06 Jul

change in the wind?

The zero is gone. Maybe the luck has changed, too. Justin Steele, the lefty from Lucedale, winless in 12 starts this season for the Chicago Cubs, got on the board Friday and did it in emphatic fashion. Steele threw a two-hitter at the Los Angeles Angels in a 5-1 victory at Wrigley Field. He walked two, fanned seven. He threw just 95 pitches, only four in locking down the W in the ninth inning. It was Steele’s first career complete game in 76 starts over four seasons. As he jogged to the mound for the ninth, the p.a. played his walk-out song, Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” and the Wrigleyville crowd got loud. “It was a special moment. Something I’ll never forget,” Steele said in an mlb.com piece. Steele won 16 games for the Cubs in 2023 and made the All-Star Game. The George County High product got hurt in the season opener this year, went on the injured list and endured nothing but tough luck after his return — before Friday, that is. He is now 1-3 despite a 2.95 ERA. Today at Wrigley there is a Justin Steele bobblehead giveaway. Talk about good timing. … Steele’s complete game was the first by a Mississippi native in MLB since Brandon Woodruff tossed one on Sept. 11 of last year. There were none in 2022. For the record — and as an indicator of how the game has changed — the career mark for complete games by a Mississippian is 188 by Claude Passeau (1935-47). Guy Bush (1923-45) posted 151. Roy Oswalt (2001-13) had 20. P.S. From all indications, Colt Keith has found his power midway through his rookie season. The former state player of the year from Biloxi High hit two 400-foot home runs Friday for Detroit, fueling a 5-4 win at Cincinnati. Lefty hitter Keith, 6 feet 2, 211 pounds, now has seven bombs on the year, four in his last 15 games. He didn’t hit his first MLB homer until May 24. A fifth-round pick in 2020, Keith hit 38 homers over his three minor league seasons.

25 May

more to come

The wait is over for Colt Keith. After 141 big league at-bats, the ex-Biloxi High standout connected Friday night on his first home run, a 400-foot drive to right-center at Comerica Park that helped Detroit beat Toronto 6-2. “I feel like I’ve been dreaming of that for a while,” Keith told The Associated Press. “It was kind of a blur when it happened.” The Tigers’ patience with the left-handed hitting second baseman has begun to pay off. He was batting .152 as recently as May 5 but has raked at a .404 clip over his last 15 games, boosting his average to .236. He has 16 RBIs. The power was bound to come. Keith, a 2020 fifth-round pick, hit 38 homers in 126 minor league games, including 27 last year between Double-A and Triple-A. Before he ever played an MLB game, Detroit signed him to a six-year, $28.6 million contract, which, with options and bonuses, could be worth some $80M. He looks like a foundation piece for the Tigers, who have pooled some young talent on their roster. P.S. Today in Cooperstown, N.Y., MLB will hold the Hall of Fame East-West Classic: A Tribute to the Negro Leagues All-Star Game as part of a weekend celebration. Among the ex-big leaguers scheduled to play in the exhibition game are Pascagoula native Tony Sipp, former Jackson Generals standout Melvin Mora and Jerry and Scott Hairston, whose grandfather Sam was a Crawford native and Negro Leagues star in the late 1940s. A bunch of Mississippians played in the old East-West Game (1933-53), including Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell and Bill Foster as well as Luke Easter, Howard Easterling, Sam Jethroe, Bob Boyd, Rufus Lewis and Buddy Armour. … Former Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, released from the minors by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday, signed with San Francisco and was in uniform for the Giants on Friday. The big left-hander last pitched in a big league game in 2021. … Mississippi State bowed out of the SEC Tournament in an emotionally charged 6-5 loss to Tennessee. Jaw-dropping stat for the Bulldogs: Dakota Jordan and Hunter Hines were a combined 1-for-34 in four games. … Kudos to George County High, which claimed the MHSAA Class 6A state title Friday with a win over Warren Central.

24 Sep

select company

On his way to 700 home runs, Albert Pujols victimized seven different Mississippians for a total of 14 round-trippers during his 22-year career. He took Roy Oswalt and Kendall Graveman deep four times each, got Paul Maholm twice and belted one apiece against Louis Coleman, Drew Pomeranz, Dakota Hudson (his current teammate with St. Louis) and Demarcus Evans. Pujols got Weir’s Oswalt for No. 23 in 2001, when both were rookies. He got ex-Mississippi State star Graveman twice in one game in 2017, Nos. 611 and 612. Evans, the former Petal High standout, made his big league debut on Sept. 18, 2020, for Texas, and, as luck would have it, the first hitter he faced was future Hall of Famer Pujols, then with the Los Angeles Angels. Pujols sent Evans’ second pitch — a 93-mph fastball — over the wall in Anaheim for his 662nd career home run. Pujols, one of four members of the 700 home run club, has gone deep off a record 455 different pitchers. So far. P.S. Friday night was also a somewhat special occasion for Pujols’ teammate Corey Dickerson. The outfielder from McComb made his first MLB pitching appearance, working a scoreless ninth inning in the Cardinals’ 11-0 win against the Dodgers.

17 Sep

sounds about right

It didn’t take long into his big league career for Matt Wallner to do what Matt Wallner does: go yard. The former Southern Miss slugger, called up from the minors by Minnesota today, hit a 414-foot home run against Cleveland’s Shane Bieber in his third at-bat. Wallner is USM’s career home run leader and has 50 minor league bombs on his three-year pro ledger, including 27 this year split between Double-A and Triple-A. He also crushed a homer in the All-Star Futures Game in July. Wallner becomes the 25th Mississippian to play in the majors in 2022 and the fifth to make his debut, the third from USM. (The other rookies are Ethan Small, Konnor Pilkington, Kirk McCarty and Chuckie Robinson.) … St. Louis recalled ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson from a brief hiatus in the minors to start against Cincinnati today, and the right-hander threw eight innings, allowing one unearned run, and departed with a comfortable lead. Hudson had a 7-7 record entering today’s game.

30 Aug

a homer to savor

Hear about the special home run hit Monday night at Great American Ballpark? No, not the Albert Pujols bomb. The St. Louis star’s 694th career homer off a record 450th different pitcher was certainly noteworthy. But Chuckie Robinson’s homer was the special one. It was the first for the former Southern Miss star in his fourth MLB game with Cincinnati. It came with his mother, Dionne, and younger brother in the park. “I think when I hit it, I kind of blacked out a little bit like, ‘Dang, I got it.’ I was super excited,” Robinson told mlb.com. You can bet that his grandfather and father were also super excited. Robinson is a third-generation pro player. Both his grandfather — “Big Chuck” — and father — “Little Chuck” — played in the minors. They were in Philadelphia last week when “Baby Chuck” made his debut and got his first knock. “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this day,” he said at the time. Robinson, a catcher drafted out of USM in 2016 by Houston, is 27 years old and put in six years in the minors before the Reds gave him this shot in the big leagues. Cincy manager David Bell has raved about him: “He’s absolutely earned the opportunity.” As fate would have it, someone from Robinson’s hometown of Danville, Ill., caught the home run ball and got it to his mother. Now that’s special. P.S. Mississippi State alumnus Nathaniel Lowe was named the American League’s player of the week on Monday. He batted .385 with four homers and 11 RBIs for Texas last week. For the year, Lowe is batting .300 with a career-high 22 homers and 65 RBIs.

06 Aug

southern style

Two of the most prominent sluggers in Mississippi college baseball history played a little version of home run derby in the eighth inning of an International League game Friday night at Omaha’s Werner Field. Matt Wallner, Southern Miss’ career homer leader, went deep for St. Paul, a two-run shot in the top half, and Brent Rooker, who led the SEC in homers in 2017 while winning the Triple Crown at Mississippi State, belted a three-run bomb for the host Storm Chasers in the bottom half. (St. Paul won the slugfest 15-6.) For Wallner, Minnesota’s No. 7 prospect, it was his first Triple-A home run in his 14th game at that level. He hit 21 in Double-A before his promotion. The left-handed hitting outfielder went 2-for-5 on Friday to lift his average to .179. He hit .299 in Double-A. Rooker’s homer was his second in his second game for Omaha following his trade to Kansas City from San Diego. He belted 19 at Triple-A El Paso, where he batted .272 for the Padres affiliate. The right-handed hitting outfielder, a former top prospect, has 95 minor league homers and 10 MLB bombs (all with Minnesota) in 67 big league games. He was the 35th overall pick by the Twins in the 2017 draft and was traded to the Padres just before this season began. P.S. Former George County High standout Justin Steele matched a career-high with 10 strikeouts for the Chicago Cubs on Friday. The lefty was pulled with two outs in the fifth inning after throwing 93 pitches against Miami. The Cubs won 2-1. … MSU product Dakota Hudson, in his second start for St. Louis since coming off the injured list, threw four-plus innings (78 pitches) against the New York Yankees, allowing three runs in a game the Cardinals would win 4-3.

19 Sep

it’s your big debut

He didn’t join the exclusive club of major leaguers who have homered in their first career at-bat, but Nick Fortes did do something special on Saturday. The former Ole Miss standout hit a home run in his second career AB — he singled in his first — for Miami in a 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh. Fortes, a catcher called up on Friday, took former Mississippi Braves right-hander Bryse Wilson deep in the fifth inning, a 413-foot shot. “I had goosebumps and chills down my spine,” said Fortes, who had a gaggle of family and friends watching at loanDepot park. Fortes began this season, his third in pro ball, at Pensacola in the Double-A South before moving to Triple-A Jacksonville. He had seven homers in 330 at-bats for those two clubs. He became one of eight Marlins to homer in his first game. Ex-Mississippi State star Will Clark and Louisville native Marcus Thames are the only Mississippians to homer in their first career at-bat. P.S. Milwaukee, with Biloxi Shuckers alums Devin Williams and Josh Hader getting the win and the save, clinched a playoff berth on Saturday by beating the Chicago Cubs. For the record, George County High product Justin Steele, the Cubs’ starter, got his first career hit (in nine ABs). Steele allowed two runs in four innings and wasn’t part of the decision. The rookie left-hander is 1-3 with a 5.12 ERA in his seven starts this season.

04 Sep

clear the deck

There is a new leader in the clubhouse. In the category of Longest Home Run by a Mississippian in 2021, it’s now Anthony Alford. The former Mr. Baseball from Petal hit a 469-foot homer at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on Friday. Actually, the ball left Wrigley Field and landed somewhere on Waveland Ave. As the Pittsburgh Pirates broadcasters like to say, “Clear the deck. Cannonball coming.” In the very next inning, Alford hit another homer, a 435-footer, that tied the score — but the Bucs wound up losing to the Cubs in a battle of National League Central also-rans. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Alford reportedly puts on a show of power in batting practice. A teammate says he has “crazy-stupid pop.” Seeking to impress Pirates brass looking to next year, Alford has four homers in 70 at-bats this season but is hitting just .186 with 37 strikeouts. … According to onlyhomers.com, Alford’s 469-footer tops the 465-foot shot by Mississippi State alum Nate Lowe as the longest by a state product this season. Third on that list is Brent Rooker’s 460-footer, followed by Hunter Renfroe’s 456. Renfroe, the crusher from Crystal Springs, also has a 453, a 444 and a 439. Lowe also has a 451. Mitch Moreland’s longest is 444, Austin Riley’s 439. Could we get these guys together for a Home Run Derby?

03 Sep

back to it

The Mississippi Braves switched on some stored energy Thursday night, bashing seven home runs in a 16-8 win at Biloxi. Playing for the first time in nine days (COVID-19 protocols and then poor field conditions), the M-Braves improved to 59-39, best record in the Double-A South. Greyson Jenista, the 9-hole hitter on Thursday, went deep three times at MGM Park. He now has 16 homers, tied with Drew Lugbauer for second on the team. Shea Langeliers, who did not homer Thursday, has 19. Wendell Rijo (15), Trey Harris (eight), Justin Dean (seven) and Braden Shewmake (11) were the others to hit one out Thursday. The M-Braves have 131 homers as a team, second in the league (to Rocket City) and 16 shy of the franchise record with 17 regular season games left. They have hit 85 of their homers on the road, 46 at Trustmark Park, a notoriously tough place to hit one out. The next home game is Tuesday. P.S. Hunter Renfroe, batting leadoff for just the second time in his six-year MLB career, led off Boston’s game at Tampa Bay on Thursday with a single, scored the first run and later drove in the second to help the Red Sox score a big 4-0 victory. Crystal Springs native Renfroe returned from a five-day bereavement leave on Tuesday and was put in the leadoff spot for the first time that night. He went 2-for-5 and is 4-for-14 since his return. His father, Todd, died last week. … Austin Riley had two hits and two RBIs in Atlanta’s funk-busting 6-5 win at Colorado. The DeSoto Central High product, generating MVP buzz, is batting .305 with 82 RBIs for the first-place Braves. … Ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson, inching closer to a return to the majors, pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings for Double-A Springfield in St. Louis’ system. It was the second scoreless rehab appearance for Hudson, who had Tommy John surgery a year ago.

25 Aug

have a day, y’all

It’s a long way from the quaint little ballfield at Copiah Academy to the glorious green cathedral that is Fenway Park — and not just in miles. But you can go the distance. Hunter Renfroe is living, home run-bashing proof of that. The Crystal Springs native and ex-Mississippi State star crushed two homers over the Green Monster on Tuesday, powering the Boston Red Sox to a big 11-9 win over Minnesota. With an MLB-leading 10 homers in August, Renfroe now has 25 on the season, matching his career-best. He is having a resurgent season, batting .256 with 77 RBIs in his first year with the Red Sox, who are feverishly chasing an American League playoff berth. “Yeah, this is what I expect myself to do every year and even better most of the time,” Renfroe, a .234 career hitter with 122 homers in 546 games, said in an mlb.com article. Renfroe was not the only Mississippi-produced star who shined brightly on a Tuesday filled with compelling matchups. To wit: DeSoto Central alum Austin Riley, who leads the all-Mississippi home run derby with 27, went 3-for-3 with an RBI and a run for Atlanta in a tough loss to the New York Yankees in an interleague meeting of first-place teams. Former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson went yard for Toronto, which suffered a hurtful loss to the Chicago White Sox. Dickerson has three homers and nine RBIs in 18 games since joining the Blue Jays. Mitch Moreland, ex-Amory High and MSU star, had two hits and an RBI for Oakland in a loss to Seattle in a game between postseason contenders. Former State standout Nate Lowe put up a career-best five hits, including his 13th homer, as Texas beat Cleveland. Lowe had not homered since July 1. And Petal High product Anthony Alford, fresh off the injured list, hit his first home run of the year for Pittsburgh. Alford, playing well in Triple-A when the Pirates brought him back up for another trial, is batting .163 in 17 big league games in 2021. Said Alford in an mlb.com story: “I’ve just got to find a way to persevere.” These days, don’t we all. P.S. Southern Miss alumnus Cody Carroll has signed a minor league contract with Miami and was assigned to the Marlins’ Florida Complex League team. The 28-year-old onetime major league pitcher was released by Baltimore from its Triple-A team earlier this month.