11 Jul

down memory lane

There are 12 — count ’em, 12 — players in Seattle for tonight’s MLB All-Star Game who did minor league time with one of Mississippi’s two Double-A clubs. Four will not participate for various reasons, but there are three in the National League starting lineup: Ronald Acuna, Freddie Freeman and Orlando Arcia. On the bench for the NL are Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies and in the bullpen Craig Kimbrel, Josh Hader and Corbin Burnes. Selected for the game but sitting this one out are Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder, Dansby Swanson and Devin Williams. Acuna, Arcia, Riley, Albies, Strider and Elder are among the eight Atlanta players named to the NL team.
Here’s a quick trip down the Mississippi memory lane: Freeman, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, arrived in Mississippi — along with Jason Heyward — on July 4, 2009. Bugged by some injury issues, he hit .248 with two homers and 24 RBIs in 41 games for the M-Braves. Acuna’s stint in Pearl was a bit more spectacular: He homered on the first pitch he saw at Trustmark Park in 2017 and hit eight more in 57 games, batting .326 and swiping 14 bases. Arcia was Milwaukee’s No. 1 prospect when he played in Biloxi in 2015; he spent the entire year with the Shuckers and hit .307. Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, played parts of two years (2017 and ’18) with the M-Braves and hit over .300 with 14 homers in 75 games all told. Albies arrived in Pearl in 2016 (as a shortstop) and in 82 games hit .321 with four homers and 33 RBIs. Swanson, now with the Chicago Cubs, came up midway through the 2016 season, took over at shortstop and batted .261 with eight homers in 81 games for the M-Braves before Atlanta called him up that August. Strider and Elder both pitched for the ’21 M-Braves, who won the league championship. Strider went 3-7 with a 4.71 ERA but fanned 94 batters in 63 innings. Elder was 7-1 with a 3.21. Kimbrel, now with Philadelphia, blew through Pearl late in the 2009 season, going 6-for-6 in save opps with an 0.77 ERA in 12 games. Hader, now with San Diego, pitched for Biloxi — as a starter — in 2015 and ’16; in the latter season, he posted an 0.95 ERA in 11 games. Burnes, a Milwaukee starter, went 3-3, 2.10, for the Shuckers in 2017, and Williams, now the Brewers’ closer, toiled in Biloxi in 2019, going 7-2 with four saves and a 2.36 ERA in 31 appearances.
P.S. In addition to Riley, two other Magnolia State school alums are in Seattle. Brent Rooker, who has 16 homers for Oakland, is Mississippi State’s 12th All-Star selection. Lucedale native and George County High product Justin Steele, 9-2, 2.56 ERA, for the Cubs, was strongly considered for the starting job that went to Zac Gallen. The only Mississippi native to start an All-Star Game is Claude Passeau, who did so in 1946 while with the Cubs. He took the loss at Fenway Park. Passeau, born in Waynesboro, is buried in Lucedale.

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