28 Mar

play ball

It’s Opening Day in the big leagues, and the eyes of Mississippi should be trained on Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field and Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, as a couple of Mississippi-born left-handers embark on career firsts. In Chicago, Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet, a converted reliever, will go to the bump for the White Sox to make his first career MLB start. In Texas, Lucedale native Justin Steele, a 2023 All-Star, will make his first Opening Day start for the Chicago Cubs against the defending champion Rangers. History buffs take note: The last Mississippi native to start the opener for the Cubs was Waynesboro’s Claude Passeau in 1946; he also started the openers in 1941 and ’42. The last Magnolia State native to pitch Game 1 for the ChiSox was Jackson’s Reb Russell, way back in 1916. There are firsts all over the place today. In Chicago, Crochet will face Detroit and ex-Biloxi High star Colt Keith, who’ll make his big league debut at second base weeks after signing a long-term contract that could be worth as much as $82 million. In Kansas City, former Mississippi State stars Hunter Renfroe and Adam Frazier will make their Royals debuts against Minnesota. Ex-Southern Miss slugger Matt Wallner is not in the Twins’ lineup today. In Miami, East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson, a former batting champ, will make his Marlins debut against Pittsburgh; and in Baltimore, ex-MSU standout Jordan Westburg makes his first Opening Day start for the Orioles. Also, Louisville native Marcus Thames is the new hitting coach for the White Sox, while Tupelo native Dave Clark takes over as Houston’s first-base coach. P.S. Ethan Small, former Mississippi State standout, reportedly has made San Francisco’s opening day roster as a bullpen piece. The lefty was acquired from Milwaukee last month. … Vicksburg native and ex-big leaguer Dmitri Young, who hit three homers on opening day 2005 for Detroit, is serving as a grand marshal for Cincinnati’s Opening Day parade today. Young played several years for the Reds.

26 Mar

roster ramblings

As opening day rosters and lineups take shape across MLB, injuries have opened the door for a couple of Mississippi products to step into prominent roles. Ex-Mississippi State star Adam Frazier apparently will start at second base for Kansas City and Madison Central High alum Spencer Turnbull will get a spot in Philadelphia’s rotation. Veteran Frazier signed with the Royals as a free agent after a season in Baltimore; he’ll play second base while Michael Massey is out. The oft-injured Turnbull, signed by the Phillies as a free agent after several years with Detroit, reportedly will fill the rotation spot vacated by the injured Taijuan Walker. … Former MSU standout Justin Foscue, despite a solid spring (.261), has been optioned to Triple-A by Texas. He had been battling for the first base job left open by the injury to Bulldogs alum Nathaniel Lowe. … Jackson Prep alum Will Warren reportedly will start the season at Triple-A in the New York Yankees’ system. Though not on the 40-man roster, the right-hander had been vying for a rotation spot (see previous post). … With Baltimore having sent top prospect Jackson Holliday to the minors, former MSU star Jordan Westburg may start the season as the Orioles’ second baseman, though mlb.com projects him as the opening day DH. He played well as a rookie utility man in 2023. … Jacob Waguespack, former Ole Miss pitcher, apparently will work out of bullpen for Tampa Bay after making the club as a non-roster invitee this spring; he started and worked two innings in a Grapefruit League game on Monday. … Former Ole Miss standout Grae Kessinger, who has been down with a hamstring injury, resumed workouts on Monday in Houston’s camp. Kessinger filled a utility role for the Astros as a rookie in 2023 and is in line to do so again. … Ex-MSU star Jake Mangum, in his latest bid to make the big leagues, did not crack the Rays’ roster and will start the year in the minors. He hit .375 this spring. … Tampa Bay traded with Philadelphia last week for former Bulldogs pitcher Zac Houston, a minor league vet who’s expected to work in Triple-A. … Former Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, 35, was released by the Los Angeles Angels, who had the left-hander in camp as a non-roster invitee. … Ex-Wheeler High and MSU standout Brandon Woodruff announced that he will not pitch in 2024 as he recovers from shoulder surgery. The two-time All-Star re-signed with Milwaukee, a two-year deal, as a free agent this spring. … George County High product Justin Steele has pronounced himself fit and ready to go as the Chicago Cubs’ Game 1 starter at Texas on Thursday. The All-Star lefty was hit in the knee by a comebacker last week. “I’m just kind of eager to get it (the season) here, get it underway and play some ball with the boys,” Steele told mlb.com on Saturday.

20 Mar

there and here

The Los Angeles Dodgers won the first game of the MLB season today in Seoul, South Korea, beating San Diego 5-2. Mississippi Braves alum Evan Phillips registered the first save of 2024. And Mississippian Lance Barksdale, working the plate, registered the first umpire’s interference call of the season, which he called on himself in the first inning for inadvertently disrupting the catcher’s throw to second base on a steal attempt. … On this date in 1981, former big leaguer Gerald “Gee” Walker died at age 73. The Gulfport native and ex-Ole Miss star has a historic connection to MLB’s opening day, having hit for the cycle on April 20, 1937, for Detroit. It is the only opening day cycle in major league history. … The projected starting pitchers announced Tuesday for MLB’s stateside version of opening day include two Mississippi natives (Justin Steele and Garrett Crochet), two M-Braves alums (Spencer Strider and Alex Wood) and two ex-Biloxi Shuckers standouts (Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes). … In a 3-hour, 4-minute game that “featured” 12 pitchers, a 14-pitch at-bat, 17 hits and 20 strikeouts, Ole Miss beat Southern Miss 8-3 Tuesday night at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The most eye-catching number from the game was 3,269 — the announced attendance, surely a disappointment to all involved. … At Trustmark tonight, NCAA Division III rivals Millsaps and Belhaven will play the first game of the Maloney Trophy Series. The opener of the three-game series was originally scheduled for March 5 at Millsaps’ Twenty Field but was rained out. … At Starkville, Dakota Jordan hit yet another home run, his 11th in 22 games, as surging Mississippi State whipped Memphis 17-9. … Jackson State swiped five more bases, boosting its season total to a national-best 67, in a 13-3 rout of Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Braddy Field. Jordan McCladdie got two bags Tuesday and has 15 for the year for JSU, 16-4 with six straight wins. … Top-ranked East Central Community College swept a doubleheader at Hinds (12-2 and 5-0) to improve to 30-0. No. 5 Pearl River took two from No. 12 Meridian (14-2 and 5-2) to improve to 28-5 with 15 straight wins. (ECCC and PRCC are slated to meet April 17 at Poplarville.) … Big league veteran Mike Mayers, an Ole Miss product, has signed a minor league deal with Toronto. He pitched in the Kansas City and Chicago White Sox systems in 2023. … Former Petal High star Demarcus Evans, an erstwhile big leaguer, has signed with Yucatan of the Mexican League. Evans did not pitch in a game in 2023 because of injury.

29 Mar

mlb role-playing

Austin Riley is the 3-hole hitter and third baseman for Atlanta, picked by some experts as the 2023 World Series favorite. That’s a key role, perhaps the most important role held by any Mississippi product heading into the new MLB season that launches Thursday. Here are some others of note: Kendall Graveman, the ex-Mississippi State star, is penciled in as the closer for the Chicago White Sox, who are looking to rebound from a disappointing 2022 season. Graveman, replacing Liam Hendriks (cancer treatment) as the bullpen stopper, has a 4.04 career ERA with 16 saves in 28 opps since converting from starter to reliever in 2020. … Nathaniel Lowe, a former State standout, is the first baseman and a middle-of-the-order hitter for Texas, which has spent a lot of money of late and expects to contend for the postseason. Lowe had a breakout year in 2022 (.302, 27 homers, .850 OPS). … Louisville native and former East Central Community College slugger Marcus Thames is the new hitting coach for the Los Angeles Angels. With a lineup featuring Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout and MSU alum Hunter Renfroe, the Angels are fairly desperate to make the playoffs in Ohtani’s potential walk year. Thames worked with the New York Yankees previously, so he knows pressure. … Buck Showalter, the State star of yesteryear, is entering his second season as manager of the New York Mets, another big spender with World Series aspirations. Showalter won manager of the year honors in 2022 — his fourth such honor — but saw his club fall short — again — in the playoffs. … That brings us back to Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High standout and Mississippi Braves alumnus. He batted .273 with 38 homers and 93 RBIs last season — finishing sixth in MVP voting and winning All Mississippi Baseball’s Cool Papa Bell Award — and will be counted on for similar numbers this year. P.S. Roster news: Former MSU standout Brent Rooker has made Oakland’s opening day roster. The outfielder/DH, who has 10 MLB homers on his ledger, got very limited at-bats with San Diego and Kansas City last year. Cut from the A’s active roster was Ole Miss alum Chad Smith, who debuted with Colorado last season. Right-hander Smith, a 2016 draftee by Miami, posted a 7.50 ERA in 15 games for the Rockies in 2022. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton did not make the Chicago White Sox’s roster. The veteran outfielder was in spring camp as a minor league invitee. … Pitchers Taylor and Tyler Rogers of the San Francisco Giants are the 10th set of twins to play in the majors and may soon become the fourth set to play for the same team in the same game. They opposed each other in a game last April but are now teammates with the Giants. Among the 10 sets of twins to reach the majors are Jackson natives Stan and Stewart Cliburn. Stan, a catcher, played for the California Angels in 1980 and Stewart, a pitcher, was with the team in 1984-85 and ’88. Both were with the Angels’ Triple-A club in 1986-87, though Stewart was injured during that time. Their dream of becoming the first twins to serve as batterymates in the majors never materialized.

24 Jul

on your mark …

From a Mississippi perspective, there is much to absorb today on Opening Day Take 2 of the 2020 season. Brandon Woodruff goes to the bump for Milwaukee, while Lance Lynn starts for Texas in the first game at Globe Life Field. Former Mississippi Braves Mike Soroka (Atlanta) and Charlie Morton (Tampa Bay) also drew Game 1 assignments. Austin Riley makes his first Opening Day appearance for the Braves, starting at third base. Faces in new places include Corey Dickerson with Miami, Jarrod Dyson in Pittsburgh, Hunter Renfroe in Tampa Bay, Kendall Graveman with Seattle, Mike Mayers with the Los Angeles Angels and Drew Pomeranz in San Diego, where the peripatetic lefty actually has been before. Anthony Alford and Jacob Waguespack made the roster for the team with no home, the Toronto Blue Jays. Billy Hamilton is now with San Francisco and Brian Dozier with the New York Mets (as of Wednesday), but neither made the Game 1 roster. Bobby Wahl, who made Milwaukee’s roster, was in the team’s system in 2019 but down most of the year with an injury, so he has yet to make his Brewers debut. Cody Reed, who made just three big league appearances in 2019, is on Cincinnati’s 30-man roster. Cody Carroll, who didn’t get an MLB look in an injury-marred 2019, made Baltimore’s roster. Perhaps no player appreciates being back in a big league unie more than Graveman, the former Mississippi State star who last pitched in the majors more than two years ago. He said in a recent mlb.com piece that he’ll likely get emotional when he makes his first start next week. He also said he’ll miss the crowds: “To me, that interaction with a fan on a daily basis, giving a ball to a 10-year-old kid at his first game or whatever it may be, kids are going to remember that. That’s the thing I’ll miss the most. And the electricity the fans bring. So it’ll be different.” Yes, it will — in many ways.

04 Apr

count to three

On this date in 2005, opening day at Comerica Park in Detroit, Vicksburg native Dmitri Young achieved a feat managed by only three others on an opening day in baseball history. He belted three home runs for the Tigers in an 11-2 win against Kansas City. The Chicago White Sox’s Matt Davidson did it last week, joining Tuffy Rhodes (1994) and George Bell (1988) as the other members of this exclusive club. Young was 4-for-4 with five RBIs on his big day. Young was in the 10th of his 13 big league seasons in ’05. He hit 171 career home runs, including 29 in one season. Nicknamed “Da Meat Hook” during his playing days, Young was more than just a slugger, however. He batted .292 and made two All-Star Games, including the one in 2007, when he would go on to win National League comeback player of the year honors with Washington.

30 Mar

it’s a start

Tim Anderson picked the wrong opening day to go off. The former East Central Community College star hit two home runs for the Chicago White Sox on Thursday but was topped by teammate Matt Davidson, who launched three round-trippers in a 14-7 win against Kansas City. Davidson joins Vicksburg native Dmitri Young and two others as the only players with three homers on an opening day. For Anderson, it’s a good start as he attempts to bounce back from a trying 2017 season (see previous posts). … Southwest Mississippi CC alum Jarrod Dyson had a sweet debut for Arizona, going 2-for-4 with a triple, a stolen base, two runs and an RBI in an 8-2 win vs. Colorado. … Ex-Ole Miss star Zack Cozart delivered three hits, including a homer, in his first game with the Los Angeles Angels, who lost to Oakland 6-5 in 11 innings. Cozart went deep against former Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman, who also had the dubious distinction of surrendering the first hit by the Angels’ touted Japanese import Shohei Ohtani. … UM alum Mickey Callaway got a win in his debut as New York Mets manager, and ex-East Central CC standout Marcus Thames, now the Yankees’ hitting coach, watched his club – and new addition Giancarlo Stanton — whip Toronto. … Former Mississippi Braves Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies homered as Atlanta rallied to beat Philadelphia, and Biloxi Shuckers alum Orlando Arcia got the game-winning hit in the 12th inning as Miwaukee topped San Diego. … Ole Miss product Braxton Lee was added to Miami’s 25-man roster on Thursday but did not make his big league debut in the Marlins’ loss to the Chicago Cubs. Stay tuned for that. Meanwhile, Northwest CC alum Cody Reed was recalled by Cincinnati on Thursday; the Reds’ game with Washington was postponed until today.