05 Jul

fenway flashback

Oil Can Boyd rocked and fired and threw a strike to Rich Gedman. Kinda like old times at Fenway Park. But on Thursday, the pair of former Boston teammates were on the field at Polar Park in Worcester, Mass., taking part in a first-pitch ceremony honoring Boyd, the Meridian native and ex-Jackson State star. For their Throwback Thursday promotion, the Worcester Red Sox — Boston’s Triple-A affiliate — invited Boyd, 64, as the special guest. A July 4 crowd of 9,400-plus, including a large contingent of Boyd’s family and friends, cheered on The Can, who gave a brief speech in which he toasted Gedman, the WooSox’s hitting coach and Boyd’s batterymate in Boston in the 1980s. “A southern kid from Mississippi and a northern kid from Worcester, Massachusetts, made a connection that lasts for life,” Boyd said, per an article in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. Drafted in 1980, Boyd came up in the Red Sox’s system but never pitched in Worcester; the team moved there from Pawtucket in 2021. He debuted in MLB in 1982 and enjoyed a colorful and complicated career, winning 78 games and losing 77. He and Gedman were on the Red Sox’s ill-fated World Series team in 1986. Boyd pitched in independent ball into his 40s and is credited with 152 wins all told in pro ball.

11 Aug

now that’s a big splash

Ever since Brian McCann made the jump from Mississippi to Atlanta in 2005 and banged out a couple of hits in his first game, we’ve seen some splashy MLB debuts from a number of former M-Braves. We’ve never seen anything like what Vaughn Grissom did on Wednesday night at Fenway Park in Boston. In fact, no one has. Grissom, 21, became the youngest player in the modern era to both hit a home run and steal a base in his debut. He is the only Braves player (Boston, Milwaukee or Atlanta) ever to do it. Not to be overlooked is the fact that Grissom, primarily a shortstop who played only one game at second base in 22 games for the M-Braves, handled eight chances flawlessly at second. He registered four assists and four putouts and turned two double plays. “He was like a kid out on the playground pretty much, just having a ball,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said in an mlb.com article. Having recently been elevated to the top of Atlanta’s prospect chart, Grissom was having a breakout season in the minors, batting .324 with 14 homers and 27 steals between High-Class A Rome and Double-A Mississippi. He was hitting .363 with three homers and seven bags for the M-Braves when he got the call-up. He was promptly inserted as the No. 9 hitter and plugged in at second base, filling a hole created by injuries. In the bottom of the first inning, the ball found him; he dug out a grounder by Rafael Devers, completed the 4-3 and flashed a broad grin. He was hitless in two at-bats when he came up in the seventh against lefty Darwinzon Hernandez. “The competitive nature kicked in,” Grissom told mlb.com. He launched a first-pitch fastball over the Green Monster, 412 feet, punctuated with a playful bat flip. In the ninth, he lashed a single to left and then stole second. He scored on a Dansby Swanson hit, the last run in the Braves’ 8-4 win. Jeff Francoeur homered in his first MLB game, as did Evan Gattis and Austin Riley. Jordan Schafer and Jason Heyward homered in their first at-bat. But the splashy debuts of those former M-Braves stars have to take a back seat to what Grissom did on Wednesday night. P.S. On a somber note, we mourn the passing of Corky Palmer, a legend in Southern Miss circles and beyond. Palmer, an affable character, is a thread through USM baseball history, having played for Pete Taylor, coached under Hill Denson and served as head coach for 12 years, taking the 2009 team (featuring Brian Dozier) to the College World Series. Current USM coach Scott Berry coached with Palmer for most of those years. He was 68.

10 Aug

coming attraction

Fluor Field at the West End in Greenville, S.C., is modeled after Boston’s Fenway Park, where the players on the roster of the High-Class A Greenville Drive aspire to play someday. Blaze Jordan made his Drive debut at Fluor Field on Tuesday, and Red Sox fans should be excited that the club’s No. 6 prospect looked very much at home. The 19-year-old former DeSoto Central High standout went 3-for-4 with two home runs, one over the mini-Green Monster in left field, the other to left-center. “I think it’s safe to say he likes hitting in this ballpark,” one of Greenville’s radio broadcasters said. Jordan, a third-round pick in 2020, hit .286 with eight homers and 57 RBIs at Low-A Salem this season before his promotion. Considered one of the top power hitters in the Red Sox’s system — “Jordan’s massive power has been good as advertised,” according to MLB Pipeline — he has 16 homers in 124 pro games. There will be more. … There was a lot of player movement in the minors on Tuesday. To wit: Mississippi State product Rowdey Jordan moved up to Double-A Binghamton in the New York Mets’ system and went 1-for-4 in his debut. Ex-Ole Miss star Will Ethridge was promoted to Double-A Hartford in the Colorado chain and worked four scoreless innings in his first appearance. Brandon Parker, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum from Saucier, was bumped up to High-A Rome by Atlanta; he hit .282 with 10 homers at Low-A Augusta. MSU product Logan Tanner, drafted in the second round by Cincinnati last month, was assigned to Low-A Daytona after one game in rookie ball; he went 0-for-3 in his Daytona debut. Several other 2022 draftees have been assigned to rookie clubs, including former Ole Miss star Tim Elko (0-for-3 in his Arizona Complex League debut for the Chicago White Sox) and high school draftees Emaarion Boyd (Philadelphia) and Spence Coffman (San Diego). The Double-A Mississippi Braves saw two key players moved to Triple-A Gwinnett: right-hander Darius Vines and catcher Hendrik Clementina. P.S. The injury-riddled White Sox have lost East Central CC alum Tim Anderson, their All-Star shortstop and leadoff batter, for 4-6 weeks with a finger ligament tear. It’s his second stint on the IL. The White Sox lost Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet (for the year) and ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn (for two months) in spring training. Lynn has been shaky (2-5, 5.88 ERA) since returning. … Shohei Ohtani joined Babe Ruth as the only players in MLB history to win at least 10 games and hit at least 10 homers in the same season. Two other players have won 10 and hit 10 in different seasons: Rick Ankiel and Jackson native Ewell Albert “Reb” Russell. Russell, a left-hander, won 23 games for the 1913 White Sox and posted three other double-digit win seasons before hurting his arm in 1918. He spent some time in the minors, came back to the big leagues in 1922 with Pittsburgh and belted 12 homers in 60 games.

11 Oct

only in baseball

Thanks to Rule 5.05(a)(8), Hunter Renfroe’s place in postseason history is secure. The Crystal Springs native and ex-Mississippi State standout will forever be linked to the quirky rule that had a major impact in Sunday’s American League Division Series game at Boston. In the 13th inning, with the go-ahead run at first base and two outs, a batted ball hit the short right-field wall at Fenway Park, caromed off the hip of Renfroe, the right fielder who was giving pursuit, and then went over the wall. For a few moments, confusion reigned. Apparently, no one involved had ever seen this happen before. Fenway is one of the few ballparks where something like that is even possible. Had the ball remained in play, the runner would have scored easily and the batter, Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier, likely would have made third. But the umpires got together and correctly applied Rule 5.05(a)(8), which states that a bounding fair ball unintentionally deflected out of play by a fielder is a ground-rule double. That put the runners at second and third. The score remained tied. Fair or not, the rule is the rule. Nick Pivetta then struck out the next batter, concluding his four shutout innings. In the bottom of the 13th, after Renfroe drew a one-out walk, Christian Vazquez gave Boston a 6-4 win and a 2-1 series lead with a homer over the Green Monster. … Meanwhile, in Chicago, in the other ALDS Game 3, things got a little wacky, as well, as the White Sox rallied from 5-1 down in the third inning to beat Houston 12-6 and stay alive in the best-of-5. The White Sox’s decisive three-run fourth was ignited by — who else? — Tim Anderson. The East Central Community College star led off with an infield single and eventually scored the go-ahead run. (And, yes, there was a quirky deflected-ball play later in that inning.) For his part, Anderson went 3-for-6 with two runs and an RBI Sunday and is now batting .467 in the series. … There are four games on tap today. Something crazy, something you’ve never seen before, is almost guaranteed to happen. That’s baseball.

26 Jun

friday at fenway

If you’re gonna have a moment in the big leagues, there’s no better place to do it than Fenway Park during a Yankees-Red Sox game on a Friday night. Hunter Renfroe, the former Mississippi State standout, earned a spot in Boston lore on an electric night that featured a packed house of 36,000-plus and a pregame tribute to Dustin Pedroia. Renfroe drove in two runs, scored one and cut down a runner at the plate with a sizzling throw in the Red Sox’s 5-3 win, their fourth in as many games against New York this season. “Obviously, this is the thing you live for,” the Crystal Springs native said in an mlb.com story. “These are the games you live for.” Renfroe is in his first season with the Red Sox after being unceremoniously cut loose by Tampa Bay after a down year in 2020. He started slowly but has picked it up of late, batting .308 with four homers and 17 RBIs in his last 30 games. He was 4-for-10 in Boston’s sweep at Yankee Stadium earlier this month. On Friday, his stamp was all over the place. He doubled in a run to cap a three-run first inning and hit a sac fly to make it 4-3 in the third. In the top of the fourth, the Yankees’ Gio Urshela tried to score from second on a single to right field. Bad idea. Renfroe’s 94.7 mph throw covered 190 feet on the fly — per Statcast — and nailed Urshela by five feet. Fenway went wild. Renfroe now has 11 assists, best in the majors. He has 41 career assists. Renfroe capped his night by scoring after drawing a walk in the eighth, stretching the Red Sox’s lead. “I’ve been saying Friday nights at Fenway are cool,” Boston manager Alex Cora told mlb.com. “They’re pretty cool, and it was another great atmosphere.” They’ll play again today. Renfroe probably can’t wait.

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


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.