06 Jul

all in a day

On this date in 1994 — 30 years ago — former Pontotoc High star Steve Pegues made his big league debut. Playing for Cincinnati, he pinch hit — for ex-Mississippi State standout Jeff Brantley — and drew a walk against Florida. Funny thing about July 6. A whole bunch of Mississippi-connected players did some pretty interesting things on this date, according to baseball-reference.com. In 1958, Southern Miss alum Jim Davenport got a walk-off RBI HBP for San Francisco against St. Louis. … In 1986, former Jackson Mets standout Jeff Reardon surrendered the last of four home runs mashed by Atlanta’s Bob Horner at Fulton County Stadium; Reardon got the save in an 11-8 Montreal victory. … In 1997, ex-State star Rafael Palmeiro homered, tripled and singled for Baltimore in a 14-9 loss against Detroit; he had two chances to complete the cycle and struck out both times. … In 2001, Vicksburg’s Roosevelt Brown registered a five-hit game, including a homer, for the Chicago Cubs against Detroit in the Cubs’ first game in the Motor City in 56 years. … In 2002, Jackson Generals alum Daryle Ward, playing for Houston, became the first player to hit a ball out of PNC Park and into the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh; the homer traveled an estimated 479 feet. … In 2004, ex-Gens star Richard Hidalgo, playing for the New York Mets, homered for the fifth straight game, a club record. … In 2008, Mississippi Braves alum Yunel Escobar got four hits in nine at-bats in Atlanta’s 7-6, 17-inning win vs. visiting Houston. Eight former M-Braves played in the game, the longest ever at Turner Field. … In 2010, ex-Ole Miss star Seth Smith hit a three-run walk-off bomb for Colorado, capping a nine-run ninth-inning rally against St. Louis. … Also in 2010, Mets ace Johan Santana smacked the only homer of his career, a solo shot off Ole Miss product Matt Maloney, in a 3-0 win over Cincinnati. … In 2011, Stone County High product Fred Lewis hit one of four homers by the Reds, who blew an 8-0 lead but won 9-8 in the 13th against St. Louis.

01 Jun

names to know

Dakota Jordan: The Mississippi State sophomore slugged a two-out, two-strike, three-run homer in the bottom of the 10th inning to boost the Bulldogs to a 5-2 win against St. John’s in Friday’s opener at the Charlottesville Regional. It was the 18th homer of the season for the ex-Jackson Academy standout, who was in a 1-for-26 slump. State gets host Virginia today in a winners bracket game.
Niko Mazza: Presumably, the junior right-hander will get the start today for Southern Miss in an elimination game against Northern Kentucky at the Knoxville Regional. Mazza, former MRA star, is 8-3 with a 4.43 ERA. USM lost its opener 10-4 to Indiana.
East Central Community College pitchers: The Warriors bowed out of the NJCAA Division II World Series with a 2-1 loss to Brunswick (N.C.) on Friday despite a six-hit effort from Marbin Lezcano, Riley Passman and Rex Henderson. In four straight elimination-game wins over a three-day stretch, 10 different Warriors pitchers combined to allow just 12 runs: Bryson Goff (complete-game 3-hitter), Chris Bilingsley, Hayden Dodson, Henderson, Connor Alpin, Evan Folse, Carson Ellis, Reid Hall, Eli Smith and Parker Martin. In ECCC’s opening game loss in Enid, Okla., staff ace Luke Cooley allowed just two runs in five-plus innings, but the Warriors squandered a big lead.
Dakota Hudson: The ex-MSU standout threw seven innings, allowing one run on four hits and a walk, to pace last-place Colorado to a 4-1 win over the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Hudson, who has won two of his last four starts, is 2-7 with a 5.02 ERA in his first year with the Rockies.
Darryl Strawberry: The New York Mets will retire the former Jackson Mets star’s No. 18 in a ceremony today at CitiField. Old JaxMets fans will never forget Strawberry’s exploits at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1982: He hit a franchise-record 34 homers, batted .283, stole 45 bases, hit nine triples, drove in 97 runs and walked 100 times. He was named the Texas League MVP. The next year, he won National League rookie of the year honors with the big Mets. They won a World Series with him in right field in 1986, and he was an eight-time All-Star.

10 Apr

simply the best

As yet another era of Double-A baseball in the Jackson area enters its final chapter, raise a glass to the seven championship teams produced over the years. The JaxMets won Texas League titles in 1981, ’84 and ’85. The Generals (a Houston affiliate) won TL pennants in 1993 and ’96 at Smith-Wills Stadium. The Pearl-based Mississippi Braves won the Southern League title in 2008 and the Double-A South crown in 2021. The best team among that bunch arguably would be the ’84 JaxMets, who could run out a starting nine made up entirely of future major league players. That club, managed by Sam Perlozzo, featured Lenny Dykstra, Billy Beane, Al Pedrique, Mark Carreon, Greg Olson, Randy Milligan, Calvin Schiraldi, Randy Myers and Floyd Youmans, among others. They went 83-53 overall and won both halves handily in the TL East. Schiraldi was 14-3 with a 2.88 ERA and was the league’s pitcher of the year. Dykstra led the league in runs with 100 and stole 53 bases while batting .275. Beane, in what he called his “junior year” in Jackson, had a breakout season: .281, 20 homers, 72 RBIs, 26 steals. Pedrique led the league’s shortstops with a .961 fielding percentage. Bill Max, who never made the majors, had a TL-best 16 game-winning RBIs plus 11 bombs. All told, 19 players who appeared on the JaxMets’ roster in 1984 made it to The Show. P.S. Jackson teams also won championships in various low-level minor leagues in 1908, 1913, 1925, 1927, 1931, 1940 and 1947 — according to the Minor League Baseball Encyclopedia.

05 Dec

four months out

The 2023 Mississippi Braves deployed several position players who put up some nice numbers, but there really wasn’t a player who moved the needle on the excitement meter. No Michael Harris II or Ronald Acuna or Dansby Swanson type. Might there be one in 2024? Baseball America ranks three position players among Atlanta’s top 10 prospects, and it’s possible all three could be with the M-Braves when they open on the road on April 5. David McCabe, a corner infielder/DH, is No. 6; catcher Drake Baldwin No. 7; and shortstop Ignacio Alvarez No. 8. McCabe, 6 feet 3, 230 pounds, played at two Class A levels in 2023 and hit .276 with 17 homers and 75 RBIs, then hit .278 in the Arizona Fall League. A college draftee out of UNC-Charlotte, the 23-year-old McCabe is projected as Atlanta’s DH in 2027. Baldwin, a Missouri State alum, is rated as the top power-hitting prospect in the Braves’ system after mashing 16 homers at three levels in 2023. A lefty hitter, he played 14 games (.321, one homer) for the M-Braves late last season before finishing in Triple-A. The most dynamic of those three prospects is Alvarez, the highest rated position player (at No. 8) on Atlanta’s Top 30 by MLB Pipeline. The 20-year-old Alvarez, drafted out of a California junior college, played at High-Class A Rome last season and hit .284 with seven homers, 66 RBIs and 16 steals. BA rates him the best overall hitter in the Atlanta system. Also worth keeping an eye on are infielders Keshawn Ogans and Gerald Quintero, both of whom had solid seasons at Rome in 2023 and could move up. Quintero is a second baseman in the Ozzie Albies mold — 5 feet 5, 155 pounds — who stole 29 bases while batting .251 for the R-Braves. He has 96 career steals in three years. Ogans, out of Cal-Berkley, hit .266 with nine homers at Rome and .299 in the AFL, where he made the Fall Stars Game. … The M-Braves’ best position players in 2023 included infielder Luke Waddell, a Southern League postseason All-Star who batted .290 and stole 26 bases, and outfielder Cody Milligan — injured for a chunk of time — who hit .280. Cal Conley, a middle infielder, has dropped to No. 21 (per MLB Pipeline) on the Braves’ prospect chart after batting .219 (with 32 bags) in 2023. Outfielder Jesse Franklin V — projected by Baseball America as Atlanta’s starting left fielder in 2027 — hit .232 with 15 homers and 21 steals last season and is now rated the No. 22 prospect. P.S. Former Jackson Mets catcher — and MLB manager — John Gibbons and ex-M-Braves outfielder Antoan Richardson have been named to the New York Mets’ coaching staff as bench coach and first-base coach, respectively.

04 Oct

embedded

Observations from a Tuesday locked into televised baseball:
First pitch of game one — Texas at Tampa Bay — of the four wild card series openers is at 2:07 p.m. CDT. … Christian Bethancourt, the former Mississippi Braves catcher, is not in Tampa Bay’s lineup; he played in 104 games this season. … Nathaniel Lowe, former Mississippi State standout, gets a hit in his first at-bat and scores the first run of the day for Texas in the second inning. … Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale, veteran MLB umpire, is at second base for the Rangers-Rays game. … With the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth, Lowe pops up; it’s still 1-0. … Andy Fletcher, an Ole Miss alum and Olive Branch resident, is the ump behind the plate for the Toronto-Minnesota game. He rated relatively low on ball-strike accuracy in 2023, per umpscorecards.com. … In his first postseason at-bat, ex-Southern Miss star Matt Wallner draws a walk for Minnesota in the second inning. He is stranded. … Toronto’s bullpen coach is Jeff Ware, who spent a year as a pitcher/coach with the independent Jackson Senators some 20 years ago. Ware got the bullpen job this spring, 27 years after he last wore a big league uniform as a Jays pitcher. … Texas wins 4-0; Lowe finishes 1-for-5. … Wallner, who made one error all season in 100 chances, is replaced in left field in the seventh inning. … Milwaukee’s starting lineup against visiting Arizona includes four former Biloxi Shuckers — pitcher Corbin Burnes, second baseman Brice Turang and outfielders Sal Frelick and Tyrone Taylor — and a Mississippi Braves alum — catcher William Contreras. … Minnesota wins 3-1, snapping an 18-game postseason losing streak dating to 2004. Former Jackson Mets shortstop Ron Gardenhire was the Twins manager that season. … In Miami’s starting lineup at Philadelphia is catcher Nick Fortes, the Ole Miss product who has had a tough year (.206, six homers). … The Phillies’ infield coach is Laurel native Bobby Dickerson, father of ex-USM shortstop Dustin Dickerson, now in the Kansas City system. … Taylor — the No. 9 hitter — hits a two-run homer for the Brewers, putting them ahead 3-0 in the second inning. … Milwaukee pitching coach Chris Hook, who pitched briefly for the Jackson Generals in 1998, makes a trip to the mound after Burnes surrenders back-to-back homers that tie the score for Arizona. … Cristian Pache, once a highly rated prospect with the M-Braves, makes a nice running catch in left field to record the first out for the Phillies at raucous Citizens Bank Park. … In the second inning at Philly, ESPN’s Karl Ravech talks about Phillies infielder Bryson Stott’s work with Bobby and Dustin Dickerson in the off-season in Mississippi. … Fortes, in his first postseason AB, hits into an inning-ending double play in the third; the score is still 0-0. … Burnes, a 10-game winner this year, is pulled in the fifth by the Brewers, down 4-3; rookie Abner Uribe, a 2023 Shuckers alum, replaces him. … Pache — whose first big league homer came as a rookie for Atlanta in the 2020 National League Championship Series — gets an RBI knock in the fourth to put the Phillies up 3-0. … In Milwaukee, Taylor lines into an inning-ending double play in the fifth with the bases jammed and the Brewers still trailing 4-3. D’backs veteran third baseman Evan Longoria, 37, who passed through Trustmark Park with the Montgomery Biscuits back in 2006-07, makes the crucial, leaping snag. … Milwaukee goes to its closer, former Shuckers star Devin Williams (36 saves), in the ninth. He issues three walks — around a strikeout and a caught stealing — before Christian Walker doubles to plate two more runs. … In the bottom of the ninth, Frelick makes the last out on a pop up in Arizona’s 6-3 win. … In Philadelphia, the Phillies go to ex-M-Braves star Craig Kimbrel — the occasionally erratic closer — who gets through the ninth to finish off a 4-1 victory. The last out of the fourth and final game is recorded at 9:55 p.m. … What a day. And the postseason has only just begun.

19 Sep

seven flags

With the playoffs in the three Double-A leagues beginning tonight, it’s an appropriate time to toast the seven Double-A champions from Mississippi. (There won’t be one in 2023.) The Jackson Mets won three Texas League titles back in the 1980s, the Generals won a pair in the ’90s and the Mississippi Braves have claimed a couple of Southern League titles since arriving in Pearl in 2005. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the M-Braves’ first title. The 2008 team, managed by Phillip Wellman, beat Carolina in a dramatic and deciding fifth game at Trustmark Park. That was a club built around pitching and speed. Matt Young (30 steals) and J.C. Holt (22) led five players with double-figure stolen base totals, and two others swiped eight. Todd Redmond (13-5, 3.52 ERA) was the ace of a staff that also included Tommy Hanson, Kris Medlen, James Parr and closer Luis Valdez (Jairo Asencio). Kala Ka’aihue was the top slugger with 14 homers. Jason Perry, who flashed through for 38 games, hit 13 bombs. The top prospect at the beginning of the season was Jordan Schafer, who was hit with a drug-related suspension at the start and then underperformed most of the way, finishing at .269 with 10 homers and 12 steals. The M-Braves wouldn’t win another pennant until 2021. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Generals’ first Texas League crown, which came in the Houston Astros affiliate’s third season at Smith-Wills Stadium. The Sal Butera-managed Gens, who went 6-1 in the postseason and swept El Paso in the league finals, featured TL player of the year Roberto Petagine, who batted .334 with 15 homers and 90 RBIs. Brian Hunter hit .294 with 35 steals and played a great center field. Lance “Bam-Bam” Madsen belted 23 homers, and Jackson native Fletcher Thompson hit .294 with 23 bags. Jim Bruske (9-5) and Alvin Morman (8-2) were the top starters, and Jim Dougherty led the league in saves with 36. … Though neither of Mississippi’s two Southern League clubs made the postseason this year, there are state connections among the four clubs still playing. In the SL North, Chattanooga meets Tennessee, which features Southern Miss product Walker Powell (11-6, 3.68). Former Generals slugger Daryle Ward is Chattanooga’s hitting coach. In the SL South, ex-Mississippi State star Tanner Allen (.274 in 17 Double-A games) leads Pensacola against Montgomery, which features former MSU standout Colby White (0.00 ERA in eight Double-A games) in its bullpen. McLaurin High and Meridian Community College alum Davis Bradshaw is on Pensacola’s injured list.

05 Sep

touch ’em all

Take pause today from the MLB division and wild card races to honor the life of Doug Shanks, who had a far-reaching impact in baseball — and politics — in the Magnolia State. Jackson native and Provine High alum Shanks, who died Monday at 76, was instrumental as a City Commissioner in the 1970s in getting the New York Mets to move their Double-A team to Jackson and getting Smith-Wills Stadium built as their home. Three different pro teams that played there won six league titles from 1975-2005. Shanks coached youth baseball, including the Jackson 96ers, for many years; won state championships at University Christian School (now Hartfield Academy); and coached 14 seasons at Mississippi Valley State, where he won five division titles, reached the SWAC Tournament championship game and famously hosted Notre Dame for a three-game series in 2010. After retiring from Valley in 2015 — and being honored by the state Legislature — he took the coaching job at Central Hinds Academy. Shanks also launched the Cotton States League, a collegiate summer league that played its games at Smith-Wills in 2001, when the city didn’t have a pro team. The league still operates in New Albany. And he played a key role in getting the Dizzy Dean Museum built in Jackson in the mid-’70s; it is now housed in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum adjacent to Smith-Wills. Shanks’ son Fred, a state Representative, said this in a Facebook post: “He lived a full life and was a bit of a Forrest Gump.”

30 Aug

steele-y performance

No Mississippi native has won a Cy Young Award. Justin Steele, the left-hander from Lucedale, is building a mighty strong case. Steele threw six shutout innings Tuesday night to lead the Chicago Cubs to a 1-0 victory against Milwaukee at Wrigley Field. The former George County High star has 15 wins, tied for the National League lead, and a 2.69 ERA, second in the loop. He also has a league-best 18 quality starts, perhaps none bigger or better than Tuesday’s. The Cubs’ win snapped the first-place Brewers’ nine-game win streak and trimmed second-place Chicago’s deficit to 4 games in the NL Central. Steele was struck in the left leg, just above the knee, by a line drive in the second inning but, unfazed, went on to throw 111 pitches, allowing just six hits and one walk while fanning eight. When he got a punch out for the final out of the sixth, he walked off the mound to a standing ovation from the 33,294 at the Friendly Confines. “I loved it. I love pitching in that environment,” Steele told mlb.com. Steele out-dueled former Biloxi Shuckers ace Corbin Burnes, a former Cy Young winner (2021), who pitched seven brilliant innings for Milwaukee. … Cliff Lee, a Meridian Community College alum from Arkansas, won the American League Cy Young in 2008 with Cleveland. Former Jackson Mets standout Mike Scott won the NL award in 1986 with Houston. The award was initiated in 1956. P.S. The AL West race sure looks like fun. Seattle, Texas and Houston are tied at the top after Tuesday’s results. Mississippi State product J.P. France picked up his 10th win for the Astros, going 5 2/3 (two runs) to beat Boston 6-2 at Fenway Park. France gained a measure of revenge against the Red Sox, who pounded the rookie right-hander for 10 runs in a loss last week. Ex-State star Chris Stratton got the final two outs of the sixth inning, stranding two inherited runners, to pluck the win for Texas, which beat the New York Mets 2-1 at CitiField. Stratton has a 2.00 ERA in 11 games for the Rangers.

14 Aug

he’s done it all

A hearty congratulations to former Jackson Mets shortstop Al Pedrique, who notched his 1,000th managerial win on Sunday when his Double-A Reading Fightin’ Phils rallied to beat New Hampshire 8-3. Pedrique, 63, has played, coached or managed at virtually every level of professional baseball since 1978, when he signed with the New York Mets out of Venezuela. Jackson fans from way back will remember Pedrique as the shortstop at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1981 to 1984, playing on two Texas League championship clubs. He hit .285 for the ’84 OJMs. He played 174 big league games and managed another 83 as an interim skipper for Arizona in 2004. He won a Triple-A championship in 2016 as manager for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the Yankees’ system and was on the Miami Marlins staff just last year. On his current Reading roster is former Ole Miss star David Parkinson, who has posted a 7-4 record this season. P.S. Southern Miss alum Matthew Etzel, a 10th-round draft pick last month by Baltimore, enjoyed a six-RBI game with a homer, a double and a steal on Sunday for Low-Class A Delmarva. Etzel is 8-for-22 with two bombs, nine RBIs and six bags for the Shorebirds. … Mississippi State product Colton Ledbetter, a second-round pick by Tampa Bay, went 3-for-4 with two doubles and three runs for Low-A Charleston; he is 7-for-15 with three RBIs and six runs at that level, 11-for-25 overall this season.

28 Jul

just a footnote

Hunter Renfroe had a very good day on Thursday: six hits, including his 16th homer and a couple of doubles, two RBIs and a pair of runs in the Los Angeles Angels’ doubleheader sweep of Detroit at Comerica Park. And yet, the former Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs was upstaged, to say the least, by teammate Shohei Ohtani, who had what mlb.com called “one of the best days baseball has ever witnessed.” A day after his team announced he would not be traded, Ohtani threw a one-hit shutout in Game 1 of the twinbill, then belted two homers — Nos. 37 and 38 — in Game 2. “He’s doing the impossible,” Detroit manager A.J. Hinch said in an espn.com story. The shutout was Ohtani’s first career complete game and his ninth win of the year. He leads the big leagues in homers. For Renfroe, well, it’ll be a cool story to tell his kids and grandkids someday: “I was there when … .” Buoyed perhaps by the news that the Angels are all in on making a playoff push, Renfroe raised his average to .249 and ran his RBI total to 44. Renfroe is playing for his fifth different team in the last five seasons. He has been in the playoffs twice, with Tampa Bay in 2020 and Boston in 2021. He has a .186 average and no rings. He’d surely relish another shot at the postseason. … Dakota Hudson, another State product, had a very tough day on Thursday. Thrust into the game after St. Louis starting pitcher Miles Mikolas was ejected three batters in, Hudson allowed the first four Chicago Cubs he faced to reach as the Cardinals fell behind 3-0. That was more than enough support for Cubs starter Justin Steele, the All-Star lefty from Lucedale who yielded one run in six innings to record his 11th win. Hudson lasted 4 1/3, allowing nine hits, two walks and five runs in the 10-3 loss. P.S. The last player to throw a one-hit (or no-hit) shutout and homer on the same day, per mlb.com research, was former Jackson Mets pitcher Floyd Youmans, who did it for Montreal in a single game on June 8, 1986. Ohtani is one of five players to throw a shutout and homer twice on the same day; the other four did it in one game. … Ex-MSU standout Justin Foscue and former Mississippi College star Blaine Crim were part of a 5-4-3 triple play and two 5-4-3 double plays for Triple-A Round Rock (Texas system) on Thursday. Alas, the two went 0-for-10 at the plate as the Express fell to El Paso 10-9.