14 Dec

feed the monster

The Green Monster beckons for Hunter Renfroe. The former Mississippi State standout has signed as a free agent with Boston, where the iconic left-field wall has been an inviting target for many a right-handed slugger. Renfroe, 28, who reportedly got a 1-year deal worth $3 million-plus, hit two of his eight homers in 2020 at Fenway on Aug. 13 while playing for Tampa Bay. One of those bombs cleared the Monster. Renfroe has 97 homers in an MLB career that began in 2016. He hit just .156 for the Rays this season, dragging his career average down to .228. A good defender, he could be a fit in right or left field for Boston. The Red Sox actually drafted Renfroe in the 31st round in 2010 out of Copiah Academy, but he chose to go to State, where he became a first-rounder with San Diego in 2013.

14 Aug

powering up?

One of the ironies of Tampa Bay’s strong start – the Rays (12-8) just put up 42 runs in a four-game sweep at Boston – is that Hunter Renfroe, acquired for his power, hadn’t provided a whole lot before flexing some on Thursday. The former Mississippi State star hit two bombs in the 17-8 rout, his first homers since July 27. After going 4-for-11 in two starts at Fenway Park, Renfroe is batting .200 with four homers and 14 RBIs on the season. He picked up five of his RBIs in the Red Sox series. Both of Renfroe’s homers on Thursday were impressive, one to right-center, the other yanked way over the Green Monster in left. “It’s pretty cool,” Renfroe said, in an mlb.com story, about clearing the Monster. “Obviously this is a historic field and a beautiful field, just to kind of check that off my home run list of stadiums to hit one (in) is pretty cool.” He hit 89 homers in three-plus years with San Diego. He’s about due to go off. The Rays play Toronto in Buffalo this weekend. There were eight homers at Sahlen Field, the converted minor league facility, on Wednesday. P.S. Chad Smith, drafted by Miami out of Ole Miss in 2016, has been traded to Colorado and will move from the Marlins’ alternate training site to the Rockies’. He’s not going on the 40-man roster. Smith, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, went 4-4 with a 4.22 ERA in his one year in Oxford after transferring from an Alabama juco. He has a 4.46 ERA in four minor league seasons, reaching Double-A Jacksonville of the Southern League last year.

07 Jul

a new look

The Los Angeles Dodgers will open their season on July 23 at home against longtime rival San Francisco. There will be a national TV (ESPN) audience but – unfortunately — no people in the seats. Right fielder Mookie Betts isn’t the only thing new at Dodger Stadium for 2020. The old ballpark, which opened in 1958, has undergone a $100 million renovation under the direction of Jackson native Janet Marie Smith, the club’s Senior Vice President of Planning and Development. “It’s less of a renovation in an architectural sense,” she recently told lamag.com, “than it is a reimagining of how these buildings come together.” A new plaza beyond center field makes it a more fan-friendly, fan-accessible facility. All it needs now is some fans. The MLB All-Star Game was originally scheduled for Dodger Stadium this summer but will now be played at Chavez Ravine in 2022. Smith, a Mississippi State alumna elected to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame this year, also has worked directly on stadium projects at Camden Yards, Fenway Park and Turner Field and consulted on many others. Her work at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, which opened in 1992, spearheaded a new era in stadium design. The Boston Globe has described Smith as “the architect credited with saving Fenway Park.” P.S. MLB’s only new stadium, Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, will be formally unveiled on July 24 when the Rangers face Colorado. Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn is slated to start the game for Texas. … Atlanta’s newly named Truist Park (formerly Sun Trust Park) will host its first official game on July 29.

27 Jul

time for a breakout

It is a three-team scrap, at the moment, in the American League East. Boston clings to a 1-game lead over the New York Yankees with Tampa Bay hanging 2.5 back. The Rays are visiting Yankee Stadium for a four-game series that starts tonight. Boston hosts surging Kansas City, an AL Central and wild card contender, for three starting on Friday. It’s not a good time to be in a slump, but both Corey Dickerson of the Rays and Mitch Moreland of the Red Sox are in one. Former Meridian Community College star Dickerson, a first-time All-Star this year, is batting .209 with one homer and four RBIs over his last 23 games. His average has plunged to .303. Yankee Stadium is a great hitter’s park for lefties, and Dickerson is batting .343 with three bombs against Yankees pitching this season. So … a breakout might be coming. The Rays would love to see it. Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State standout, is hitting .124 without a homer in his last 24 games and went 2-for-17 on the club’s recent road trip. His average is down to .239, and he’s been dropped in the BoSox’s order. He suffered a broken toe in mid-June but played through it and says it’s fine now. If there is a positive for Moreland entering the weekend, he is a better hitter at Fenway Park: .253 with six of his 12 homers and a .341 on-base percentage. He doesn’t have a hit in seven at-bats against Royals pitchers this year, so … perhaps he is due. The Red Sox surely hope that’s true.

24 May

fenway

Sitting in the right-field nook at Fenway Park, just inside the Pesky Pole, it is very easy to imagine George Scott, a Boston Red Sox star of the 1960s, blasting a home run right at you or Boo Ferriss, the Sox ace in the mid-’40s, firing a fastball past an overmatched hitter. It’s easy to imagine such long-ago things because once you’ve entered Fenway, you are wrapped in history. It’s virtually the same as it was when it was built in 1912. There have been renovations, most recently the splendid work of Jackson native Janet Marie Smith, but the essence of the park was left unchanged. It’s one place that lives up to the hype. The Green Monster in left field still defines Fenway, but there is so much else to take in. You think about Bill “Spaceman” Lee, the former Sox pitcher who famously said that the first time he walked into Fenway, he dropped to his knees and uttered, “Thank God for making me a ballplayer.” Virtually everyone in the park is wearing a Red Sox hat or a Red Sox shirt. You see replica jerseys honoring players from Yastrzemski to Betts. There are lots of Pedroias but also a Millar, a Varitek, a Martinez, even a Matsuzaka. And the fans are very much into the game and the team. When Rusney Castillo, just called up for his 2015 debut on this particular Friday night, is introduced as the right fielder, cheers erupt. The “Sawx” have been searching for production from a right fielder all season. When Castillo drops a fly ball during the Los Angeles Angels’ nine-run fifth inning, the crowd boos lustily. When he gets a hit in the seventh, he gets cheers again. Quite a few of Mississippi’s brightest stars have heard the roars — and the moans — from the Fenway faithful. In addition to Ferriss and Scott, Mississippi natives Ellis Burks, Oil Can Boyd, Jerry Moses, Buddy Myer, Baldy Karr, Milt Bolling and Bill Hall played for the Sox. So did Mississippi State alumnus Jonathan Papelbon, Ole Miss’ Steve Dillard and Southern Miss’ Bill Selby. Once defined by heartbreak, the Sox have won three World Series since 2004. But you don’t get the feeling that the Fenway faithful are spoiled. With the Sox down 12-5 in the eighth inning on this chilly Friday night, many of the announced crowd of 36,150 are still around. And when Neil Diamond’s classic “Sweet Caroline” is played over the p.a., the old ballpark rocks. Indeed, good times never felt so good. Fenway is an experience you won’t forget.