder went through a miserable 1-for-48 slump in June before finally realizing something was wrong with his vision, according to a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Gray had Lasik surgery in the off-season, but the vision in his right eye somehow got worse. “It just sucked that it took me half of the season to figure that out,” he told the Journal Sentinel. The Brewers’ No. 13 prospect was hitting .163 before getting the corrective lens; he is up to .191 as of today with a seven-game hitting streak. He has 12 home runs and 16 stolen bases. Coming off a year in which he batted .252 with 20 homers and 23 steals, Gray, only 22, had hoped to make Double-A Biloxi this season. Now that he is back to, in his words, “having fun,” he still might get that promotion before the Southern League season ends in mid-September.

28 Jul

worth noting

Into each season, some lowlights must fall. Mississippi State alum Kendall Graveman experienced one on Wednesday. On in the ninth inning to close out a win for the Chicago White Sox at Colorado, Graveman walked the first three batters and then yielded a two-run, walk-off single. He threw 17 pitches, only five for strikes in the 6-5 defeat. “I just didn’t get the job done,” he told mlb.com. “Obviously, that one’s on me … I’m better than that.” It was his fifth blown save in 10 chances and bumped his ERA to 2.89. He was the fifth reliever called on by manager Tony LaRussa; regular closer Liam Hendriks was down. There have been too many lowlights for the 2022 White Sox, the defending American League Central champs now stuck in third place at 49-49. … DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley saw his 18-game hitting streak end in Atlanta’s ugly 7-2 loss at Philadelphia. He went 0-for-4. The Braves put former Mississippi Braves star Michael Harris II in the leadoff spot for the first time, but the rookie sensation went 0-for-4. … In what apparently was Jacob deGrom’s last rehab start for the New York Mets, he was taken deep by former M-Braves standout Drew Waters, now with Triple-A Omaha in the Kansas City system. Waters, the Southern League batting champ in 2019, might be in line for his first call-up after the Royals’ trade of Andrew Benintendi to the New York Yankees. … Current M-Braves star Vaughn Grissom hit his second Double-A home run in a loss at Pensacola. Grissom is batting .370 in 11 games for Mississippi. … At Low-A Augusta in Atlanta’s system, ex-Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout Brandon Parker hit two bombs, giving him nine on the season. The outfielder is batting .288 in his second year at that level. … Add Ole Miss’ Brandon Johnson (Kansas City) and MSU’s Brad Cumbest (Colorado), Jackson Fristoe (Yankees) and Kamren James (Tampa Bay) to the list of MLB draft signees confirmed by mlb.com. Also, former Southern Miss (and Delta State) star Hunter Riggins has signed as an undrafted free agent with the Braves.

27 Jul

central casting

There is a three-team battle going on in the American League Central, and a bunch of Magnolia State products were on the frontlines Tuesday in three different skirmishes. Start in Boston, where former Southern Miss pitcher Kirk McCarty, making just his fourth big league appearance, delivered four shutout innings and got his first MLB win in Cleveland’s 8-3 victory at Fenway Park. “It’s special,” said McCarty, who in the last couple weeks was claimed on waivers by Baltimore and then reclaimed by the Guardians. The left-hander allowed just one hit and one walk while fanning four. He followed fellow former Golden Eagles star Nick Sandlin in what was a bullpen game for Cleveland. Sandlin, who has a 2.81 ERA, got the last two outs of the third inning. The Guardians (49-47) moved to within 2 1/2 games of first-place Minnesota (52-45) in the AL Central after the Twins lost at Milwaukee. The Brewers gave former Mississippi State star Ethan Small his second big league start, and it was a little rough, much like his first one back in May. Small yielded a leadoff home run to Byron Buxton, three more hits, four walks and two more runs in 3 2/3 innings. He has a 7.11 ERA in his two MLB games. However, the Brewers, the first-place team in the National League Central, rallied to win 7-6, aided by ex-State slugger Hunter Renfroe’s 17th home run. Meanwhile, the Chicago White Sox (49-48, 3 games back in the AL Central) kept pace with their third straight win, beating Colorado at Coors Field 2-1. Ex-State standout Kendall Graveman worked a scoreless eighth inning for Chicago, notching his 15th hold. East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson, the ChiSox’s All-Star shortstop, had a hand in all four of the double plays the team turned in that game. P.S. Props to former Mississippi Braves manager Brian Snitker for notching his 500th win with Atlanta on Tuesday. His club, the reigning World Series champion, has won four straight NL East titles. … South Panola High product Emaarion Boyd, one of the two prep players drafted (11th round) out of the state last week, reportedly has signed with Philadelphia. He is the seventh player of 23 drafted to sign, according to mlb.com (see previous posts).

26 Jul

whatever happened to …

Jonathan Holder, the former Mississippi State standout from Gulfport, made his first appearance of 2022 on Monday, throwing an inning for the Chicago Cubs’ Arizona Complex League team. He allowed a hit but no runs and struck out a pair for the rookie club. The 29-year-old right-hander is on a rehab assignment from Triple-A Iowa; he is not on the Cubs’ 40-man roster. From 2017-19, Holder was a significant piece of the New York Yankees’ bullpen, and he has a career 4.38 ERA in 157 MLB games. After a rough 2020 season in New York, he became a free agent and signed with the Cubs. Beset by shoulder issues, Holder pitched in only two games, both in the minors, last season. He re-signed as a minor leaguer last fall and went to major league spring camp before being shut down again. P.S. Ex-State star Ethan Small has been recalled by Milwaukee and is slated to make his second big league start today against Minnesota. The big left-hander is 6-4, 3.34 ERA, at Triple-A Nashville. He gave up four hits, four walks and two runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Cubs in his big league debut on May 30. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley extended his hitting streak to 17 games for Atlanta on Monday; he is batting .435 with eight homers and 15 RBIs during that span. … MSU alum Buck Showalter, current Mets manager and former Yankees manager (1992-95), will get his first taste of the Subway Series tonight when the first-place teams meet at CitiField. … Three Ole Miss products, all sixth-round MLB draft picks, have signed or agreed to terms, per mlb.com: pitcher Derek Diamond (Pittsburgh), catcher Hayden Dunhurst (Kansas City) and pitcher — and College World Series hero — Dylan DeLucia (Cleveland).

25 Jul

climbing the chart

With his third home run in three games, all wins by the first-place Milwaukee Brewers, Hunter Renfroe moved into the top 10 Sunday on the all-time homer list among Mississippi-born players in the big leagues. The Crystal Springs native and former Mississippi State star has 144 career homers, equaling the total of Hattiesburg native Charlie Hayes. Gulfport’s Bill Melton and Greenville’s Frank White are tied for eighth at 160. The all-time leader is Vicksburg native Ellis Burks with 352. Amory’s Mitch Moreland, not formally retired but not currently playing, stands sixth with 186. Renfroe has 16 homers this year, his seventh in MLB. His career-high is 33, which he reached with San Diego in 2019. The Padres, his original club, traded him to Tampa Bay, where he hit eight homers but batted just .156 in 42 games in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The Rays non-tendered Renfroe, and he signed with Boston, where he had a huge year with 31 homers, 33 doubles, 96 RBIs and a .259 average. Nevertheless, the Red Sox traded him to Milwaukee. P.S. Dakota Hudson threw five strong innings (five hits, one run, three walks, six strikeouts) in a rehab start for Triple-A Memphis in the St. Louis chain. The ex-MSU standout, who went on the injured list with a neck strain, is 6-6 with a 4.10 ERA for the Cardinals. … The signing deadline for 2022 draftees with college eligibility remaining is a week from today, and to this point three Mississippi products have signed, according to mlb.com. Mississippi State’s Landon Sims, the first player from the state to go at No. 34 overall, signed for a reported $2.4 million with Arizona. State’s Logan Tanner, the No. 55 pick, got $1.03M from Cincinnati. And 20th-round pick Ke’Shun Collier from Meridian Community College inked with the Chicago Cubs for $100,000.

24 Jul

summer of straw

In the summer of 1982, Cal Ripken started his consecutive games streak and Gaylord Perry won his 300th game. Dale Murphy and Robin Yount were putting up MVP numbers for postseason-bound teams in the big leagues. Forty years ago, Oil Can Boyd was blowing away hitters in the Eastern League, Buck Showalter was cranking out hits in the Southern League and Brian Snitker was managing his first team in Anderson, S.C. In Jackson, Miss., at Smith-Wills Stadium, 1982 was the Summer of Straw. Darryl Strawberry made his Double-A debut with the Jackson Mets that season. He was 20 years old, a California kid starting just his third pro season in the New York Mets’ system. No one really knew what his future held — but a lot of folks thought it would be special. “There was a tremendous amount of hype when he arrived,” said Bill Walberg, longtime radio broadcaster for Jackson’s Double-A teams. “He was the No. 1 overall pick (in the 1980 MLB draft). The unusual name was another thing that attracted attention. Plus, he was tall (6 feet 6), he hit with power, he could run and he was a plus-defender in the outfield. … Clearly, he was as hyped as any player who ever came into Jackson in the Texas League era.” Strawberry’s numbers at Class A Lynchburg in 1981 weren’t jaw-dropping: .255, 13 homers, 78 RBIs, 31 steals. And he was joined in the 1982 JaxMets outfield by two other former first-round picks and well-regarded prospects, Billy Beane and Terry Blocker. But Strawberry, presaging his impact in New York a few years later, immediately became the straw that stirred the drink. He hit for the cycle in his first Double-A game. Jackson’s home field, Smith-Wills, had a reputation as tough park for hitting home runs. It was no problem for Strawberry. “He hit these towering home runs,” Walberg said. “People might remember the old Marlboro Man sign out in right-center field. He came close many times to hitting the man in the head. Another player told me that Strawberry had heard the ball didn’t carry at Smith-Wills and he wanted to prove he could make it carry.” Strawberry finished that season with a franchise-record 34 homers that still stood when the team moved to Texas in 2000. He also set a record with 45 steals, batted .283, hit nine triples, drove in 97 runs and walked 100 times. He was named the league MVP. The next year, he won National League rookie of the year honors with the big Mets. At a recent reunion of JaxMets players in Jackson, Strawberry acknowledged that the summer of ’82 was when his pro career took off, when he really developed the confidence he could play in the majors. He would go on to be an eight-time All-Star, a three-time World Series champ, a seven-time Sports Illustrated cover boy. “I found him to be a likable, very mature person with immense potential as a player that he realized,” Walberg said. Strawberry had some highly publicized off-field problems during his career which he overcame through his religious faith, and he is now a widely sought-after motivational speaker. During that reunion at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, which featured a bunch of former JaxMets heroes, Strawberry was the main attraction among fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures. Forty years after the Summer of Straw.