31 Jul

life of riley

With one out in the bottom of the ninth, runner at first base in a scoreless game in Atlanta, Austin Riley took a cutter down and in from Arizona’s Mark Melancon and drove it into the gap in right-center, scoring Matt Olson with the game-winning run. What else did you expect? Fans at Truist Park were chanting “MVP, MVP” as Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, came to the plate, and he certainly has made a case. Here are the juicy numbers:
26: Extra base hits in July, most in a month by a Braves player, topping Hank Aaron’s 25 in 1961.
11: Home runs in July.
25: RBIs in July.
.423: Batting average in July.
.301: Batting average for the season.
29: Homers for the season.
31: Doubles for the season.
68: RBIs for the season.
61: Runs for the season.
.360: On-base percentage for the season.
.604: Slugging percentage for the season.
Only one Mississippi native, high school or college product has ever won an MVP: Grenada native Dave Parker with Pittsburgh in the National League in 1978. Riley, a Memphis native who grew up in Southaven, still has work to do, obviously, but he is building a jaw-dropping resume.

11 Jul

it’s on: mets-braves

New York Mets vs. Atlanta Braves. Three-game series at Truist Park. Mets lead the Braves by 1 1/2 games in the National League East. This is going to be so much fun to watch, especially for Mississippi baseball aficionados. The Mets, after a late collapse in 2021, have been reinvigorated by manager Buck Showalter, the former Mississippi State star from the 1970s. The Braves, world champs in 2021, are back in championship form, led by former Mississippi Braves manager Brian Snitker and an armada of ex-M-Braves stars. All three of Atlanta’s scheduled starting pitchers for the series cut their teeth in Pearl. All-Star Max Fried (9-2, 2.52 ERA), who goes tonight, pitched for the M-Braves in 2017 and briefly in 2018. Flame-throwing Spencer Strider (4-2, 2.60, 102 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings) pitched at Trustmark Park just last season, going 3-7, 4.71, but fanning 94 in 63 innings. And veteran Charlie Morton (5-3, 4.21) helped the 2007 M-Braves reach the postseason in the Southern League. Atlanta has five players picked for the All-Star Game, including M-Braves alums Ronald Acuna, William Contreras and Dansby Swanson. Former Braves star Mark DeRosa said on MLB Central today that it’s “a sin” that Austin Riley didn’t make the Midsummer Classic. The third baseman out of DeSoto Central High, also a former M-Braves standout, is batting .282 with 23 homers and 56 RBIs. DeRosa marveled over Riley’s at-bats in Sunday’s win against Washington; Riley went 3-for-6 with a homer and three RBIs, including the game-winner. The Braves, whose Double-A club has been in Pearl since 2005, have plenty of followers in the Jackson metro. But there are some Mets fans around, too, holdovers from the Jackson Mets era (1975-90) that produced so many big league stars and three Texas League pennants at Smith-Wills Stadium. P.S. The Braves have traded M-Braves alums Drew Waters, C.J. Alexander and Andrew Hoffman (who just joined the team on July 8) to Kansas City for the 35th pick in the upcoming draft. Waters, who was at Triple-A Gwinnett, won the Southern League batting title in 2019. Alexander was one of the best players on the current M-Braves club.

28 May

debut alert

Michael Harris II is making the jump from Double-A to the big leagues, having been called up from Mississippi to Atlanta this morning. Look for the Braves’ top prospect to start in center field today (3:15 p.m.) when the Braves play Miami at Truist Park. Harris, 21, out of Stockbridge, Ga., is batting .305 with five homers, 33 RBIs and 11 steals in 43 games for the M-Braves. He is a .292 hitter over 197 minor league games since 2019. This debut could be something special. Since 2005, several M-Braves alums have had memorable debuts: Brian McCann (2-for-3 with an RBI on June 10, 2005); Jeff Francoeur (1-for-4 with a homer in 2005); Jordan Schafer (2-for-3 with a homer in his first at-bat in 2009); Jason Heyward (2-for-5 with a homer in his first AB in 2010); Evan Gattis (1-for-4 with a homer in 2013); Dansby Swanson (2-for-4 in 2016); Ronald Acuna (1-for-5 in 2018); Austin Riley (1-for-3 with a homer in 2019); and Cristian Pache (1-for-4 in 2020).

23 Aug

around the horn

Not so long ago, New York Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames, the former East Central Community College star, was on a hot seat, as was manager Aaron Boone. For the better part of three months, the club struggled to score, foundering with runners in scoring position, frequently striking out or hitting into double plays. Well, that seems like ancient history now. The Yankees, finally fit and fortified with new additions to the lineup, are sizzling hot as they head into Truist Park in Atlanta, where the eyes of the baseball world will be on a two-game series between the hottest teams in the game. Both have won nine straight. The Yankees have climbed to 72-52, second in the American League East. The Braves are 68-56, first in the National League East. … Atlanta’s Mississippi connection, third baseman Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product, is batting .342 during the win streak, with four homers, six RBIs and nine runs. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman, now with Houston, faced his former team, Seattle, for the first time on Sunday. He gave up a run in his one inning but maintained the lead, which the Astros later squandered en route to a 6-3, extra-inning loss. Graveman has allowed two runs in nine innings for the Astros; he had a 0.82 ERA in 30 appearances for the Mariners. Graveman was upset when Seattle traded him in late July. … In his third game at Low-A Salem, former DeSoto Central star Blaze Jordan hit his second homer, this one a grand slam. The first-year pro is 3-for-11 for Salem after hitting .362 with four homers for Boston’s Florida Complex League team. … Just in time for the start of fall classes, Alcorn State has hired a new coach. Reggie Williams, a former major league outfielder, was named last Friday to fill the post previously held by Brett Richardson. He was not retained after a 7-20 season. Williams is a Southern University alum who played in the big leagues in the 1980s. He previously worked as an instructor and coach in the Cincinnati and Milwaukee organizations and was also an educator in the Memphis school system. Three of the state’s HBCUs will have new coaches in 2022. Stanley Stubbs moves from Rust College to Mississippi Valley State, and John Bates was promoted from Stubbs’ staff to replace him as Bearcats coach. … Three Mississippians were on the West roster for Sunday’s Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego: outfielder Emaarion “Mari” Boyd of South Panola, outfielder Dakota Jordan of Jackson Academy and catcher Ross Highfill of Madison Central. All are 2022 seniors. The West was no-hit by the East in a 9-1 defeat at Petco Park.