26 Dec

simple pleasures

Baseball card aficionados of a certain age will appreciate this: Pulled from five random Topps wax packs from the late 1980s, cards of three Jackson natives, each from a different year, each of whom enjoyed a fair amount of success in the big leagues. There was a 1986 Chris Brown (in a San Francisco uniform), a 1987 Chet Lemon (Detroit) and a 1989 Curt Ford (St. Louis). What are the odds of such a thing? How is it that such a small thing still brings such a thrill? That’s baseball. It’ll grab you and hold you and never let you go. Also found among the cards in these five packs were other players of local interest: Reggie Williams (current Alcorn State coach), Jay Tibbs (former Jackson Mets pitcher), Jim Pankovits (ex-Jackson Generals manager) and Mark Bailey (ex-Gens hitting coach). Bust open the memory bank, ’cause there’s a lot more: Joe Torre (as Atlanta’s manager), John Smoltz, Tony Perez, Mike Schmidt, Wade Boggs, Andre Dawson, Bert Blyleven, Ron Guidry, Dan Quisenberry, Don Baylor, Willie Randolph (two, from different years, actually), Shawon Dunston, Doug Drabek, Mike Easler and a rookie Kevin Seitzer. Simple pleasures from a thoughtful Christmas gift. P.S. Ole Miss alum and big league vet Mike Mayers signed a minor league contract with Kansas City last week. Mayers, 31, posted a 5.68 ERA in 50 2/3 innings for the Los Angeles Angels last season, when he also spent time in the minors. The right-hander has had his ups and downs but was an effective reliever for the Angels in ’20 and ’21.

17 Nov

on the move — again

Put yet another sticker on Brent Rooker’s suitcase. Pardon the old metaphor, but the former Mississippi State star was claimed off waivers today by Oakland, which is the fourth MLB team he has been a part of since April. Rooker, a power-hitting outfielder, went to spring training with Minnesota, which traded him to San Diego, which traded him to Kansas City, which waived him earlier this week. The 35th overall pick by the Twins in 2017, after winning the SEC Triple Crown and player of the year laurels, Rooker has mashed 102 homers in his minor league career — 28 in Triple-A in 2022 — but batted just .200 with 10 homers in 81 big league games. He went 4-for-25 for the lowly Royals last summer. At present, there may be room in Oakland’s outfield for the 28-year-old Rooker; the A’s are in full rebuild mode after a 102-loss season. And, hey, if he plays well next season, the A’s could always trade him for some younger talent.

04 Oct

around the horn

Hunter Renfroe would not go down without a fight on Monday night. The former Mississippi State standout from Crystal Springs homered as part of a three-run rally in the ninth inning, then drove in the game-winning run with a 10th-inning single, sparking a celebration by his Milwaukee teammates. The good feeling didn’t last. A short time later, Philadelphia beat Houston and eliminated the Brewers from postseason contention. Milwaukee, which had made the playoffs four straight years, led the National League Central into the summer before swooning and getting run down by St. Louis. Acquired from Boston in the off-season, Renfroe has been productive, batting .257. His homer Monday against Arizona was his 29th and the game-winning RBI his 72nd. Fellow MSU product Brandon Woodruff delivered a quality start (six innings, two runs) against the Diamondbacks; he was 4-1 with a 2.42 ERA in his last seven starts. It wasn’t enough. … Atlanta, needing a win to clinch the NL East, went down with a whimper at Miami, losing 4-0 while striking out 14 times. DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley wore a golden sombrero, fanning four times in four at-bats and stranding four baserunners. … Former Mississippi Braves star Drew Waters hit a game-deciding three-run homer for Kansas City, taking Southern Miss alum Kirk McCarty deep in the 10th inning at Cleveland. Waters, the 2019 Southern League MVP traded away by Atlanta this summer for a draft pick, is batting .261 with five homers and 18 RBIs since being called up by the Royals. … Ex-Biloxi High standout Colt Keith went 2-for-4 with an RBI for Salt River on opening day in the Arizona Fall League. The Detroit Tigers prospect hit .301 with nine homers in an injury-curtailed season at the High-Class A level. Also debuting in the AFL Monday was 2022 M-Braves outfielder Justyn-Henry Malloy, who went 0-for-2 with three walks for Scottsdale. Malloy hit 17 homers over three levels this past season, six for the M-Braves and one (in his first game) at Triple-A Gwinnett. … Trivia time: When Tony LaRussa began his Hall of Fame managerial career with the Chicago White Sox in August of 1979, who did he replace? Answer: Don Kessinger, the former Ole Miss standout, was player-manager for the ChiSox for the first 106 games of the 1979 season, resigning on Aug. 2 with a 46-60 record. That was the last of Kessinger’s 16 seasons as a player. LaRussa, on leave from the White Sox since late August with medical issues, retired on Monday.

17 Sep

let the dogs out

Friday was a banner day for ex-Mississippi State stars in the big leagues and the minors. Start in Milwaukee, where Bulldogs alumnus Hunter Renfroe led off the ninth inning with a double and eventually scored the walk-off run in a 7-6 victory against the New York Yankees. (Garrett Mitchell, a rookie who spent most of this season at Double-A Biloxi, got the winning knock for the Brewers, clinging to hope in the National League wild card race.) Move to St. Louis, where Chris Stratton threw three pitches, got one key out and notched the win for the Cardinals, who are closing in on the NL Central title. Stratton got the final out of the seventh inning with two runners on base and St. Louis rallied in the bottom half to go ahead and ultimately beat Cincinnati 6-5. Stratton is 4-0 with a 3.06 ERA since he joined the Cards in August and has a 1.29 in his last seven appearances. At Tampa Bay, Nathaniel Lowe blasted his 25th homer to help also-ran Texas beat the wild card-chasing Rays 4-3. Tampa Bay is third in the American League wild card standings, behind Toronto and Seattle. … Down in the minors: Justin Foscue homered and drove in four runs as Frisco, Texas’ Double-A club, clinched the second-half title in the Texas League South; Jordan Westburg went 5-for-5 with his 17th homer for Triple-A Norfolk (Baltimore), his 26th overall this season; and Brent Rooker smacked his fifth homer for Triple-A Omaha (Kansas City), his 24th all told in the minors this season.

10 Sep

another step back

After getting limited at-bats during a month with Kansas City, Brent Rooker was optioned back to Triple-A Omaha on Friday. The Mississippi State product went 4-for-25 with the Royals. Two of those hits came in his KC debut back on Aug. 13. Kansas City traded with San Diego to get Rooker, a 27-year-old outfielder, at the August deadline, and it was assumed he’d get more of an opportunity with the lowly Royals than he did with the Padres (seven at-bats). It didn’t happen. Rooker, the 35th overall pick by Minnesota in 2017 after an All-America career at State, has hit well in the minors but not so much in the big leagues. Including his two seasons with the Twins, he is batting .200 with 10 homers and 86 strikeouts in 81 MLB games. Between Triple-A El Paso and Omaha this year, he has slugged 22 homers and batted .286. He has a .267 career average in the minors with 96 bombs but has struck out in roughly a third of his ABs. Wonder if he’ll get another shot with the Royals? P.S. Former Ole Miss star Nick Fortes went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs to help Miami beat the New York Mets 6-3 on Friday — and to help streaking Atlanta move into first place in the National League East. The Braves blasted four home runs and won 6-4 at Seattle. … Biloxi clinched the season series (see previous post) against the Mississippi Braves with an 8-3 win at MGM Park. The Shuckers are 16-12 vs. their Double-A Southern League rival with two games remaining this weekend.

29 Aug

around the horn

Chad Bradford was back in uniform (sorta) on Sunday as the Oakland A’s celebrated their 2002 team — Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” gang that won a then-record 20 straight games — before the club played the New York Yankees at Oakland Coliseum. Former Southern Miss and Hinds Community College star Bradford was a key member of that A’s team, posting a 3.11 ERA, four wins and two saves over 75 games. The submarine-style right-hander had a 3.26 ERA in 561 MLB games. … In a pregame ceremony at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, Hattiesburg native Charlie Hayes threw a ceremonial first pitch to son Ke’Bryan Hayes before the Phillies played the Pittsburgh Pirates. The elder Hayes spent three of his 14 big league seasons with the Phils. Ke’Bryan Hayes, the Pirates’ third baseman, went 1-for-4 with an RBI in a 5-0 win. The duo reportedly will do another first-pitch thing at Yankee Stadium next month. Charlie Hayes won a ring with the 1996 New York Yankees. … Garrett Mitchell became the 56th Biloxi Shuckers alumnus to make the majors when the outfielder debuted for Milwaukee on Sunday, going 1-for-4 with two RBIs in a 9-7 win vs. the visiting Chicago Cubs. Mitchell, a former first-round pick from UCLA, played parts of the last two seasons with the Shuckers, who arrived on the Coast in 2015. … Dylan Moore, who played for both the Shuckers and the Mississippi Braves, hit a big three-run homer for Seattle on Sunday in a 4-0 win against Cleveland in a battle of playoff contenders. … M-Braves alum Drew Waters, who debuted with Kansas City last week, had two hits, two walks, two runs and two RBIs for the Royals in a 15-6 romp over San Diego. … Ex-M-Braves star Michael Harris II, who made the jump from Mississippi in May, went 4-for-4 for Atlanta in its 6-3 loss at St. Louis. It was the second four-hit game for the rookie of the year candidate, who is batting .298 with 13 homers, 45 RBIs and 15 steals. … George County High product Justin Steele, 4-7 with a 3.18 ERA for the Cubs this year, won’t make the trip to Toronto this week because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19. … Former USM star Matt Wallner belted his fourth homer for Triple-A St. Paul — and 25th bomb overall in 2022 — as the Minnesota affiliate beat Iowa in the International League. Ex-Mississippi State star Jonathan Holder gave up four runs in an inning of work and took the loss for the I-Cubs; the onetime big leaguer has a 10.29 ERA in seven appearances. … Jackson Prep alum Will Warren improved to 7-4, with a 3.38 ERA, as the Yankees’ Double-A Somerset club beat New Hampshire in the Eastern League. Warren, drafted out of Southeastern Louisiana last year, went 2-3 in A-ball this season, his first pro duty.

23 Aug

one more for the show

Another day, another big league debut for a Mississippi Braves alumnus. And, no, it doesn’t get old. Drew Waters made his long-awaited debut on Monday, with the Kansas City Royals, joining the more than 160 former M-Braves who have appeared in The Show since 2005. He didn’t set off any fireworks, but the 23-year-old outfielder drew a bases-loaded walk in the eighth inning that put the Royals ahead in a game they would win 6-4 against the Chicago White Sox. He revealed afterward that he was almost late for the day game at Kauffman Stadium because he was confused over the starting time. He played right field, hit ninth, went 0-for-3 — but was awarded player of the game honors by his teammates for drawing the clutch walk. A second-round pick by Atlanta in 2017, Waters had a monster year for the M-Braves in 2019, winning the Southern League batting title and MVP honors at age 20. A five-tool prospect — and a really sharp guy — the switch-hitter hit .319 with five homers, 41 RBIs, 63 runs, 35 doubles, nine triples and 13 stolen bases. His progress seemed to stall at Triple-A Gwinnett, and the Braves traded him in mid-July to the Royals for a 2022 draft pick. He took off again at Triple-A Omaha, hitting .295 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 31 games before the call-up. “There’s definitely been peaks and valleys in my journey,” Waters told mlb.com. “But I would say this tops it all, being here with the guys who are now my teammates and being able to put on a Royals uniform.” … Waters’ debut notwithstanding, the Former M-Brave Player of the Day Award has to go to Michael Harris II, whose 13th homer of the year helped Atlanta beat Pittsburgh 2-1. Harris, a strong rookie of the year candidate, debuted back in May, the first of an impressive crop to arrive in 2022. That list includes Vaughn Grissom (.391, three homers with Atlanta), Joey Meneses (.318, five homers with Washington) and Shea Langeliers (.273, one homer in six games with Oakland).

14 Aug

rise and shine

Christian Johnson, a former Clinton High star who has been plugging away in the low minors since 2019, hit his first career home run on Saturday night for the Low-Class A Charleston RiverDogs, then belted his second in his next at-bat. Johnson, now 21, was drafted in the 19th round by Tampa Bay in ’19 and had played in rookie ball for three seasons before getting a brief call-up to Charleston in July. He went back to the Florida Complex League after two games (1-for-7), then returned to the RiverDogs on Aug. 4. He is 4-for-17 since. Johnson’s career average is just .177, but maybe Saturday’s performance will be a spark. … A trio of Mississippi State products took star turns in the big leagues on Saturday. Hunter Renfroe smacked his first triple since 2019, driving in the go-ahead run and then scoring an insurance run in the 10th inning of Milwaukee’s 3-2 win at St. Louis in the National League Central showdown. The Brewers are just a half-game behind the Cardinals entering today’s series finale. Renfroe, batting .246, has 44 RBIs. At Texas, Nathaniel Lowe went 2-for-3 with a walk and a run as the Rangers, playing a spoiler role, beat wild card-chaser Seattle 7-4 in an American League West clash. Lowe, a .284 hitter this year, has a 19-game on-base streak during which he is batting .357. And at Kansas City, while the hapless Royals were getting crushed by the Los Angeles Dodgers 13-3, Brent Rooker got his first two hits of 2022 in his first game for KC. He also drove in a run and threw out a runner at the plate from left field. Rooker, a .211 career hitter in 68 MLB games, was 0-for-7 for San Diego this year before being traded at the deadline. P.S. Ex-Taylorsville High star and big league vet Billy Hamilton chose free agency rather than accept an assignment to the minors by Miami. He has played for seven different big league clubs since 2013 and swiped 321 bases, most ever by a Mississippi native. He also has 401 minor league bags.

07 Aug

one door closes …

It was a hard fall for Bobby Bradley. Cleveland’s opening day first baseman, the Gulfport native was anchored to the bench by late April, outrighted to the minors in May and then released from Triple-A Columbus on Saturday. He was hitting .174 with seven homers and 30 RBIs — plus 74 strikeouts in 167 at-bats — for the Clippers. Guardians officials decided “maybe a change of scenery would be good for the kid,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona told cleveland.com. Bradley, just 26, figures to catch on somewhere. A lefty hitter with big power — 163 minor league homers since 2014 — he has some value. Drafted in the third round out of Harrison Central High, he rose fairly steadily in the Cleveland system. He debuted in the big leagues in 2019 and was Cleveland’s regular first baseman the latter half of 2021. But he hit just .208 with 16 homers last year and struck out way too much. P.S. Mike Mayers, veteran reliever out of Ole Miss, was brought back from the minors by the Los Angeles Angels and threw 3 1/3 shutout innings Saturday in the team’s loss to Seattle in Game 1 of a doubleheader. It was his first MLB appearance since May 25. He had a 5.40 ERA when he was designated for assignment. … Hayden Dunhurst, catcher for national champion Ole Miss this year, is 2-for-3 with a double, an RBI and three walks in his first two pro games. The sixth-round pick is playing for Kansas City’s Arizona Complex League team. … Former Madison Central (and current Stanford) star Braden Montgomery has been a key player for Yarmouth-Dennis in the Cape Cod League. Montgomery hit .250 with four homers and 19 RBIs and posted a 2.25 ERA in three pitching appearances in the regular season. He got the win in relief for the Y-D Red Sox in their CCBL playoff opener.

06 Aug

southern style

Two of the most prominent sluggers in Mississippi college baseball history played a little version of home run derby in the eighth inning of an International League game Friday night at Omaha’s Werner Field. Matt Wallner, Southern Miss’ career homer leader, went deep for St. Paul, a two-run shot in the top half, and Brent Rooker, who led the SEC in homers in 2017 while winning the Triple Crown at Mississippi State, belted a three-run bomb for the host Storm Chasers in the bottom half. (St. Paul won the slugfest 15-6.) For Wallner, Minnesota’s No. 7 prospect, it was his first Triple-A home run in his 14th game at that level. He hit 21 in Double-A before his promotion. The left-handed hitting outfielder went 2-for-5 on Friday to lift his average to .179. He hit .299 in Double-A. Rooker’s homer was his second in his second game for Omaha following his trade to Kansas City from San Diego. He belted 19 at Triple-A El Paso, where he batted .272 for the Padres affiliate. The right-handed hitting outfielder, a former top prospect, has 95 minor league homers and 10 MLB bombs (all with Minnesota) in 67 big league games. He was the 35th overall pick by the Twins in the 2017 draft and was traded to the Padres just before this season began. P.S. Former George County High standout Justin Steele matched a career-high with 10 strikeouts for the Chicago Cubs on Friday. The lefty was pulled with two outs in the fifth inning after throwing 93 pitches against Miami. The Cubs won 2-1. … MSU product Dakota Hudson, in his second start for St. Louis since coming off the injured list, threw four-plus innings (78 pitches) against the New York Yankees, allowing three runs in a game the Cardinals would win 4-3.