09 Apr

season to savor

Scan the roster of the 1996 Jackson Generals and it’s plain to see how that club won a Texas League pennant. They had talent. Future big leaguers on that team included Richard Hidalgo, Melvin Mora, John Halama, Russ Johnson, Mitch Meluskey, Jamie Walker, Rich Loiselle, Tom Martin, Manny Barrios, Chris Hatcher and Mike Grzanich. Among the ’96 Gens who didn’t reach The Show were former Ole Miss star Kary Bridges, who batted a team-best .324, Buck McNabb (.301, 10 steals), Dennis Colon (.280), Tim Forkner (.293, seven homers), Ryan Creek and Tim Kester. The Generals, managed by the affable Dave Engle (with an assist from coach Rusty Harris), won the first half in the TL East, faded in the second and beat Tulsa (3-1) and Wichita (four straight) in the playoffs. Halama, the tall lefty, was the ace: 9-10, 3.21 ERA. Barrios had 23 saves, and relievers Walker, Martin and Grzanich (now the softball coach at Hinds Community College) combined for 16 wins and 11 saves. Hidalgo, a Venezuela native, looked like a budding superstar — and he did have a couple of big years in the majors. In Jackson, he hit .294 with 14 homers, 78 RBIs, 34 doubles and 11 steals and handled both right- and center-field duties with aplomb. Hatcher could mash (13 homers in 41 games), and Mora did a lot of things well. Johnson, the shortstop and former LSU star, was the team’s MVP, however. His numbers still dazzle: .310, 15 homers, 78 RBIs, 86 runs, 24 doubles, five triples, nine steals, a .470 slugging average, 56 walks and just 50 strikeouts. Unfortunately, he couldn’t replicate that production in the majors. It happens. It’s unfortunate also that there is nothing at Smith-Wills Stadium to commemorate the ’96 pennant — or any of the other championships from the old ballpark’s pro era. So take this occasion, the start of another season, to raise a glass for the 20th anniversary of a very special one.

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