This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the so-called “Miracle on Grass,” the U.S. Olympic Team’s unexpected gold medal performance in the Sydney Olympics. The team USA Baseball sent to the 2000 Games was a collection of minor leaguers and MLB journeymen that lacked any real star power. Hence, the “miracle.” Writers for mlb.com have put together a compelling oral history of the event, and among those frequently quoted in the story is Roy Oswalt, the Weir native and ex-Holmes Community College star who had a big hand in two of Team USA’s victories in the tournament. At the time, Oswalt was a 23-year-old Houston Astros prospect, a 23rd-round draft pick who hadn’t pitched above Class AA in his four pro seasons. He had gone 11-4 with a 1.94 ERA at Double-A Round Rock during the 2000 season, flashing the stuff that would carry him to 163 wins in the majors. But at the time, he wasn’t widely known, nor were many – if any – of his teammates. “On the way over there, we were getting bashed and hammered by the media saying we had no chance against Cuba,” he told mlb.com. “No one knew who these [U.S. players] were, who they’re sending over here.” Oswalt, on a staff that included Ben Sheets and Jon Rauch, pitched seven shutout innings against South Korea in pool play and came back with six strong against the Koreans in the semifinals. Behind Sheets’ pitching and a big homer by Mike Neill, the Americans stunned heavy favorite Cuba in the gold medal game. “Tommy (Lasorda, the team manager) told everyone that he had won World Series and all kinds of stuff in Major League Baseball,” Oswalt told mlb.com, “but nothing he had done in his life amounted to what had just happened.”
Of the many home runs he has hit in many different ballparks, the blast Brent Rooker struck in Japan’s Tokyo Dome on Friday is one that will likely stick with him. The Mississippi State product hit what was described as a “mammoth” homer that lifted Team USA to a 3-2 win over Chinese Taipei in the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 tournament. The victory in the must-win game kept Team USA in the hunt for a bronze medal in the event and a berth in the 2020 Olympic Games. Rooker’s third homer of the tournament was a two-run bomb in the seventh inning that gave his team its 3-2 lead. He reportedly punctuated the homer with an emphatic bat flip. “I had been holding my breath for about three innings,” Team USA manager Scott Brosius told The Japan Times. “So, he allowed me to breathe a little bit.” Rooker, a top prospect in the Minnesota Twins organization, has batted .353 in six games in the Premier 12 event. In his third pro season, the former SEC Triple Crown winner hit .281 with 14 homers in 65 Triple-A games, missing a chunk of time with injuries. He’ll likely make his big league debut in 2020.
Kendall Graveman rolled into the free agent market on Monday when the Chicago Cubs declined a $3 million option on the former Mississippi State standout. He pitched – very briefly — in the Cubs’ minor league system last season on a one-year, $575,000 deal while recovering from 2018 Tommy John surgery. Graveman is 23-29 with a 4.38 ERA over five big league seasons, four with Oakland. … Taylorsville High alumnus Billy Hamilton also became a free agent after Atlanta declined a 2020 option on the 29-year-old center fielder. Hamilton finished the past season with the Braves after being waived by Kansas City, with whom he had signed as a free agent last off-season. He is sitting on 299 career steals. … Former Ole Miss standout Mike Mayers was claimed on waivers by the Los Angeles Angels, where the new pitching coach is UM product Mickey Callaway, fired as the New York Mets manager after two seasons. Mayers, 27, a right-handed reliever, posted a 6.63 ERA for St. Louis in 2019 and was not on the Cardinals’ postseason roster. … Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz will sign as a free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers and McComb native Corey Dickerson with San Diego, according to predictions by MLB Trade Rumors staff. Left-hander Pomeranz is ranked No. 23 among available free agents and outfielder Dickerson is No. 25. … MSU product Brent Rooker and Mississippi Braves alum Drew Waters helped Team USA advance out of group play in the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 tournament in Mexico. Rooker, a Minnesota prospect, and Waters both homered in a Game 1 win vs. the Netherlands on Saturday. In an elimination game win on Monday against the Dominican Republic, Waters played as a defensive replacement in center field, while Rooker did not get in the game. Team USA now goes to Tokyo next week for the Super Round of the Premier 12 event, a 2020 Olympics qualifier. … Grenada native Dave Parker is one of 10 candidates announced by the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday for inclusion on the 2020 Modern Baseball Era (1970-87) ballot. A 16-member panel will vote and announce potential electees on Dec. 8 at the Winter Meetings. Candidates must receive votes from at least 75 percent of the ballots to gain election to the Hall. Parker– a seven-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, two-time batting champion, two-time World Series champ and one-time National League MVP — lasted the maximum 15 years on the baseball writers’ ballot before falling off in 2011. “(W)hen Parker was at his best, he was elite at just about everything a player can do on the field,” an ESPN writer recently noted.
Former Mississippi State star Brent Rooker, now a Minnesota Twins prospect, has been named to USA Baseball’s 28-man roster for the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier 12 tournament, set for Guadalajara, Mexico, from Nov. 2-4. Rooker, an outfielder/first baseman in his third pro season, batted .281 with 14 homers at Triple-A Rochester this season; he missed a chunk of time with injuries. Rated as the Twins’ No. 8 prospect (MLB Pipeline), Rooker has 54 homers in his pro career. Also on the Team USA squad is outfielder Drew Waters, the Mississippi Braves product who was Southern League MVP this year. The top two nations from the four in Team USA’s group will move on to the Super Round in Tokyo from Nov. 11-16. The event is a qualifier for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
After getting cut from USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team roster, Mississippi State infielder Jordan Westburg has taken the Cape Cod League by storm. Playing for Hyannis in the prestigious summer league, Westburg notched his fifth straight multi-hit game on Tuesday and is batting .600. He has three homers – two in his July 5 debut – and eight RBIs in five games. Westburg hit .294 for State during its College World Series run this season. Also on the Hyannis roster are State’s Rowdey Jordan (.098 in 12 games) and Ole Miss’ Anthony Servideo (.164 in 17 games). UM’s Tyler Keenan has swung a hot bat for Harwich: .300, a homer, four RBIs in 10 games. … The Collegiate National Team, with State’s Tanner Allen and Justin Foscue and the Rebels’ Doug Nikhazy in tow, is currently playing a series in Taiwain after taking four of five games from Cuba last week in North Carolina. Allen is batting .368 for Team USA and Foscue, 2-for-4 with an RBI in Tuesday’s loss to Chinese Taipei, is at .300 with four RBIs. Both were .300 hitters for the Bulldogs in 2019. Nikhazy, the Rebels’ star freshman lefty, pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 innings against Cuba on Saturday. … Ole Miss shortstop Justin Bench and Mississippi College third baseman Dylan Duplechain recently were named as starters in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League’s All-Star Game, set for July 16 in Saugerties, N.Y. … Closer to home, in the New Albany-based Cotton States League, Belhaven’s Nathan Herron is leading the loop in hitting at .432 with a homer and 11 RBIs for the Golden Triangle Jets. Herron, from Batesville, hit .241 as a freshman at BU this season. Former Hinds Community College and MSU player Trey Jolly, currently on Southeastern Louisiana’s roster, is at .410 with two homers, 11 RBIs and 11 steals for the Tupelo Thunder. The Tippah Tribe leads the league with an 8-4 record, sparked by the pitching of Harding (Ark.) alum Braden Quesinberry, who is 3-1 with a 1.00 ERA.
Mississippi State’s Riley Self and Keegan James teamed up for a stifling pitching performance in the Cape Cod League on Tuesday. Self entered in the third inning and went four, allowing one hit and no runs with five strikeouts. James pitched the last three innings, giving up a run on two hits. Self got the win and James the save in Hyannis’ 8-4 victory over Bourne. Self is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in nine innings in the CCBL, while James is 1-0 with a save and a 1.68 in 10 2/3. They were key pieces in the Bulldogs’ bullpen during the run to the College World Series. … One of Self’s punchout victims on Tuesday was Ole Miss’ Cooper Johnson, the Bourne catcher who is batting .200 in 15 games this summer. UM’s Greer Holston is also with Bourne and is 1-2 with a save and a 3.14 ERA in eight appearances. … Thomas Dillard, who hit 13 homers for the Rebels this past season, has three in the Cape. He is batting .261 with 13 RBIs for Cotuit. … Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner is batting .250 with a homer in nine games for Falmouth. … Ole Miss’ Houston Roth has made five starts for Hyannis and posted a 3.98 ERA but has no decisions on his ledger. P.S. UM’s Parker Caracci made six appearances for the Collegiate National Team and did not allow an earned run over 9 2/3 innings. The Jackson Prep alumnus notched a win and two saves as Team USA went 12-3 on its summer tour.
Ole Miss’ Thomas Dillard is enjoying the summer, raking at a .348 clip for Cotuit in the Cape Cod League. The switch-hitting outfielder, who hit .310 with 13 homers for the Rebels this season, has six runs and one RBI in seven games in the talent-laden CCBL. … Jackson Prep’s Jerrion Ealy, a rising senior, is participating in USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars, which is used to select the Under-18 National Team. Games began today in Cary, N.C. An outfielder with all the tools, Ealy hit .368 with three homers for Prep in 2018. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder is an Ole Miss baseball and football commit for 2019-20. … The Collegiate National Team starts play next week at the USA Baseball complex in Cary. Ole Miss’ Parker Caracci and Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner are on the Team USA roster. … John Wesley Ray, a onetime Ole Miss and Delta State player, is wearing out the Cotton States League. The 6-5, 230-pound Ray is batting .522 with eight RBIs in seven games and is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in four pitching appearances for the North Delta Dealers. … Of the five prep players drafted from Mississippi earlier this month, first-round pick J.T. Ginn and second-rounder Joe Gray have not yet signed pro contracts. The MLB signing deadline is July 6. Brandon’s Ginn, the 30th pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers and a Mississippi State commit, stands to get a bonus offer of over $2 million, while Hattiesburg’s Gray, an Ole Miss signee who went 60th to Milwaukee, will command $1 million plus. Pascagoula’s Willie Joe Garry Jr. (ninth round) has signed with Minnesota. Madison Central’s Regi Grace (10th round) reportedly also has signed with the Twins, but the team has not officially announced it. Harrison Central’s Brendan Hardy (31st round) has reportedly agreed to terms with the New York Mets. … Former Hattiesburg High star Robert Carson and Starkville native Julio Borbon, both onetime big leaguers, are putting up good numbers in the independent Atlantic League. Left-hander Carson has a 1.90 ERA in 16 games for York, while Borbon is batting .304 with three homers and 25 RBIs for Somerset.
Ole Miss players will be plentiful in the venerable Cape Cod League, which starts its 133rd season today. Greer Holston, Cooper Johnson and Grae Kessinger are on the roster of the Bourne Braves. Thomas Dillard is with Cotuit, Will Ethridge with Falmouth and Jordan Fowler and Houston Roth with Hyannis. Mississippi State’s Jordan Anderson is listed on the Falmouth roster, though Bulldogs players will be a little delayed in reaching their summer assignments. They have more pressing business, of course: the College World Series. … Southern Miss has four players, including outfielder Fred Franklin, with the Acadiana team in the Texas Collegiate League. … Ole Miss’ Parker Caracci and USM’s Matt Wallner are on the roster for Team USA’s college national squad. Caracci, drafted this month as an eligible sophomore by Toronto, had 10 saves and a 2.31 ERA for the Rebels in 2018. Wallner, a rising junior who batted .351 with 16 homers last season, has been projected to go ninth overall in the 2019 draft by an mlb.com writer. … The New Albany-based Cotton States League is up and running in its 10th season. The HillCountry Generals, featuring a bevy of Blue Mountain College players, are off to a 4-1 start. Ty Wooten, an Arkansas-Little Rock player, is hitting .467 for the Generals. In addition to BMC alums, players from Belhaven, Ole Miss, Mississippi Valley State, MUW and several state jucos are in the league. … Hinds Community College coach Sam Temple will be on the staff of the NJCAA National Team in the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita in late July. The all-star squad has yet to be announced. … Mississippi Gulf Coast CC’s Brandon Parker and Meridian CC’s Trace Jordan were named to the NJCAA Division II All-America first team and Pearl River’s Simon Landry to the second team. P.S. If anyone is wondering, former State star Rafael Palmeiro is batting .212 in 10 games for Cleburne in the independent American Association. The 53-year-old ex-big leaguer hasn’t homered since his one bomb on May 21 (see previous post).
Brandon High’s J.T. Ginn struck out the last batter in the ninth inning on Sunday as Team USA claimed gold in the Under 18 World Cup in Canada. Ginn pitched a perfect ninth in the 8-0 victory over Korea, calling it the “best moment of my life” on Twitter. A prep All-American in 2017 and a Mississippi State commit, Ginn worked 3 1/3 innings in four appearances in the tournament and allowed no hits and no runs with six strikeouts and two walks. Team USA went 9-0 in the World Cup, which it won for the fourth straight time.
Yes, it’s been quite a summer for Ole Miss’ Ryan Rolison. The left-hander is 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA in three starts for Orleans, which is in first place (15-8) in the Cape Cod League’s East Division. Rolison threw five hitless innings on Sunday, striking out eight in the Firebirds’ 8-2 win over Chatham. Rolison has allowed just four hits with 22 strikeouts and four walks in 14 1/3 innings in the elite college summer league. As a freshman at Ole Miss last season, he went 6-3 with a 3.06 ERA. Mississippi State’s Luke Alexander is batting .311 with a homer and eight RBIs for Cotuit, which leads the CCBL West. Hyannis is having a tough season, but State’s Jake Mangum (.354) and Southern Miss’ Nick Sandlin (2.20 ERA in nine games) have performed well for the Harbor Hawks. … Closer to home, the Tallahatchie Rascals lead the New Albany-based Cotton States League standings with an 8-3-1 record. Blue Mountain alum Miciah Heard is batting .348 with 15 steals for the Rascals, and Benjamin Smith (Saltillo) and Wyatt Bailey (Coahoma Community College) are among the league’s ERA leaders. Hunter Bishop (Oxford) is batting .375 for the Tippah County Tribe, second in the league at 7-3-2. The CSBL’s top hitter is the Golden Triangle Jets’ Isaiah Eiland (East Mississippi CC), who is batting .486 with 11 runs and 10 steals. Luke Miller (EMCC) is batting .447 with 13 runs and Tucker Childers (Northeast CC) is at .433 with two homers and 11 RBIs. Both play for the Hill Country Generals. Alan Rickman of the North Delta Dealers is 3-0 with a 1.73 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 26 innings. … UM’s Dallas Woolfolk worked three scoreless innings for the Collegiate National Team in its recent five-game series against Cuba. Team USA won 3-2. State’s Konnor Pilkington made two starts but got no decisions while posting a 6.00 ERA. The team starts a five-game series against Japan on Wednesday.