08 Jul

playing pepper

Matt Wallner, recalled to the big leagues by Minnesota on Sunday, got a hit and a walk and made a sweet catch in left field in the Twins’ 3-2 win over Houston. Southern Miss alum Wallner, hitting .259 with 19 homers in Triple-A, had two hits — a double and a home run — in 25 at-bats in his April stint with the Twins. … Former Biloxi High star Colt Keith banged out two more hits for Detroit in a 5-1 win at Cincinnati and has nine knocks — three homers — in his last five games. The rookie second baseman is up to .244 on the season. … Ex-Mississippi State star Adam Frazier came off the injured list and hit leadoff for Kansas City on Sunday. Alas, he was 0-for-4, dropping his average to .205, though the Royals beat Colorado 10-1. … MSU product Dakota Hudson, designated for assignment by Colorado, had a rough go this season, his first with the Rockies: 2-12, 5.84 ERA. He was especially bad at Coors Field, where many pitchers suffer: 0-6, 8.26 ERA, .359 opponents batting average. He had a 3.72 road ERA. The former first-round pick (by St. Louis) is 40-32, 4.15, for his MLB career. At 29, he might still have something left. … The hit watch continues for Grae Kessinger, the former Ole Miss star recently recalled by the Astros from Triple-A. The seldom-used Kessinger is 0-for-3 since his return and 0-for-14 on the year for Houston. He was batting .283 at Sugar Land. … Tim Anderson, the ex-East Central Community College standout, cleared waivers and was formally released by Miami. There have been no reports of interest from other teams in the former batting champ, a .278 career hitter who tumbled to .214 this season.

27 Jun

hello and good-bye

From the That’s Just Too Weird file: On this date in 2003, Matt Miller, Leland native and Delta State alum, made his major league debut for Colorado. Also on this date in 2003, former Southern Miss star Kevin Young played the last game of his MLB career for Pittsburgh. As fate would have it, the Rockies were playing the Pirates at PNC Park that day. And in the sixth inning, Miller came on in relief. The third batter he faced was Young, pinch-hitting for the Bucs. It was his final AB. Miller struck him out, his first career K. Miller would go on to make 99 more MLB appearances, posting a 2.72 ERA. (He is also the answer to a great trivia question: Who threw the last pitch of the 25-year Texas League era at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium? Miller recorded the final out for Tulsa against the Generals on Sept. 4, 1999.) Young, one of the best players to come out of USM, played 12 years in the majors, all but one with the Pirates, for whom he debuted in 1992. He batted .258 with 144 homers, second only to Brian Dozier (192) among USM alums in the majors.

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.

23 May

early returns

Two games in, it appears that Jacob Gonzalez was ready for the challenge of Double-A baseball. The former Ole Miss standout is off to a 6-for-10 start for Birmingham. On Wednesday at Biloxi, the lefty-hitting shortstop doubled, homered, drove in two runs and scored twice in the Barons’ 8-4 win at MGM Park. Gonzalez’s homer came as part of a five-run 10th inning in which his former Rebels teammate Tim Elko also went yard, his fourth of the season. Gonzalez was the 15th overall pick by the Chicago White Sox in 2023 following a decorated career in Oxford, where he won a national title. He hit just .211 with four extra-base hits in rookie ball and Low-Class A last season, but that surely was an anomaly for the ChiSox’s No. 7 prospect. The California native, who goes 6 feet 2, 200 pounds, was batting .273 with three homers and 15 RBIs at High-A Winston-Salem this year before his promotion. P.S. Spencer Schwellenbach delivered another sparkling performance for the Mississippi Braves on Wednesday, throwing seven shutout innings to beat host Chattanooga. In two Double-A outings, the 23-year-old right-hander has yet to allow a run over 13 innings, yielding five hits, two walks and striking out 17. He is Atlanta’s No. 3 prospect. … Ole Miss alum Ryan Rolison — the 22nd overall pick by Colorado in 2018 — made a rehab appearance in rookie ball on Tuesday, throwing a scoreless inning. The oft-injured left-hander, once a highly rated prospect on the cusp of making the majors, made just four appearances in 2023 and none in 2022. He is currently on the Triple-Albuquerque roster. … Demarcus Evans, the onetime big leaguer from Petal, was released by Charleston of the independent Atlantic League after four appearances (12.46 ERA). He had signed with a Mexican League club in February but never pitched there. The big right-hander, 27, didn’t pitch at all in 2023 while in the New York Yankees’ organization. He has a 2.76 career ERA in the minors, a 4.75 in the majors.

14 May

kudos, here and there

Mike Grzanich, a former Jackson Generals pitcher, was named the MACCC’s softball coach of the year today after leading Hinds Community College to a 32-16 finish in 2024. By some cosmic coincidence, it was on May 14, 1998, that Grzanich, a hard-throwing right-hander, made his one and only MLB appearance, allowing two runs in an inning of work for Houston against Pittsburgh. Grzanich posted 17 wins and 30 saves over three seasons with the Double-A Generals, winning a Texas League title in 1996. He was the pitching coach for Hinds CC for three years before taking the softball reins in 2009. … Hurston Waldrep, former Southern Miss and current Mississippi Braves pitcher, has been ranked No. 75 among MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 minor league prospects, the only state college alum to make the chart. A first-round pick by Atlanta out of Florida last summer, Waldrep is slated to start tonight for the M-Braves against Biloxi at Trustmark Park in Pearl. He is 1-3 with a 3.90 ERA in six starts this year. … Ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson notched his first win of the season on Monday with Colorado, which beat San Diego at Petco Park for its fifth straight victory. He allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings. Hudson, a free agent pickup this past off-season, is 1-6 with a 6.13 ERA in six starts. He was 38-20 with a sub-4.00 during his time with St. Louis. … Current MSU pitcher Nate Dohm is slated to return to the mound for just the second time since early March when the Bulldogs meet North Alabama tonight in Starkville. He was expected to be a key piece for State this season, but arm issues have limited the right-hander to five appearances (1.48 ERA). A healthy comeback could be a big boost during the postseason.

15 Mar

hit the reset

Hunter Renfroe, Tim Anderson and Dakota Hudson have several things in common. They attended Mississippi colleges, were picked in the first round of the MLB draft, enjoyed success in The Show — and now find themselves in spring training camps trying to re-establish their place in the game. Mississippi State product and Crystal Springs native Renfroe has 177 home runs in the big leagues but has bounced from team to team the last several years. In 2023, he was waived by the Los Angeles Angels, claimed and later released by Cincinnati in mid-September. He is in Kansas City’s camp on a one-year, $6.5 million contract, likely to be the lowly Royals’ right fielder. Anderson, a first-round pick by the Chicago White Sox out of East Central Community College in 2013 (same year Renfroe was drafted), was found wanting by the ChiSox after seven years as their regular shortstop and was cut loose after the season. Anderson had a poor year in 2023, with the bat and the glove, and has a flair for generating controversy. Miami recently signed Anderson, and he is expected to be the Marlins’ shortstop. He said in a recent MLB Network interview that he is “super-motivated, super-inspired and super-coachable” as well as “super-thankful and super-blessed” to have the opportunity. Hudson, another ex-MSU star, had a 38-20 career record and 3.84 ERA since 2018 with St. Louis. But he has had some recent injury issues, went 6-3, 4.98, in a bumpy 2023 and was non-tendered after the season. He signed with Colorado, where he’ll likely make the starting rotation for a club that sorely needs pitching. Spring training stats aren’t necessarily telling, but for what it’s worth, none of these three transplanted veterans has had a good camp. Renfroe is batting .118 with no homers in 17 at-bats. Anderson is hitting .182 in 22 ABs. Hudson is 1-1, 6.75, over 5 1/3 innings in three outings. P.S. Former Ole Miss pitcher Jacob Waguespack has made Tampa Bay’s team as a non-roster invitee and apparently will pitch in the rotation. He spent the last two years in Japan after posting a 5-5, 5.08, ledger in 2019-20 with Toronto.

06 Feb

better than most

In recognition of Black History Month, take a moment to appreciate the career of Vicksburg native Ellis Burks, arguably the best all-around player the Magnolia State has ever produced. His 1996 season with the Colorado Rockies might be the best single season any Mississippi native has put up in the big leagues. Born in Vicksburg in 1964, Burks also lived in Jackson for a time before his family moved to Texas. He was drafted out of Ranger College, a Texas juco, in the first round of the 1983 January draft by Boston. He debuted in MLB in 1987 at age 22 — amid Willie Mays comparisons — and batted .272 with 20 home runs as a Red Sox rookie. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound outfielder’s career ended in 2004, when injuries limited him to a handful of games, none in the postseason, for the Red Sox in their historic World Series-winning campaign. In between, he made two All-Star games, won two Silver Slugger awards and received a Gold Glove. He is now a scout for San Francisco. In 1996, as one of Colorado‚Äôs Blake Street Bombers, Burks batted .344 with 40 homers, 128 RBIs, a league-leading 142 runs, 45 doubles, 211 hits, 32 stolen bases and a 7.9 WAR, earning third place in the National League MVP voting. Among Mississippi natives, Burks is first in career homers (352), second in runs, RBIs and hits and fourth in stolen bases and batting average. And note that injuries curtailed several of his 18 seasons. On the career WAR chart, Burks is second among Mississippi-born position players with a 49.8; Jackson native Chet Lemon had a 55.6, aided considerably by his defense. Surprisingly, Burks lasted just one year on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, getting just two votes in 2010. But make no mistake: He had an impact, on and off the field. In 2004, when the Red Sox arrived back in Boston after winning the World Series in St. Louis, it was Burks — at the suggestion of Pedro Martinez — who got the honor of carrying the championship trophy off the plane. P.S. Mississippi State alum Ethan Small has landed with San Francisco, traded for cash by Milwaukee which had DFA’d the left-hander last week. … Mississippi College product Blaine Crim has received a non-roster invite to Texas’ spring camp.

05 Jan

head for rockies

Mississippi State alum Dakota Hudson, who has a 38-20 career record in the majors, has signed with Colorado, which needs pitching help. Hudson, 29, once a regular member of St. Louis’ rotation, didn’t make the club out of spring training last year but did eventually get called up, posting a 6-3 record and 4.98 ERA in 18 appearances, 12 starts. The right-hander, a first-round pick in 2016, has a career 3.84 ERA in six seasons and joins a Rockies staff that finished last in MLB with a 5.68 in 2023. … The Rockies might still hold out hope that ex-Ole Miss star Ryan Rolison can contribute someday. The 26-year-old lefty was a first-round pick in 2018 but has been derailed by injuries, pitching in just four games since 2021. Yet to make his MLB debut, he is no longer on Colorado’s 40-man roster. P.S. If you’re keeping score, Hudson joins Lance Lynn (St. Louis), Chris Stratton (Kansas City) and Hunter Renfroe (Royals) as Mississippi-connected free agents to sign big league contracts this off-season. Still available: Adam Frazier, Tim Anderson, Brandon Woodruff and Spencer Turnbull.

23 Oct

totally random

While in the grip of postseason fever, here’s a well-deserved shout-out to Luther Hackman, the former Columbus High star who took MVP honors in back-to-back Taiwan Series in 2008 and ’09. (Stumbled across this compelling nugget of information while searching for something else on baseball-reference.com.) Hackman, a 6-foot-4 right-hander who pitched in the big leagues from 1999-2003, threw 17 shutout innings for the Uni-President Lions and won Games 4 and 7 in the ’08 Taiwan Series, the championship of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. In 2009, Hackman won Games 1, 4 and 7 of the series for the Lions. Hackman pitched in the CPBL for three years, 2010 being his last as a player. Drafted by Colorado in the sixth round in 1994, Hackman pitched in 149 big league games with three clubs and posted a 5.09 ERA. He also pitched in the independent Atlantic League, Mexico and Korea, with middling success. Yet he may still be a legend in the CPBL. P.S. A belated shout-out to umpire Lance Barksdale, the Brookhaven native who was behind the plate for Saturday’s Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Barksdale missed just one call, according to umpscorecards.com, posting a 99 percent accuracy rate. The one miss: a called strike on a 3-2 pitch to Philadelphia’s Trea Turner in the third inning.

16 Sep

on this date

On Sept. 16, 2007, Seth Smith — a September call-up by the Colorado Rockies — made his big league debut, launching an 11-year career that should have gotten more acclaim than it did. The left-handed hitting outfielder, a Hillcrest Christian and Ole Miss alumnus, went 0-for-2 in that first game but went 5-for-6 thereafter, making enough of an impression that the Rockies kept him on their postseason roster. He was 3-for-6 with two RBIs and two runs as a pinch hitter as the Rockies rolled into the World Series before losing to Boston. Ten years later, early in his final season, Smith hit a big home run that won a game for Baltimore. “It was a good, professional at-bat,'” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said at the time. “He’s a good guy to have up in that situation.” That would be a great summation of Smith’s career. He batted .261 with a .344 on-base percentage, banging out 126 homers among his 934 career hits, scoring 525 runs and driving in 458 while playing for five different organizations. Soft-spoken and deeply religious, Smith never sought the limelight. He never made an All-Star team or won a World Series ring, but he had a positive impact everywhere he went. He played on four teams that reached the postseason, batting .262 with four homers, and on six winning clubs overall. In his last season, with the ’17 Orioles, Smith batted .258 with 13 homers in 111 games. He played his last game on his 35th birthday, Sept. 30. Then he retired — with no fanfare, no formal announcement — and returned to Mississippi, settling into family life.