Professional baseball will return to Mississippi in 2021. Presumably. The Double-A Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers are selling season tickets, though the Southern League doesn’t have a schedule up yet. The cancelled 2020 minor league season left central Mississippi without a pro team for the first time since 2001 and just the second time since 1975, when the old Jackson Mets moved into Smith-Wills Stadium. The Texas League franchise departed in 1999 and the independent DiamondKats played just one season (2000) before folding. The indy Senators began their four-year run at Smith-Wills in 2002. But there was a pro team playing in the state 20 years ago. This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the swan song of the Greenville Bluesmen. The independent team played at Legion Field from 1996-2001 in first the Big South League and then the Texas-Louisiana League (along with the DiamondKats). The Bluesmen are remembered in some circles as the team that made a 1998 trade for a pitcher involving 10 pounds of catfish. (You can look it up.) They also won back-to-back Big South titles in 1996 and ’97. Alas, their Texas-Louisiana League years weren’t so good. They finished last every season, going 34-62 overall in 2001. Patrick O’Sullivan was the best player on that team; the former New York Mets draft pick, who played many years of pro ball, hit .323 with 18 homers. Tunica native Keith Dunn won 11 games. Southern Miss alum Danny Stout and Jackson native Sim Shanks also played on that club. There’s rich baseball history in Greenville. It’s the birthplace of former MLB stars George Scott and Frank White, and the city hosted minor league clubs in various leagues going back to 1902.
To the victors go the spoils, including the flowery prose that is written when significant anniversaries of their great moments come around. Mississippi has seen its fair share of great minor league teams. Pennants from the Cotton States League, Southeastern League, Texas League, Central League and Southern League have been raised and celebrated. We have also seen at least one very bad team, which is “celebrating” its 15th anniversary this year. Yet as dismal as the 2000 campaign was for the Jackson DiamondKats, the independent club did have some bright spots during its one-year run at Smith-Wills Stadium. Some recognition is due. It should be remembered that former Delta State star Casey Myrick was named the Texas-Louisiana League rookie of the year in 2000 after batting .329 with nine homers and 56 RBIs. Two D-Kats pitchers, Ryan Creek and Jeremy McClain, finished the season in the top 10 in the league in ERA. Creek, a onetime Jackson Generals ace, put up a 3.07 and went 5-5 (for a team that was 36 games under .500) before being injured. McClain, another DSU product, had a 3.27 ERA and went 7-9. William Carey College alumnus Perry Miley stole 38 bases, third-most in the TLL. And former big leaguer and ex-Jackson Mets outfielder Mark Carreon joined the team late in the year and hit .340. The D-Kats won their home opener, 5-4 against the Alexandria Aces, before an announced 2,389 (a bit of a stretch). The crowd included Mayor Harvey Johnson and ex-big leaguer Oil Can Boyd, a cousin of D-Kats outfielder Popeye Cole. Miley scored the winning run in the eighth inning, knocked in by Tupelo native Willie Gardner. Southern Miss product Danny Shupe made the lead stand up with a 1-2-3 ninth. Mark Davis, another Carey alum, got the win. The D-Kats didn’t win many more, finishing 38-74, a league record for losses. Former Ole Miss and MLB star Steve Dillard, a good guy, managed the club, which was heavy with Mississippians and largely overmatched against teams stacked with indy league veterans. The D-Kats were outscored by almost 200 runs and struck out a league-record 836 times. They endured two 10-game losing streaks. Home attendance was sparse, averaging under 700 a game. Alas, the D-Kats never got a chance at redemption. The franchise, owned by the league, folded before the 2001 season. The Jackson Mets and Generals, MLB-affiliated clubs, churned out stars at Smith-Wills for 25 years, from 1975-99, winning five Texas League pennants. The independent Senators arrived in 2002 and won a Central League crown in 2003. They ceased operations in 2006, one year after the Atlanta-affiliated Mississippi Braves arrived in Pearl, where they won a Southern League title in 2008 and are now playing their 11th season. While all those championship-stamped teams and many of the players they produced are regularly feted, the DiamondKats tend to be forgotten. Not today.