27 Jul

boom or bust

Brent Rooker doesn’t always hit the ball. But when he does, it goes a long way. Mississippi State product Rooker blasted a 460-foot home run on Monday night for the Minnesota Twins. In four games since being recalled from Triple-A St. Paul, Rooker has three hits: two homers and a double. Including his April stint with the Twins, he is 6-for-44, with three homers and two doubles. He has struck out 18 times. From all indications, Rooker – the 35th overall pick in the 2017 draft — is going to play down the stretch, either as the DH or a corner outfielder. His MLB debut in 2020 was cut short by injury; he hit .316 with a homer and five RBIs in seven September games. He struggled at the outset of this season and was shipped out to St. Paul, where he was batting .239 (.546 slugging) with 19 homers. His career minor league numbers: .262 (.512 slugging), 73 homers, 393 K’s in 320 games. As a blogger at twinkietown.com notes: “At this point, he mostly is what he is going to be. It’s time to find out if what he is will be good enough to produce at the game’s highest level.” Basically, he just needs to hit the ball more often. … Rooker’s 460-foot bomb is the second-longest by a Mississippian in the majors this season, topped only by Nate Lowe’s 465-footer, per Baseball Savant. Hunter Renfroe has a 453, Mitch Moreland a 444, Austin Riley a 439, Bobby Bradley and Corey Dickerson each a 432.

14 Jul

circle the date

It happened on July 14, 2002. It had never happened before that in the big leagues and would happen only four times after that. Bill Selby, the pride of Horn Lake and a former Southern Miss star, hit a walk-off grand slam against Mariano Rivera on that date at Cleveland’s Jacobs Field. Rivera, the Hall of Famer and MLB’s all-time saves leader, had not allowed a walk-off bomb in his seven previous seasons as the New York Yankees’ closer. He yielded only four more over the next 11 years. The July 14 homer was the only walk-off Selby hit in five big league seasons. He hit only 11 homers all told. Talk about catching lightning in a bottle. Now a coach at Northwest Mississippi Community College, Selby eloquently and humbly described his star turn in a published interview a few years back: “You put yourself in a position to be successful and if it happens, then be thankful and keep on trucking. Not everyone can do what those guys (MLB stars) do. I certainly use that as motivation and to help people understand that you don’t have to be ‘the guy’ to have a ‘the guy’ moment.” Of all the homers struck by Mississippians (natives or college alums) in big league history, Selby’s improbable game-ender vs. Rivera is arguably the most memorable. Here’s a few more to round out a top 10:
2. Will Clark’s homer against Nolan Ryan in his first career at-bat in 1986.
3. Rafael Palmeiro’s 500th homer on May 11, 2003; he’s the only state product in that club.
4. Dmitri Young’s three home runs on opening day 2005, making him the third player ever to achieve that feat.
5. Marcus Thames’ homer against Randy Johnson on the first pitch he saw in the big leagues in 2002.
6. Brian Dozier’s American League-record 40th homer as a second baseman on Sept. 26, 2016; he hit 42 on the year, most ever by a Mississippi native.
7. Bill Hall’s Mother’s Day walk-off blast, with a pink bat and his mom in the stands, in 2006.
8. Luke Easter’s 477-foot bomb in 1950 at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, the longest ever hit there.
9. Brandon Woodruff’s homer off Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 of the 2018 NLCS.
10 (tie). Anthony Alford’s first career homer, a walk-off in the 15th inning on Sept. 24, 2019, and Jack Reed’s only career homer, a 22nd-inning game-winner on June 24, 1962.
Honorable mentions: Bobby Kielty’s pinch-hit homer in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series in what would be his last major league at-bat. Mitch Moreland’s two-out, three-run pinch homer in Game 4 of the 2018 World Series. Austin Riley’s 448-foot go-ahead homer in Game 1 of the 2020 NLCS. Dave Parker’s big blast in the strike-ending All-Star Game in 1981. Hunter Renfroe’s homer onto the roof of the Western Metal Supply Co. building outside Petco Park in September 2016. Tim Anderson’s brawl-inducing bat-flip homer in April 2019.

16 May

movin’ on up

Freddie Freeman became just the sixth player to hit 250 homers with the Atlanta franchise when he went deep against Milwaukee on Saturday night. The former Mississippi Braves star joins a list that also includes legends Hank Aaron, Chipper Jones and Dale Murphy. Freeman is, at the moment, No. 234 on the all-time home run list. But where does he rank on the chart of former Jackson area Double-A players? He is fifth. Ex-Jackson Generals standout Lance Berkman leads that group with 366, followed by Jackson Mets icon Darryl Strawberry at 335, Gens alum Bobby Abreu at 288 and Brian McCann, the first M-Brave to make The Show, at 282. Freeman, 31, is a virtual lock to pass McCann, who hit 188 of his homers while with Atlanta. P.S. Props to Mississippi State product Ethan Small, who worked the first five innings of a four-man no-hitter for Biloxi against the visiting M-Braves on Saturday night. Small, a 2019 first-round pick and one of Milwaukee’s top prospects, notched his first Double-A win in his second start.

09 Sep

that’s one

Brent Rooker, the latest in a string of sluggers Mississippi State has propelled to the big leagues, hit his first home run on Tuesday in Minnesota’s loss to St. Louis in Game 2 of a twinbill. He’ll likely hit a few more. Rooker has been rated one of the top power-hitting prospects in the Twins’ system since he was drafted out of Starkville in 2017. He has 54 minor league bombs in 259 games, and he blasted a tape-measure shot in Tokyo in a Team USA game last fall. Rooker hit 23 homers at State in his All-America junior season and 36 over his three-year career. So, yes, he’s got pop. The all-time leader in homers by a State alum is, of course, Rafael Palmeiro, who ranks 13th on MLB’s career chart with 569. Coincidentally, Palmeiro hit his first career homer on this date in 1986. He played 20 years. Second on the all-Bulldogs list is Will Clark with 284, followed by the active leader, Mitch Moreland, who has 174, including eight in 2020. Hunter Renfroe, who has six homers this year, stands at 95 career. Tyler Moore topped out at 30 after a promising start to his career. P.S. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made his Chicago Cubs debut on Tuesday as a defensive replacement in center field, a role that figures to be his primary. The speedy Hamilton was a waiver claim from the New York Mets this week and reportedly would be eligible for the postseason.

19 Jun

make it three

On this date in 2001, Vicksburg native Ellis Burks – the all-time home run leader among Mississippi-born players — hit three home runs in a game for Cleveland, accomplishing a pretty neat feat that’s not as rare as one might think. A three-(or four-)homer game has been done more than 600 times, with quite a few players having hit three in a game multiple times. (Johnny Mize and Sammy Sosa did it six times each!) The list of Mississippians with a three-jack game numbers seven. The first was Hal Lee from Ludlow, who slugged his way onto the list in 1934 while with the Boston Braves. The most recent was Hunter Renfroe, who hit three for San Diego on June 14 of last year, the second time the Crystal Springs native had managed the feat. He also did it as a rookie in 2017. Vicksburg native Dmitri Young is one of just four players to hit three bombs in his team’s Opening Day game; that happened in 2005, when Young was with Detroit. The others on this exclusive list: Bill Melton (1969), Larry Herndon (1982) and Brian Dozier (2016). P.S. Former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, a fifth-round pick by Detroit, reportedly has signed for a $500,000 bonus. The third baseman/pitcher, originally from Arizona, was an Arizona State signee. … Pitcher Drake Nightengale, a Pearl River Community College alum from Sumrall, has signed as a non-drafted free agent (out of South Alabama) with the New York Mets.

27 Aug

two in one

On this date in 1990, Vicksburg native Ellis Burks hit two home runs in one inning for Boston in a game at Cleveland. He is one of 56 players to accomplish that feat in the modern era, and the only Mississippian (native or college alumnus) to do it. Among the others on the list are Joe DiMaggio, Mark McGwire, David Ortiz, Jeff Bagwell, Dale Murphy and Willie McCovey, who is one of five players to go deep twice in one inning TWICE. Burks, a first-round pick by the Red Sox out of a Texas junior college, debuted in the big leagues in 1987 and hit 352 homers in his 18-year career, including 40 in 1996 with Colorado. He finished his career in Boston, playing 11 games in 2004 in his age 40 season and earning a World Series ring when The Curse was vanquished.

14 Aug

long ball madness

Home runs are cool and all, but the “juiced ball” has gotten a little out of hand in the big leagues this year. Yet another case in point: Entering this season, Jarrod Dyson had seven home runs in 1,917 career at-bats. The McComb native and former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star hit his seventh of 2019 on Tuesday night in his 305th AB. Dyson is 5 feet 10 (maybe), 165 pounds and 34 years old. Tuesday’s homer was Dyson’s third career leadoff bomb, all coming this season. This is to take nothing away from the season Dyson is having, which is outstanding. Playing regularly in center field for Arizona, which remains in the playoff hunt, Dyson is batting .259 with 51 runs (five shy of his career-best) and 24 steals (11 short of his best). (He has set a career-high for ejections, getting the first of his career last week arguing a called strike.) He has batted .308 over his last 15 games. Tuesday’s homer, which he pulled down the right-field line at Coors Field, was his only hit in the 9-3 win against Colorado, but it sparked a five-run first inning. “Dyson started the party,” Diamondbacks teammate Nick Ahmed told The Associated Press.

17 Jun

feel the power

Trent Giambrone has put on a nice little show of power at Triple-A Iowa, homering for the third straight game on Sunday and for the fourth time in his last seven contests with the Chicago Cubs affiliate. More impressive, however, than what the Delta State product has done is what ex-Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley has managed. He went deep twice for Triple-A Columbus on Sunday after also homering twice on Friday. The highly rated Cleveland prospect leads the International League with 22 home runs. Bradley, a first baseman who is on the Indians’ 40-man roster, is batting .310 over his last 10 games and .287 with 52 RBIs for the year as he awaits his first big league call-up, which reportedly might happen in July. He has 136 homers in his six minor league campaigns. Giambrone, a fourth-year pro who is not on the Cubs’ 40-man, is batting .375 in his last seven games and .220 with 13 homers on the season. He has played seven different positions for the I-Cubs. He opened some eyes in the Cubs’ system when he batted .324 in major league camp this spring. Of course, no discussion of power hitting can be complete without mention of Hunter Renfroe, the Mississippi State alum who hit two homers for San Diego on Sunday after belting three – 1,316 feet worth — on Friday. He has nine in his last 15 games and 23 for the season, tied for second in the majors. P.S. Former Ole Miss and Pearl River Community College standout Braxton Lee leads the Eastern League with a .304 average in 51 games for Double-A Binghamton in the New York Mets’ chain. The onetime big leaguer is batting .346 over his last 10 games. … Drew Waters of the Mississippi Braves is batting an absurd .463 in his last 10 games and leads the Southern League in hitting at .338 heading into the SL All-Star break. He has a 25-game on-base streak. He also leads the loop in triples, doubles and OPS.

20 May

ode to freddie

Freddie Freeman already has achieved iconic status with the Atlanta Braves. The former Mississippi Braves first baseman is to the current generation of Braves fans what Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy and Chipper Jones were before him: the face of the franchise. Still, the occasion of Freeman’s 200th career home run – struck Sunday against Mississippi native Brandon Woodruff of Milwaukee – gives us a peg to celebrate what he has achieved in his 10 seasons in the big leagues. It has been a treat to watch. Freeman arrived in Pearl on July 4, 2009, as a highly rated prospect though not as celebrated as his buddy who arrived on the same day, Jason Heyward. Heyward put up better numbers as an M-Brave – Freeman, not fully healthy, hit .248 with two homers in 41 games that summer – and reached Atlanta first, famously homering in his first at-bat in 2010. But Freeman has clearly surpassed Heyward on the big league stage. Freeman is a career .294 hitter with 713 RBIs. He has made three All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove and finished in the top six in National League MVP voting three times. He is just the ninth player ever to hit 200 homers for the Braves. He has the second-most homers by an M-Braves alum; Brian McCann has 273, 179 with Atlanta. Only Lance Berkman (366), Darryl Strawberry (335), Bobby Abreu (288), McCann and Kevin Mitchell (234) rank above Freeman on the list of career bombs by former Jackson area Double-A players. The current Braves team, sprinkled with so many young stars, revolves around Freeman — and will go as far as he leads them.

09 May

delivering jolts

There has been a power surge of late among several Mississippians, notably Bobby Bradley, Austin Riley and Hunter Renfroe. Bradley, the former Harrison Central High star, has begun to mash at Triple-A Columbus in Cleveland’s system. The 22-year-old first baseman has four homers in his last four games, three in his last two. A .366 spurt over his last 10 games has boosted his average to .315 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in his first full season at the Triple-A level. “It’s really a great experience, you learn so much from the veteran guys,” Bradley said in an milb.com story. Riley, the DeSoto Central product, hit two more bombs for Triple-A Gwinnett (Atlanta) on Wednesday. That’s 10 in his last 13 games, during which he has batted an absurd .469. He is at .315 with 12 homers and 32 RBIs. “Obviously, I’m seeing the ball well,” he told milb.com. “I’ve worked really hard on getting my swing where it is now.” Renfroe, the ex-Copiah Academy and Mississippi State standout, hit a go-ahead home run for the San Diego Padres on Wednesday. He also hit a tie-breaking bomb on Monday and a walk-off grand slam on Sunday. “He’s clutch. And he has been for a long time,” Padres manager Andy Green told mlb.com. Renfroe now has nine homers on the year, second to Mitch Moreland’s 10 among Mississippians in the majors. P.S. Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart is 2-for-8 (.125 for year) since coming off the injured list for the Los Angeles Angels, who also designated MSU product Chris Stratton for assignment on Tuesday. Stratton, who’ll likely land in Triple-A, has an 8.59 ERA in seven appearances. … Tony Sipp, the veteran reliever out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, went on the 10-day IL for Washington with a strained oblique.