24 Nov

handsome reward

A strong 2021 season has paid off for Kendall Graveman, the ex-Mississippi State star who reportedly has agreed to a 3-year, $24 million contract with the Chicago White Sox. Graveman put up a 1.77 ERA over 53 games last year split between Seattle and Houston. He allowed just two runs in 11 postseason innings for the Astros, who reached the World Series. Graveman, 31, converted from starter to reliever with the Mariners in 2020 after missing the 2019 season with Tommy John surgery. Drafted in the eighth round out of Starkville in 2013 by Toronto, he is a seven-year MLB vet. He’ll join a White Sox team that won the American League Central in 2021 and features Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn and Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet on its pitching staff along with All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson, a former East Central Community College standout. USA Today Sports Weekly rates Graveman 29th among the available free agents this off-season. Also in the top 106 are Mississippians Corey Dickerson (64) and Mitch Moreland (104).

15 Nov

sad news

Julio Lugo, the shortstop on the last Jackson Generals team in 1999, has died at 45 of an apparent heart attack, according to various reports. Lugo, a 12-year big leaguer, was one of the best shortstops to pass through Jackson in its 25-year Texas League era. He batted .319 with 10 homers, 42 RBIs, 22 steals and 77 runs in 116 games for the ’99 Generals, Houston’s Double-A team at the time. The Dominican Republic native debuted in the majors in 2000 with the Astros, won a World Series with Boston in 2007 and finished his MLB career with Atlanta in 2011. He hit .269 for his career.

02 Nov

market outlook

The most intriguing name on the list of Mississippians headed for free agency this off-season belongs to one who is still playing. Kendall Graveman, the ex-Mississippi State star now pitching for Houston in the World Series, will hit the market after the series concludes. Having found great success since switching from starter to reliever in 2020, the 30-year-old right-hander ought to attract many suitors. He put up a 1.77 ERA in 53 games split between Seattle and the Astros this season and has a 1.64 in 11 postseason innings, including the final two of the Game 5 victory in Atlanta. He was on a 1-year, $1.25 million deal this season; he’ll command a lot more this off-season. Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson also should be an attractive free agent. The left-handed hitting outfielder batted .271 with six homers and 29 RBIs in an injury-shortened season split between Miami and Toronto. He played well down the stretch for the Blue Jays as they chased a playoff berth. The 2022 season will be McComb native Dickerson’s 10th in MLB; he made $17.5M over 2020-21. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of interest Mitch Moreland, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton and JaCoby Jones draw on the market. Amory native and MSU alum Moreland, 36, a 12-year vet with a good track record, hit just .227 with 10 homers in 81 games for Oakland and finished the season on the injured list with a wrist issue. Dyson, from McComb and Southwest Mississippi CC, is 37 and also a 12-year vet. He batted .207 with 10 stolen bases in 2021 between Kansas City and Toronto. He was used mainly as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. Hamilton, the former Taylorsville High standout, filled a similar role for the Chicago White Sox, batting .220 with nine steals, 23 runs and 11 RBIs. He also spent time on the IL. Jones, a former Mr. Baseball at Richton High, finished 2021 in the minors, having lost his roster spot with Detroit. The oft-injured 29-year-old outfielder hit .170 in 36 big league games in his sixth MLB campaign. A minor league deal with a spring invite might be the best he can hope for.

30 Oct

shout-out to …

Barry Lyons, who touched all the bases on his path to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, an honor that was announced Friday. Lyons was born in Biloxi, played high school ball there, became an All-America catcher at Delta State and starred for the 1985 Jackson Mets, who won the Texas League championship. He made his big league debut with the New York Mets in 1986, though he did not have a postseason appearance for the World Series champs. Lyons is still heavily involved in baseball on the Coast.
David Dellucci, an All-America outfielder at Ole Miss and an SEC batting champion who also earned the state Hall of Fame nod. Dellucci played 13 years in the majors and won a World Series ring with the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks.
Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product who delivered a clutch hit (again) for Atlanta, driving in the first run with a third-inning double in the 2-0 win Friday night against Houston in Game 3 of the World Series. “Hunting windows,” as he likes to say, Riley has produced seven RBIs this postseason.
Ian Anderson, the ex-Mississippi Braves ace who threw five no-hit innings at the Astros in Game 3. Anderson, who had a hand in a no-no with the M-Braves in 2019, has a 1.26 career postseason ERA, tied with Meridian Community College alum Cliff Lee for the second-best by any pitcher over his first eight starts.
Kendall Graveman, the ex-Mississippi State standout and Astros reliever who had not allowed a home run to a right-handed batter all year before the Braves’ Travis d’Arnaud took him deep on Friday night. Graveman has yielded just two runs in nine postseason innings for the Astros after posting a 3.13 ERA during the season.
Desmond Jennings, the former Itawamba CC two-sport star who turns 35 today. Jennings played seven years in the big leagues with Tampa Bay, batting .245 with 55 homers and 95 stolen bases.

28 Oct

a mississippi moment

The Boston Red Sox, cursed for so many years, won their second World Series in a four-year span on this date in 2007, and the four-game sweep ended with a faceoff between two Mississippi college alums. Mississippi State product Jonathan Papelbon struck out ex-Ole Miss star Seth Smith for the final out of the Red Sox’s 4-3 win against Colorado in Game 4 at Coors Field. Though both would play on for many more years, that moment marked the last World Series appearance for either. Smith, a Jackson native and Hillcrest Christian grad, was a rookie in 2007, having gotten just eight at-bats (five hits) during the regular season. The lefty-hitting outfielder retired after the 2017 season with a .261 career average and 126 homers. Papelbon was in his third MLB campaign in 2007; he notched 37 saves that season and saved the last three games of the ’07 Series. He finished his career in 2016 with 368 saves, currently 10th on the all-time list. Papelbon and Smith, who had faced each other during their college days, met just twice more in the majors after the ’07 moment. Papelbon got Smith in a 2010 Red Sox-Rockies game, and Smith doubled off Papelbon in a 2014 San Diego-Philadelphia contest. A footnote: Papelbon’s glove from the ’07 Series went to the National Baseball Hall of Fame; the ball from the final out, strangely enough, was chewed up by Papelbon’s dog. P.S. Ex-MSU standout Kendall Graveman pitched a clean ninth inning Wednesday night for Houston in his first career World Series appearance. The last few years have been quite a roller-coaster for Graveman. He missed part of 2018 (with Oakland) and all of 2019 (with the Chicago Cubs) after Tommy John surgery, then missed time in 2020 (with Seattle) because of complications from a benign bone tumor in his neck. He moved from starter to the bullpen after that and moved from Seattle to Houston in a jolting trade in July.

26 Oct

classic anniversaries

It is guaranteed that a Mississippi product will get a ring after the 2021 World Series. Either former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley or Mississippi State alumnus Kendall Graveman will be celebrating when the series ends. “This is why you play the game …,” Houston reliever Graveman said in an MLB Network interview. “I’m ultimately honored and blessed to be in this position, to play the game at the highest level but also on the biggest stage in baseball.” Atlanta third baseman Riley said in an interview with an Atlanta TV station that he was happy to see longtime Braves star Freddie Freeman and manager Brian Snitker make the Series. “I’ve been very blessed to be along for the ride,” said Riley, who made some pretty strong contributions to the trip. This October marks the 10th anniversary of a World Series that also featured Mississippians on opposing sides, and fans can only hope this year’s Fall Classic produces similar drama. St. Louis beat Texas in seven games in the 2011 Series, with Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn earning a ring and ex-MSU standout Mitch Moreland coming up empty. That Series is best remembered for Albert Pujols’ three-homer game, a Cardinals bullpen mix-up in Game 5 and David Freese’s walk-off homer in Game 6 that capped an incredible St. Louis comeback. Lynn and Moreland had their moments. Lynn, a rookie reliever, pitched in five of the games, getting a win in Game 3 with 2 1/3 strong innings and pitching a clean eighth in Game 7, a 6-2 victory. Moreland, in his second MLB season and second Series, was just 1-for-10 but homered in Game 5, a 4-2 Texas win that put the Rangers up 3-2 in the series. … It was 20 years ago that Arizona stunned the New York Yankees in another seven-game classic, winning on Luis Gonzalez’s walk-off hit against Mariano Rivera. Former Ole Miss star David Dellucci was a reserve outfielder on that Diamondbacks team, which had been largely constructed by former State star Buck Showalter, the first manager of the 1998 expansion team. He was fired after the 2000 season, reportedly because of a dispute with ownership. “I would think that this is killing him,” an anonymous source told the New York Times after the Series. … Twenty-five years ago, the Yankees beat the Braves in six games, famously overcoming a 2-0 deficit. Hattiesburg native and Forrest County AHS product Charlie Hayes, New York’s third baseman, caught a foul pop for the final out that year. … Thirty years ago, Minnesota beat Atlanta in a classic seven-game series that featured two worst-to-first clubs. Former Jackson State standout Marvin Freeman was a reliever for the Braves back then, and five — count ’em, five — Jackson Mets alums pitched for the Twins that season: Kevin Tapani, Rick Aguilera, Terry Leach, David West and Tom Edens. … The 1961 Yankees, featuring home run king Roger Maris, won the Fall Classic that year over Cincinnati. Silver City native Jack Reed appeared in three games for the Yanks as a defensive replacement, which had been his primary role that season. He didn’t get an at-bat — but did get a ring. Corinth’s Don Blasingame batted .143 in the five games as the Reds’ leadoff batter. … Eighty years ago, in the 1941 Series made famous by Mickey Owen’s dropped third strike, Morton native Atley Donald helped the Yankees beat Brooklyn in five games. Donald was the starter in Game 4, yielding four runs in four innings, but was bailed out when Owen’s misplay in the ninth extended the game and fueled New York’s 7-4 comeback.

25 Oct

history’s path

Since the Mississippi Braves arrived in Pearl in 2005, the Double-A club has funneled literally scores of players to Atlanta, including the entire infield and the top three starting pitchers on the 2021 team that has reached the World Series for the first time in 22 years. But the Braves franchise has a largely forgotten history in Mississippi that goes back 70-plus years. When Atlanta announced it was moving its Double-A team from South Carolina to Pearl, it was actually reconnecting with the Magnolia State. From 1946-50, when the Braves called Boston home, they had a farm team in Jackson, the Senators, who played at League Park near where the Fairgrounds stands now. Those were good teams, posting winning records in four of the five seasons and finishing first in the Southeastern League standings in 1947. “It was a pretty good brand of ball,” former Senators player Banks McDowell said in a 2001 interview. “It was Class B, and baseball people would tell us later that it was comparable to Double-A today.” Minor league affiliation worked a little differently in that era; research indicates only one player from those Senators teams made the big leagues. Vern Bickford pitched in Jackson in 1946 and pitched parts of seven seasons in the majors. He was on the Braves’ 1948 World Series team and threw a no-hitter in 1950. The Braves pulled out of Jackson in 1951, and Detroit came in two years later. League Park was destroyed by a tornado in August of ’53. The team moved its games elsewhere and never returned. Jackson got a Double-A team in 1975, when the Mets moved into then-new Smith-Wills Stadium. New York’s 1986 World Series championship club featured numerous former Jackson Mets, among them Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson, Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco. After the Mets departed in 1990, Houston arrived with the Generals and from 1991-99 produced a bevy of big leaguers, many of whom fueled the Astros’ run of success in the National League Central in the late ’90s. When the Astros finally made the World Series for the first time in 2005, two former Generals — Lance Berkman and Raul Chavez — were still around. The Astros still have some fans in the metro area, and the M-Braves recognized that heritage with tribute nights at Trustmark Park in 2019 and again this summer.

24 Oct

random observations

Ben Ingram’s call of Atlanta’s game-turning home run on Saturday night was classic: “Who is Eddie Rosario … and where the hell did he come from?” Mississippi native and Mississippi College grad Ingram, voice of the Braves for 680 The Fan in Atlanta, fabulously captured the moment that Rosario, a largely unsung July trade acquisition from Cleveland, blasted the three-run homer that gave the Braves a three-run lead en route to the National League pennant-clinching 4-2 win against Los Angeles. Rosario, who batted .560 with three homers and nine RBIs in the NLCS, was named series MVP. … Atlanta moves on to meet Houston in the World Series, and, yes, the teams who share a Mississippi history have a postseason history, as well. They met five times in the National League playoffs, the last in 2005, an NLDS that featured the first postseason intersection of players from two different eras of Jackson-area Double-A baseball. Atlanta’s lineup included Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur, both of whom started that season with the inaugural edition of the Mississippi Braves. Lance Berkman, who played for the Jackson Generals in 1998, started for Houston, and Raul Chavez, another ex-Gen, also played in that series. In the unforgettable fourth and final game, a 7-6 Astros win in 18 innings at Minute Maid Park, McCann and Berkman hit home runs. Vicksburg native John Thomson worked two scoreless innings for Atlanta. Weir’s Roy Oswalt was on the Houston roster but didn’t pitch; he had started and won Game 3 the day before. Roger Clemens pitched the last three innings for the Astros and got the win when Chris Burke took M-Braves alum Joey Devine deep for the walk-off winner 5 hours, 50 minutes after first pitch. … This Fall Classic pits Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, the 2005 M-Braves skipper, against his son, Troy, the Astros’ hitting coach. Atlanta’s current roster is replete with former M-Braves, and the coaching staff includes a former Jackson Generals infielder, assistant hitting coach Bobby Magallanes. … The last time the Braves went to the World Series, in 1999, they had a third baseman from Mississippi on the roster, just as they do this year. In ’99, Howard Battle, a product of Mercy Cross High in Ocean Springs, made Atlanta’s postseason roster after going 6-for-17 with a homer during a September call-up. He didn’t get an at-bat as the New York Yankees swept the World Series. DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley, Atlanta’s current third baseman, will have much more impact. Riley — an NL MVP candidate — is batting .250 with two homers, five RBIs and six runs this postseason.

23 Oct

connections

Eight years after making a trip to the College World Series with Mississippi State, Kendall Graveman is going to THE World Series with the Houston Astros. Graveman worked four scoreless innings over three appearances for the Astros, who finished off Boston 5-0 Friday in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. It was a 2-0 game when Graveman wriggled out of a jam in the seventh inning with the help of a great throw by catcher Martin Maldonado. Graveman was disappointed when Seattle traded him to Houston back in July, but he no doubt feels better about the move today. … For the Red Sox, who scored just three total runs in Games 4, 5 and 6, ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe had a forgettable series. He was 1-for-16 with eight strikeouts and was lifted for a pinch hitter in what would have been his final at-bat. … This will be Houston’s fourth trip to the Fall Classic; the first came in 2005, when Mississippi native Roy Oswalt and former Jackson Generals Lance Berkman and Raul Chavez helped the club win the National League pennant. Houston’s Double-A team played in Jackson at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1991-99. … The Astros’ hitting coach is Troy Snitker, son of Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, who was the first Mississippi Braves manager in 2005. The younger Snitker played briefly in Atlanta’s minor league system but did not make it to Pearl. … The elder Snitker and the Braves will lean on ex-M-Braves pitcher Ian Anderson in tonight’s Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. Only 23 years old, Anderson has made six postseason starts over two years and is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA. In 2018-19 in Mississippi, he was 9-6, 2.62. In 2019, he started a combo no-hitter at Trustmark Park while wearing a Jackson Generals uniform on a special tribute night. … Anderson is one of several M-Braves alumni on the Atlanta roster. In addition, reserve infielder Orlando Arcia played for Biloxi on his route to the big leagues in Milwaukee’s system. … The Los Angeles Dodgers also have an M-Braves alum on their club: Reliever Evan Phillips pitched in Pearl in 2016 and ’17 on his circuitous journey to the NLCS. The Dodgers claimed Phillips off waivers from Tampa Bay in mid-August; he was previously released by Baltimore. He has thrown three scoreless innings against the Braves. … Brookhaven native and veteran MLB umpire Lance Barksdale is scheduled to work behind home plate tonight at Truist Park. P.S. Kudos to Hattiesburg native Robert Carson and Biloxi native Jacob Lindgren, who were part of championship teams in the top two independent leagues. Carson pitched for Atlantic League champ Lexington and Lindgren for American Association winner Kansas City. Both Carson and Lindgren, an MSU alum, previously pitched in the big leagues.

20 Oct

role player

Game 4 may have been a pivotal one in the American League Championship Series, and Mississippi State product Kendall Graveman played a pivotal role. Graveman threw two scoreless innings — the seventh and eighth — and got the win as Houston rallied past Boston 9-2 Tuesday night at Fenway Park to square the series at 2-2. Graveman was one of five Astros relievers who worked 7 2/3 shutout innings after starter Zack Greinke was pulled in the second inning. The two-inning stint was the longest for Graveman since he joined the Astros in a late July trade with Seattle. “I was mentally preparing myself to go three, honestly,” he told mlb.com. The Astros went to closer Ryan Pressly in the ninth after scoring seven runs in the top of the inning. Appearing in the postseason for the first time in his seven years in MLB, Graveman has been good: three scoreless innings in the ALCS and a 1.50 ERA in five appearances overall. The right-hander was a closer with Seattle (0.82 ERA, 4-0, 10 saves) but saw his role change to set-up man in Houston. He scuffled at times, posting a 3.13 ERA with three blown saves and seven holds in 23 games. He looked to be in top form on Tuesday. Strangely enough, the only batter to reach against Graveman was Hunter Renfroe, his former teammate at MSU, who drew a two-out walk in the eighth. It was just the second time they had faced each other in the big leagues; Graveman struck out Renfroe in that previous encounter. Renfroe, who had a monster season for the Red Sox, has had a quiet series (1-for-11 with four walks).