16 Feb

short story

We live in a golden age for shortstops. Look around the big leagues and you see Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Xander Bogaerts at the forefront of a young class that also includes the likes of Trevor Story, Dansby Swanson, Orlando Arcia and East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson. Third base is called the hot corner, but shortstop is a hot spot these days, a position where you’re expected to hit, field and oftentimes lead, as well. Here in the Magnolia State, the players on that spot at the Big 4 Division I schools bring different levels of experience to the job along with intriguing potential. … Jackson State’s shortstop is Cornelius Copeland, a senior and an All-SWAC pick in 2016, his first year in the program after transferring from a Florida junior college. Copeland, who was drafted out of high school, hit .422 with five homers last season. His defense could stand to improve; he made 23 errors (an .895 fielding percentage) in 54 games. … At Mississippi State, junior Ryan Gridley is a returning starter at short and could be poised for a breakout year. He had a solid if unspectacular 2016 campaign, batting .284. New Bulldogs coach Andy Cannizaro, a shortstop in his playing days, has raved about Gridley’s defense and leadership skills. … At Southern Miss, they’re replacing Nick Dawson, who was a mainstay – and a .328 hitter — on the C-USA championship club. Tracy Hadley, a senior from Pascagoula by way of Pearl River CC, and Northwest Mississippi CC transfer LeeMarcus Boyd were vying for the job in preseason camp. Hadley hit .256 in 39 games for the Golden Eagles last year. Boyd was a dynamic player at NWCC — .339, three homers, 21 steals – but might need time to adjust to the pitching at the D-I level. … At Ole Miss, they’re handing the reins to a true freshman. But Grae Kessinger isn’t just any freshman. He was a prep All-America at Oxford High, a four-time All-State player, a two-time state champion and an MLB draftee in 2016. And, yes, he’s the grandson of the great Don Kessinger and the son of Kevin Kessinger, also a Rebels star. Grae carries a lot of expectations into the season, which starts Friday in Oxford against East Carolina. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be,” Kessinger told the Oxford Eagle. His career should be fun to watch. … State opens Friday at Dudy Noble Field against Texas Tech, USM welcomes Northeastern to Taylor Park that same day and J-State takes on Morehead State and Jacksonville on Saturday at Braddy Field. P.S. As a fund-raising event for storm-damaged William Carey University, the Biloxi Shuckers will play the Crusaders in an exhibition game on April 4 at MGM Park. For the record: The Crusaders will have to use wood bats.

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