There is a Mississippian on the roster of one of the two Iowa-based teams slated to play tonight in the minor league Field of Dreams Game in Dyersville, Iowa. Former Pascagoula High star Willie Joe Garry is an outfielder for the Cedar Rapids Kernels, Minnesota’s High-Class A affiliate. Garry, who recently came off the injured list, is batting .179 with 10 steals in his fourth pro season. Drafted out of ‘Goula in 2018, Garry is a .199 career hitter who stole 24 bases in 2021. (Listed on Quad Cities’ roster but on the season-long IL is ex-Mississippi State pitcher Eric Cerantola, drafted by Kansas City in 2021.) Tonight’s game will be televised by MLB Network at 6:30 CDT. … Ex-State standout Logan Tanner, the second-highest drafted Mississippi product this summer, made his pro debut on Monday with Cincinnati’s Arizona Complex League team. The Hattiesburg native, a second-round pick by the Reds, went 0-for-3. … The Mississippi Braves are at Tennessee this week for a six-game Southern League series in which they could encounter a couple of Magnolia State products. Ex-Southern Miss star Walker Powell is 2-2 with a 2.88 ERA in six games (three starts) for the Smokies, a Chicago Cubs affiliate. The 6-foot-8 Powell has nine wins over three levels in the Cubs’ system in 2022, his second pro season. Infielder Delvin Zinn, a Pontotoc native and Itawamba Community College alum, has played sparingly this season and is batting .095. He is a .237 career hitter. … The big league Cubs have announced that former M-Braves star Jason Heyward will be released after this season with a year left on his eight-year, $184 million contract. He is batting .174 with seven homers and is on the IL, probably for the remainder of this season. Heyward, 32, a key figure for the Cubs on their historic World Series winner in 2016, arrived in Mississippi as one of the top prospects in baseball in 2009. He hit .352 with seven homers and 30 RBIs in 47 Double-A games. He famously homered in his first MLB at-bat with Atlanta the next year. The Cubs also have released former M-Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, a defensive whiz who was hitting just .173. Simmons, 32, hit .293 for the M-Braves in 2012 and carries a .263 career average in the big leagues. … In Atlanta’s deflating series against the New York Mets last weekend, there were good signs from ex-M-Braves star Ronald Acuna, who went 8-for-19 with two doubles and a home run. He also won the Chevrolet Electric Play of the Week award for a home run-robbing catch in right field in Friday’s game, the only one the Braves won. Acuna is batting .267 with nine homers, 28 RBIs and 23 steals. Atlanta, playing at Boston tonight, needs more from him.
While the Atlanta Braves — and all those Mississippi Braves alumni on their roster — were getting steamrolled in New York by Buck Showalter’s Mets, the current M-Braves were getting trucked in Pearl by the rival Biloxi Shuckers. The Double-A M-Braves dropped Sunday’s series finale 6-5 at Trustmark Park, their fifth loss in the six games against Biloxi. They fell from 17-10 and first place in the Southern League South at the start of the homestand to 18-15 and second behind Montgomery. Biloxi bolted to 17-16, third place. There was an ominous sign early in Sunday’s game. With the bases full and two outs in the top of the first inning, a pop fly into left field off the bat of Biloxi’s Thomas Dillard was lost in the sun by Justyn-Henry Malloy. Two runs scored. A wild pitch made it 3-0. The M-Braves later lost another ball in the sun and had some adventurous catches in the outfield, as well. Down 6-1 in the seventh, the home club battled back but wound up with their second one-run loss in the series. They also lost two two-run games. Dillard, the former Ole Miss star, had a big series for the Shuckers, going 7-for-23 with two walks, a homer, five RBIs and four runs. He had three hits Sunday and is batting .229 (.365 on-base percentage) with nine homers and 60 RBIs on the season, his first full year in Double-A. Immediately after the game, the wounded M-Braves boarded a bus for a seven-hour trip to Kodak, Tennessee. That’s a lot of time to sit and think about what just hit them.
The baseball branch of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame is quite impressive, featuring major league Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell, William Foster and Dizzy Dean plus an array of other stars who could form a juggernaut of a dream team. That roster added a pair of luminaries on Saturday, when Barry Lyons and David Dellucci were formally inducted into the state shrine. Lyons, a catcher, was a standout at Biloxi High and Delta State (under the legendary Boo Ferriss) and with the Double-A Jackson Mets on his path to the big leagues. He was the proverbial aircraft carrier for the 1985 Texas League champion JaxMets. He debuted with the New York Mets in 1986, when they won their second World Series, and played parts of six more years in the big leagues. What’s more, he is one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet. Dellucci, an outfielder and also a very personable fellow, played four years at Ole Miss, earning All-America recognition and winning an SEC batting crown in 1995. He would go on to play 13 years in the big leagues, batting .256 and winning a World Series ring with the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, the team built (though not managed) by Buck Showalter. Dellucci now works for the SEC Network. Lyons and Dellucci join a Hall of Fame team that includes Guy Bush and Buddy Myer, Will Clark and Jeff Brantley, Don Kessinger and Joe Gibbon, Jim Davenport and Roy Oswalt, plus many more. Those are names to know. And if you don’t know them, perhaps you should visit the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson. You’d be impressed. P.S. On Saturday in San Francisco, Will Clark’s No. 22 was retired by the Giants in a big pregame ceremony. The former Mississippi State star was drafted No. 2 overall by the Giants in 1985 at a time when the club was struggling. Two years later, they won the National League West. Two years after that, they went to the World Series. Clark “made it cool to be a Giants fan again,” a teammate said. No. 22 jerseys and T-shirts were all over Oracle Park on Saturday. Clark was a five-time All-Star during his eight seasons with the Giants and still ranks among the franchise leaders in numerous hitting categories.
Jonathan Holder, the former Mississippi State standout from Gulfport, made his first appearance of 2022 on Monday, throwing an inning for the Chicago Cubs’ Arizona Complex League team. He allowed a hit but no runs and struck out a pair for the rookie club. The 29-year-old right-hander is on a rehab assignment from Triple-A Iowa; he is not on the Cubs’ 40-man roster. From 2017-19, Holder was a significant piece of the New York Yankees’ bullpen, and he has a career 4.38 ERA in 157 MLB games. After a rough 2020 season in New York, he became a free agent and signed with the Cubs. Beset by shoulder issues, Holder pitched in only two games, both in the minors, last season. He re-signed as a minor leaguer last fall and went to major league spring camp before being shut down again. P.S. Ex-State star Ethan Small has been recalled by Milwaukee and is slated to make his second big league start today against Minnesota. The big left-hander is 6-4, 3.34 ERA, at Triple-A Nashville. He gave up four hits, four walks and two runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Cubs in his big league debut on May 30. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley extended his hitting streak to 17 games for Atlanta on Monday; he is batting .435 with eight homers and 15 RBIs during that span. … MSU alum Buck Showalter, current Mets manager and former Yankees manager (1992-95), will get his first taste of the Subway Series tonight when the first-place teams meet at CitiField. … Three Ole Miss products, all sixth-round MLB draft picks, have signed or agreed to terms, per mlb.com: pitcher Derek Diamond (Pittsburgh), catcher Hayden Dunhurst (Kansas City) and pitcher — and College World Series hero — Dylan DeLucia (Cleveland).
In the summer of 1982, Cal Ripken started his consecutive games streak and Gaylord Perry won his 300th game. Dale Murphy and Robin Yount were putting up MVP numbers for postseason-bound teams in the big leagues. Forty years ago, Oil Can Boyd was blowing away hitters in the Eastern League, Buck Showalter was cranking out hits in the Southern League and Brian Snitker was managing his first team in Anderson, S.C. In Jackson, Miss., at Smith-Wills Stadium, 1982 was the Summer of Straw. Darryl Strawberry made his Double-A debut with the Jackson Mets that season. He was 20 years old, a California kid starting just his third pro season in the New York Mets’ system. No one really knew what his future held — but a lot of folks thought it would be special. “There was a tremendous amount of hype when he arrived,” said Bill Walberg, longtime radio broadcaster for Jackson’s Double-A teams. “He was the No. 1 overall pick (in the 1980 MLB draft). The unusual name was another thing that attracted attention. Plus, he was tall (6 feet 6), he hit with power, he could run and he was a plus-defender in the outfield. … Clearly, he was as hyped as any player who ever came into Jackson in the Texas League era.” Strawberry’s numbers at Class A Lynchburg in 1981 weren’t jaw-dropping: .255, 13 homers, 78 RBIs, 31 steals. And he was joined in the 1982 JaxMets outfield by two other former first-round picks and well-regarded prospects, Billy Beane and Terry Blocker. But Strawberry, presaging his impact in New York a few years later, immediately became the straw that stirred the drink. He hit for the cycle in his first Double-A game. Jackson’s home field, Smith-Wills, had a reputation as tough park for hitting home runs. It was no problem for Strawberry. “He hit these towering home runs,” Walberg said. “People might remember the old Marlboro Man sign out in right-center field. He came close many times to hitting the man in the head. Another player told me that Strawberry had heard the ball didn’t carry at Smith-Wills and he wanted to prove he could make it carry.” Strawberry finished that season with a franchise-record 34 homers that still stood when the team moved to Texas in 2000. He also set a record with 45 steals, batted .283, hit nine triples, drove in 97 runs and walked 100 times. He was named the league MVP. The next year, he won National League rookie of the year honors with the big Mets. At a recent reunion of JaxMets players in Jackson, Strawberry acknowledged that the summer of ’82 was when his pro career took off, when he really developed the confidence he could play in the majors. He would go on to be an eight-time All-Star, a three-time World Series champ, a seven-time Sports Illustrated cover boy. “I found him to be a likable, very mature person with immense potential as a player that he realized,” Walberg said. Strawberry had some highly publicized off-field problems during his career which he overcame through his religious faith, and he is now a widely sought-after motivational speaker. During that reunion at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, which featured a bunch of former JaxMets heroes, Strawberry was the main attraction among fans, signing autographs and posing for pictures. Forty years after the Summer of Straw.
Jared Shuster, a highly rated Atlanta prospect and an All-Star Futures Game selection, threw seven shutout innings with 12 strikeouts in the Mississippi Braves’ 6-0 win Tuesday night against Rocket City at Trustmark Park. Left-hander Shuster, 23, a first-round pick in 2020, is 6-7 with a 2.87 ERA and 98 K’s in 84 2/3 innings. … Vaughn Grissom, the Braves’ No. 4 prospect, made his Double-A debut (see previous post) and went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a steal for the M-Braves. … Former M-Braves pitcher A.J. Minter, filling in as closer, worked a clean ninth inning for his fourth save in Atlanta’s 4-1 win vs. the New York Mets. Minter has a 1.66 ERA in 41 appearances this season. … If anyone was wondering: Andy Fletcher, an Ole Miss alum who lives in Mississippi, was behind the plate for the Mets-Braves game at Truist Park; he graded out on ball-strike calls at 95.4 percent accuracy (seventh-best among the 15 umps who worked Tuesday) and 92 consistency (second-lowest), according to umpscorecards.com. … Ole Miss’ Jacob Gonzalez went 2-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs in Team USA’s 10-0 win against The Netherlands. Gonzalez is batting .286 in the tournament for the Collegiate National Team (3-1). … McComb native Corey Dickerson, in his fourth game off the injured list, banged out two more hits in St. Louis’ win over the Los Angeles Dodgers and raised his average over .200 (.207). … Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State standout from Crystal Springs, returned from the IL for Milwaukee and went 0-for-4 in the Brewers’ win against Minnesota in a clash of first-place teams. … MSU product Konnor Pilkington, called up to start Game 2 of a twinbill for Cleveland, worked five innings and allowed three earned runs in a 7-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox. Pilkington is 1-2, 4.24, in 11 games in his rookie campaign. … Former State star Chris Stratton made his first start since 2019 and pitched 2 1/3 innings for Pittsburgh in a victory against Miami. Stratton, with a 5.06 ERA in 37 games this season, allowed two hits and one run. He left the game after yielding a double to Ole Miss alum Nick Fortes. … Brent Rooker, 0-for-7 in two games with San Diego, was optioned back to Triple-A El Paso, the third time in 2022 the MSU product has been up-and-down. … Northwest Mississippi Community College alum Cody Reed pitched a scoreless inning for Tampa Bay’s team in the Florida Complex League, his first appearance this season. Reed, a six-year MLB vet, pitched in 12 games for the Rays last season before an injury sidelined him. He was hurt again in the spring. … Ex-Southern Miss star Kirk McCarty, claimed off waivers by Baltimore last week and sent to Triple-A, was designated for assignment by the Orioles. … Tanner Allen, the 2021 Ferriss Trophy winner at State, went 2-for-4 in his first game for Low-Class A Jupiter in Miami’s system. Allen was sent down from High-A Beloit with a .209 average.
Yes, there were significant MLB games in places other than Atlanta on Monday night, and a couple of Mississippi products played significant roles in two of them. Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College standout, gave St. Louis fans something to cheer about in a big win over Philadelphia. Ole Miss product Lance Lynn gave Chicago White Sox fans something to fret about in a tough loss at Cleveland. Dickerson, 0-for-6 in his first two games since coming off the injured list, went 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs in the Cardinals’ 6-1 victory. St. Louis is 2 games back of first-place Milwaukee in the National League Central. Third-place Philly fell 8 back of the New York Mets, who beat Atlanta 4-1, in the NL East. Dickerson, a career .280 hitter, hasn’t produced as expected in his first year with the Cardinals. He is now batting .196 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 41 games. Lynn, the 35-year-old vet coming off knee surgery, yielded eight runs in four-plus innings in the White Sox’s 8-4 loss to the Guardians, who moved 1 1/2 games ahead of Chicago in second place in the AL Central. A Cy Young Award finalist in 2021, Lynn fell to 1-2 with a 6.97 ERA in his seven starts. Though he reportedly wasn’t hit hard, he gave up five runs in the first inning and was charged with three more in the fifth. He faced 25 batters and 13 of them reached. The ChiSox, the defending division champs, are a disappointing 41-44. The Guardians are 42-42, 4 back of Minnesota. The White Sox and Guardians play a doubleheader today, with ex-Mississippi State standout Konnor Pilkington (1-1, 4.08) slated to start Game 2 for Cleveland. Southern Miss alum Nick Sandlin (3.32 ERA) figures to see duty out of the Guardians’ bullpen. P.S. Kudos to DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley, whose 24th homer was the lone run the Braves produced against Max Scherzer and the Mets, and to USM’s Tanner Hall, who threw four shutout innings with seven strikeouts in Team USA’s 2-0 win over Cuba in a tournament in The Netherlands.
New York Mets vs. Atlanta Braves. Three-game series at Truist Park. Mets lead the Braves by 1 1/2 games in the National League East. This is going to be so much fun to watch, especially for Mississippi baseball aficionados. The Mets, after a late collapse in 2021, have been reinvigorated by manager Buck Showalter, the former Mississippi State star from the 1970s. The Braves, world champs in 2021, are back in championship form, led by former Mississippi Braves manager Brian Snitker and an armada of ex-M-Braves stars. All three of Atlanta’s scheduled starting pitchers for the series cut their teeth in Pearl. All-Star Max Fried (9-2, 2.52 ERA), who goes tonight, pitched for the M-Braves in 2017 and briefly in 2018. Flame-throwing Spencer Strider (4-2, 2.60, 102 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings) pitched at Trustmark Park just last season, going 3-7, 4.71, but fanning 94 in 63 innings. And veteran Charlie Morton (5-3, 4.21) helped the 2007 M-Braves reach the postseason in the Southern League. Atlanta has five players picked for the All-Star Game, including M-Braves alums Ronald Acuna, William Contreras and Dansby Swanson. Former Braves star Mark DeRosa said on MLB Central today that it’s “a sin” that Austin Riley didn’t make the Midsummer Classic. The third baseman out of DeSoto Central High, also a former M-Braves standout, is batting .282 with 23 homers and 56 RBIs. DeRosa marveled over Riley’s at-bats in Sunday’s win against Washington; Riley went 3-for-6 with a homer and three RBIs, including the game-winner. The Braves, whose Double-A club has been in Pearl since 2005, have plenty of followers in the Jackson metro. But there are some Mets fans around, too, holdovers from the Jackson Mets era (1975-90) that produced so many big league stars and three Texas League pennants at Smith-Wills Stadium. P.S. The Braves have traded M-Braves alums Drew Waters, C.J. Alexander and Andrew Hoffman (who just joined the team on July 8) to Kansas City for the 35th pick in the upcoming draft. Waters, who was at Triple-A Gwinnett, won the Southern League batting title in 2019. Alexander was one of the best players on the current M-Braves club.
4 — Straight wins by the Mississippi Braves, who’ll take that streak into tonight’s Southern League game against Pensacola at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The M-Braves (4-2 second half, 33-42 overall) have struggled with the bats of late but scored 36 times during the win streak, including an 18-run outburst on Saturday.
10 — Hits in his last seven games, including two on Sunday, for Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product who is batting .385 over that stretch with two homers, six RBIs and five runs for the surging Atlanta Braves. Riley is fourth in the National League with 20 homers.
1 — Career starts vs. Atlanta by Dakota Hudson, the Mississippi State alum who goes for St. Louis against the Braves today at Truist Park. That one start was on May 25, 2019. Hudson is 6-4 with a 3.83 ERA. He’ll be opposed by ex-M-Braves star Kyle Wright (9-4), tied for second in the NL in wins.
2 — Wins in his last three starts for Justin Steele, the George County High product who’ll pitch for the Chicago Cubs against Milwaukee today at American Family Field. Steele is 3-5, 4.39, for the lowly Cubs.
1,600 — Career managerial wins for Buck Showalter, the former State standout who reached that milestone on Sunday when his New York Mets beat Texas 4-1. Showalter, who has managed five different MLB clubs, is No. 22 on the all-time wins list, having just passed Tommy LaSorda.
22 — Number of Mississippians to appear in an MLB game in 2022 after ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton got in as a pinch runner for Miami on Sunday. He scored his 440th career run in his 912th big league game.
18 — Strikeouts in 11 innings over two games (both wins) for Brandon Woodruff since the former State standout came off the injured list for Milwaukee. Woodruff beat Pittsburgh with six shutout innings (eight K’s) on Sunday and is 7-3 on the season.
9.00 — ERA in three games for Kirk McCarty, the ex-Southern Miss star who was designated for assignment Sunday by Cleveland. The rookie left-hander lost to the New York Yankees on Saturday (four runs in five innings), the second time he has faced them in his brief MLB tenure.
3 — Hits in five at-bats for Ole Miss’ Jacob Gonzalez, who also drove in two runs as he helped the Stars beat the Stripes 7-3 on Sunday in Game 4 of Collegiate National Team’s intrasquad series. The teams play again today at Charlotte, N.C.
In St. Louis, the day belonged to Dakota Hudson. In Cleveland, it was Konnor Pilkington’s time to shine. The former Mississippi State pitchers were brilliant on the bump Wednesday, Hudson beating San Diego with one of his best starts of the year and Pilkington shutting down Kansas City for his first big league win. Hudson (4-2) went seven innings for the Cardinals, allowing one run on four hits in a 5-2 win. At one point, the right-hander retired 18 in a row. “Exactly what we needed,” Cards manager Oliver Marmol told The Associated Press. Pilkington, a rookie making just his sixth appearance, went five innings, allowed no runs on five hits and fanned eight, including the first four batters of the game. The lefty has claimed a spot, at least temporarily, in the Guardians’ rotation. “My stuff plays,” he told the AP after the 4-0 game — and after receiving a beer shower from his teammates. P.S. Former Ole Miss pitcher and big league manager Mickey Callaway, suspended by MLB in May 2021 after allegations of sexual harassment against female media members, has been fired as manager of Acereros de Monclova in the Mexican League. The team was 16-17. Callaway managed the New York Mets in 2018-19 and was fired after posting a 163-161 record. He was working as the Los Angeles Angels’ pitching coach last year when he was handed a suspension that extended through 2022.