Jake Gibbs, Bobby Cox, Evan Gattis and more….
Notes, quotes and an opinion or two while savoring my favorite sports time of the year….
I mean, how could it not be: Major League baseball openers, college baseball in full swing, the Final Four and The Masters coming up.
Spring has sprung. As ol’ pal Jerry Clower would have said, “Ain’t it good?”
Made it out to Trustmark Park Saturday for the Braves vs. Braves exhibition. Main reason I went was to watch Jason Heyward take batting practice and see my old friend Brian Snitker, the A-Braves third base coach and former M-Braves manager.
You should know that there have been two Class AA ballplayers to come through Jackson I would go out to the ballpark just to watch them take B.P. One was Darryl Strawberry. The other was Heyward. The ball just sounds different coming off their bats, like a rifle shot. Straw used to hit them deep into the pine trees behind the fence at Smith-Wills. Heyward would hit them over the restaurant at Trustmark.
So, wouldn’t you know, the wind was blowing hard out to left field yesterday at Trustmark. The two Upton brothers and Evan Gattis, right handed swingers all, stole the show in batting practice. The ball sounds different coming off their bats, as well. All three hit shots deep into the parking lot behind the left field fence. Gattis, surely the most interesting story in baseball this year, hit one during the game that might have been longest of all.
Gattis will make the jump from Class AA to the Major Leagues this year. His story is almost like a fairy tale. He is 26 years old and was out of baseball for four years, working as a janitor and a ski lift operator among various other jobs. He was a self-professed wanderer.
He returned to baseball in 2010 and has played less than half a season above the Class A level, which brings me to my conversation yesterday with future Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox.
Said Cox of Gattis, “I love that guy. He’s a fearless hitter, and he’s had an unbelievable spring hitting for power and average. He can catch and he can play left field. I’ve tried to find a hole in his game, but I can’t. He can catch, he can throw, and, man, he can swing that bat. He’s just been a great example of how to play the game. He’s going to be a great addition to this ballclub.”
Cox, by the way, had one question when he learned that I had changed jobs from the newspaper business to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
“How’s Jake?” Cox asked. “Tell me about Jake Gibbs. Any sports Hall of Fame in Mississippi has to start with Jake Gibbs.”
Cox and Gibbs were once New York Yankees teammates.
“Jake is one of the all-time great guys, just a wonderful human being” Cox said. “I love Jake Gibbs. I’d love to see Jake.”
Cox said he will return to Trustmark Park for at least one series this coming summer, so we will try to work out a reunion…
As for Gattis, “Yes,” Gattis said. “I feel like I need to pinch myself. I know I am going to have to pinch myself Monday when we open the season. This has all happened so fast.”
Gattis led the Braves this spring with six home runs, 16 RBIs and a .368 average.
Said Snitker, “You kept waiting for him to fail, but he never did. He’s special.”
Gattis hit .258 with nine home runs in just 49 games at Pearl last season.
“This is where I learned that I could hit really good pitching,” Gattis said. “Double-A is the level where you learn whether you can do it or not. I proved to myself that I really belonged in professional baseball here last season.”