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.

27 May

one of eight

Craig Kimbrel vs. Ronald Acuna. This was must-watch TV — for baseball fans, for Atlanta Braves fans and especially for longtime followers of the Mississippi Braves. On a 3-2 pitch with a runner on base and two down in the ninth inning, Kimbrel (M-Braves 2009) retired Acuna (M-Braves 2017) on a ground ball to third, preserving a 6-4 Philadelphia win Friday night at Truist Park. It was Kimbrel’s 400th career save, making the right-hander one of only eight pitchers to reach that milestone. “Just happy; just a lot of things,” Kimbrel said in an mlb.com story. Kimbrel came through Mississippi 14 years ago and was virtually unhittable in his brief stay. He was 6-for-6 in saves with a 0.77 ERA in 12 games. He was in Atlanta the next year (2010) and recorded the first of his 186 saves for the Braves that season. He has bounced around in recent years, running hot and cold. He has a 5.68 ERA this season but is 6-for-6 in save opps. There was nothing cheap about Friday’s save. Acuna, one of the best hitters to come through Pearl, is having a monster season — .323, 11 homers, 27 RBIs — and one swing could have tied it. Kimbrel joins former Jackson Generals star Billy Wagner in the 400-plus club. Wagner had 422. Interestingly enough, there are seven Mississippi-connected closers in the top 23 on the all-time saves list. Jonathan Papelbon (Mississippi State) sits 11th at 368, Jeff Reardon (Jackson Mets) 12th at 367, Randy Myers (JaxMets) 14th at 347, Todd Jones (Generals) 22nd at 319, and Rick Aguilera (JaxMets) 23rd at 318. A bit further down are former MSU stars Bobby Thigpen (201) and Jeff Brantley (172). Former Biloxi Shuckers standout Josh Hader, currently with San Diego, is rising at 145, still a long way from 400. P.S. Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn won again for the Chicago White Sox on Friday and is 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA in his last three starts. He is 4-5 overall. … George County High product Justin Steele is 0-2 and has yielded 10 earned runs in 15 2/3 innings in his last three starts, taking an L Friday when the Chicago Cubs lost to Cincinnati 9-0. He is 6-2 on the year. … Ex-MSU ace Ethan Small made his 2023 debut for Milwaukee and gave up five runs in three innings in mop-up duty in a 15-1 loss to San Francisco. Small had a 2.33 ERA at Triple-A Nashville.

28 Apr

saddle up

It’s a few days before the Lexington Counter Clocks’ season opener, and Barry Lyons’ enthusiasm is palpable. “I’m energized,” Lyons said in a phone interview as he came off the field from a team workout. “It’s given me a new sense of purpose.”
At age 62, Lyons has seized the reins as the new manager of the Kentucky-based Counter Clocks, who play in the independent Atlantic League. The former Biloxi High, Delta State and major league catcher — a recent inductee into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame — is back in uniform some 25 years after he last managed a professional team.
“I loved managing when I did,” Lyons said. “I only got out after my daughter was born.”
Lyons stayed engaged in the game. He did some broadcasting for a minor league team in Nashville, and he has been deeply involved with the Biloxi Shuckers since the Double-A team moved from Huntsville, Ala., in 2015. He also administers summer and fall wood bat leagues for amateur players on the Coast.
Lyons has endured some personal hardships along the way, but he is in a good place now, personally and professionally.
“I missed being out on the field,” he said.
As fate would have it, Lyons’ nephew Nathan — a former Ole Miss pitcher — and Nathan’s wife Keri purchased the Lexington Legends franchise back in October. (The nickname was changed to Counter Clocks in recognition of early Kentuckians racing horses in a counter-clockwise direction, opposite of the tradition in England.)
Naturally, Barry Lyons’ interest was piqued.
“I have a lot of friends in the league — Stan Cliburn, Wally Backman, Frank Viola,” he said. “I had kept up with the league. After he bought the team, I talked with Nathan about getting the ball rolling there. He didn’t know that I had any interest in managing again. But one thing led to another, and he asked me about the job. Basically, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I couldn’t be more excited and thankful for this opportunity.”
He took the job in mid-December.
Lyons was a Division II All-America catcher under Boo Ferriss at Delta State, led the Double-A Jackson Mets to the Texas League championship in 1985, made his big league debut with the 1986 world champion New York Mets and spent parts of seven years in the majors, his career curtailed by injury issues.
His first managerial job was in an independent league, the Big South, in 1996, and he worked for two seasons with a Class A team in the Cincinnati Reds’ system.
“Barry’s experiences in baseball have equipped him with a unique understanding of all aspects of the game,” Nathan Lyons said in a team release, “and we can’t wait to see what he does with the team on the field.”
In independent ball, there is no major league affiliate to supply players. You have to stock your own team and comply with a salary cap. With the help of coaches Cameron Roth and Enohel Polanco, both indy league veterans, Lyons has put together what he feels is a competitive club.
The Atlantic League is the premier independent league — aka, MLB Partner League — in the country, and many former major leaguers dot the rosters of the 10 teams. Lyons has landed a few, including pitcher Jerad Eickhoff, infielder Abiatal Avelino and outfielder Ronnie Dawson. He has recruited some players with Mississippi connections: former Ole Miss first baseman Thomas Dillard, ex-Delta State pitcher Cooper Brune and catcher Logan Brown, who played for the Double-A Mississippi Braves in 2022. Former LSU star Brandt Broussard is also on the roster.
“I’m very pleased with everything we’ve seen (in training camp),” he said. “We have a lot of experienced players and a few younger ones to balance it out.”
Lyons said he is looking forward to matching managerial wits with Cliburn, the Jackson native and ex-big league catcher now running the Southern Maryland team, and Backman, Lyons’ teammate with the New York Mets and current skipper of the Long Island Ducks.
“I saw Stan at a golf event a few weeks ago and he was beating his chest about stealing a player we wanted,” Lyons said. “I told him, ‘O.K., the stakes just went up.'”
That meeting won’t come until June. First up is today’s season opener at home against the York Revolution.
“I can’t wait to get out there,” Lyons said.

12 Mar

odds and ends

Sal Frelick, who played for the Biloxi Shuckers in 2022, went 3-for-5 with two RBIs to help Italy upset The Netherlands in pool play today and reach the quarterfinals of the World Baseball Classic. Frelick, an outfielder, is one of Milwaukee’s top-rated prospects and likely will make his MLB debut in 2023. … Mississippi State product Jacob Robson went 4-for-4 with a walk, scored three times and drove in a run as Canada opened WBC play with an 18-8 win against Great Britain. Robson played independent ball last year and spent several seasons in Detroit’s system. He got some big league time in 2021. … Delta State swept a three-game series from Christian Brothers this weekend to improve to an eye-popping 77-4 all-time against its Gulf South Conference rival. … Surging Blue Mountain Christian suddenly dropped three straight at home against SSAC power Mobile to fall to 18-7, 3-3. The Toppers’ Josh Smith, the NAIA pitcher of the week, got roughed up for 10 hits, seven walks and five earned runs in the series opener. Mobile is 20-2, 6-0. … William Carey dropped two of three to Talladega in Hattiesburg in its SSAC opening series. The Crusaders, who had never lost to Talladega, are 16-6 overall. … After its controversial (see previous post) loss against New Orleans on Friday, Mississippi Valley State fell 35-3 to the Privateers on Saturday and 16-3 today. (Note: Valley’s Davon Mims was 1-for-8 with five strikeouts, presumably all legit, in Games 2 and 3.) … Mississippi State, 11-5 with five wins in a row, will play Nicholls State and Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday and Wednesday at MGM Park in Biloxi. … Former Ole Miss right-hander James McArthur was optioned to Triple-A by Philadelphia. The 2018 draftee has yet to make his big league debut. … There is a nice piece on former Jackson Mets standout Al Pedrique on milb.com. The new manager of the Double-A Reading Phillies has been playing, coaching or managing in pro ball since 1978. He spent parts of four seasons as the JaxMets’ shortstop in the early 1980s and played parts of three years in the majors. “What is beautiful about this game is you learn something every day,” Pedrique said.

16 Dec

back in the dugout

Barry Lyons, former Delta State star and major league catcher, has been named manager of the Lexington Legends of the independent Atlantic League. Lyons, 62, who has been involved with the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers in an off-field role since the team’s inception, has managerial experience, having worked in the Cincinnati system in the late 1990s. Biloxi native Lyons is a recent inductee into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. After an All-America career at DSU, he was drafted by the New York Mets and played for Double-A Jackson in 1985 en route to the big leagues, where he spent parts of seven seasons. He won a World Series ring with the ’86 Mets. Lyons’ nephew, Nathan, is the owner of the Lexington club. “Barry’s experiences in baseball have equipped him with a unique understanding of all aspects of the game, and we can’t wait to see what he does with the team on the field,” Nathan Lyons said in a team release. … Jackson native and ex-big leaguer Stan Cliburn is the manager of the Atlantic League’s Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. P.S. Mississippi State product Zac Houston has signed a minor league deal with the New York Yankees and been assigned to the Double-A Somerset roster. Houston, a 6-foot-5 right-hander, went 2-7 with a 5.47 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in the Detroit system in 2022. He missed much of the ’21 season with an injury. Drafted by the Tigers in 2016, Houston has a 2.98 career ERA in the minors.

16 Nov

select company

It’s a very exclusive club that Buck Showalter joined on Tuesday when the former Mississippi State standout claimed the National League Manager of the Year Award. He is one of just three managers to win the top manager award four times — and the first to do it with four different teams. “Very humbling, very honored,” he told mlb.com. Of course, four-time winners Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa have something that Showalter still lacks: a World Series ring. In his first season with the New York Mets, Showalter guided his club to 101 wins, a 24-win improvement over the previous season. However, they squandered a big division lead to Atlanta, lost a late showdown for first place in the National League East and made the postseason as a wild card, where they lost to San Diego. Showalter’s postseason record is 10-16 over six appearances. The BBWAA voting, which doesn’t take into account the postseason, was close in the NL race. Showalter got eight first-place votes, same as Los Angeles’ Dave Roberts and just one more than Atlanta’s Brian Snitker. Showalter’s total points were 77 to Roberts’ 57 and Snitker’s 55. Showalter became the first Mets manager to win the award; somehow, Davey Johnson, the ex-Jackson Mets skipper, did not prevail in 1986 despite winning 108 games with the team that went on to win the World Series. (Houston’s Hal Lanier won the ’86 award.) Showalter will be back with the Mets in 2023 for his 22nd season as an MLB manager.