Category: Sports (Page 2 of 5)

We got John Smoltz’s autograph

How have we not sold out of this book yet? That’s right — these are signed copies of John Smoltz’s new book. The stack is beginning to dwindle, so grab a copy before they are gone.

Here’s some of my favorite John Smoltz facts:

  • Only pitcher in MLB history with 200 wins and 150 saves.
  • Second pitcher in MLB history with a 20 win season and a 50 save season.
  • One of four pitchers in MLB history to record 3,000 strikeouts with the same team.
  • Holds the Atlanta Braves records for most wins in a season, longest winning streak, most saves in a season, most strikeouts in a season, and most strikeouts in a game.
  • Pitched 9 scoreless innings of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series but was outdueled by Jack Morris who threw a 10 inning shutout for the World Series victory.
  • Considered one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time, with a 15-4 record and 2.67 ERA.
  • Tiger Woods claims Smoltz is the best golfer outside of the PGA Tour he has seen.
  • Has 3 postseason stolen bases. No other MLB pitcher in history has more than 1.
  • Was All-State in both baseball and basketball. Was not drafted until the 22nd round because teams worried he’d go to Michigan State to play collegiate basketball.
  • Once did jumping jacks for nearly an hour in the Braves clubhouse; the Braves began to rally when he started and he was afraid to jinx them.
  • Reportedly burned himself attempting iron a shirt he was wearing. Has since disputed the event, but says he goes with it because it’s a good story.
  • Since joining the Braves broadcast crew, has told at least one terrible joke per game.

Baseball Fiction

It’s been a good year for baseball fiction so far; here are three options for your consideration. A couple rookies, and a grizzled veteran, if you will.

The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach — Okay, so this is cheating a bit since this came out last year. I mentioned it previously among my favorite books of 2011. I said that I wasn’t sure if it matched the hype. I stand by that comment, but I’d like to clarify it. The Art of Fielding should not be a disappointing book, but the early blurbs and reviews were so glowing that the expectations for a first novel were just too high. It suffers from common first-novel problems: the pacing of the plot varies wildly, characters and themes are introduced and discarded with no apparent reason, and the prose occasionally gets a bit turgid. But there are these moments, and even whole sections, that work so wonderfully that it’s well worth the time and effort. I hope Harbach’s next book arrives with some more aggressive editing, but either way I’m looking forward to it.

The Might Have Been, by Joseph M. Schuster — This debut novel, on the other hand, seems to have been underhyped. It is an astonishingly well-written and balanced effort. Schuster has mined baseball for all its tragedy and triumph while successfully avoiding writing a novel about baseball. Instead, it remains a novel about a man, about his life, about his relationships. There’s an element here that’s reminiscent of one of my favorite novels, The Outerbridge Reach by Robert Stone — something related to male psychology, something about how a man sees himself compared to how he wants others to see him, something about the need for respect and success and the pain of failure. Immensely enjoyable.

Calico Joe, by John Grisham — If you haven’t figured it out yet, John Grisham appears here as the “grizzled veteran” of our trio. I say this with no disrespect — on the contrary, at the point in his writing career where contemporaries would be comfortable churning out formulaic serial novels or simply slapping their names on the covers of books they’ve never even read, Grisham continues not only to offer his legal thrillers but to expand his repertoire with books like Calico Joe or his young adult series, Theodore Boone. I like Grisham’s writing best when he’s outside of his legal wheelhouse, so I knew this was one I couldn’t pass up. We have signed copies of Calico Joe, and the signed copies of the third Theodore Boone novel will be here soon.

Next Up on My Reading List — Play Their Hearts Out

This book has been in my “to read” stack for quite some time. Typically, if I find that other books keep leapfrogging a particular book, I’ll realize that I’m just not that interested in reading it and I have no problem setting it aside. For some reason, Play Their Hearts Out stuck around. I’d read too many good reviews and too many recommendations to abandon it. I think it’s time.

Yes, baseball has started, but we’re nearly a month in and the excitement of the new season has waned a bit as we settle into the long grind of the regular season. Meanwhile, the NBA playoffs have started after a bizarre shortened season, so what better time to read a good basketball book?

But this book isn’t about NBA millionaires, nor college athletes. The subject is youth basketball, specifically the AAU leagues where all of the very best young players face off. These aren’t school-affiliated teams; these are teams constructed solely for the purpose of developing and promoting the most promising young talent. You can imagine the effect this has on the style of play; AAU games are notoriously devoid of defense, and the offensive strategies tend to highlight individual ability rather than passing and teamplay.

As a result, AAU leagues have received widespread blame for the decline in the quality of basketball at the college and professional level. The best players aren’t receiving solid fundamental instruction at an early age, so goes the argument. There’s some legitimacy to this line of thinking, but it understates the problem. It’s bad that young talented players are learning bad basketball habits; it’s indefensible that these same players are being roped in by coaches, promoters, and shoe companies, and then discarded when their future dims in comparison to their peers. One bad injury, one bad decision — and all the promises are yanked away.

If you want to understand the current state of basketball, read this book.

Baseball, 2012 Edition

Somehow Opening Day has come and gone and I haven’t recommended any baseball books yet, and it’s time to remedy that. There are are quite a few new baseball books this year, but so far just two have made it into my “to read” stack.

R.A. Dickey’s new book Wherever I Wind Up looks like a typical baseball memoir at first glance. You might expect some well-worn stories about Little League success, long bus rides in the minors, and that first cup of coffee in the majors. Instead, Dickey leaves no embarassing secret untold — his childhood in a broken home, molestation by a babysitter, long-lasting depression, and an extramarital affair. The early reviews have been stellar — Dickey is a smart, well-educated guy, with a capable co-author in Wayne Coffey. I’ve read a few excerpts and I’m looking forward to reading this one.

The writers at Baseball Prospectus have been at the forefront of baseball research and analysis for years now. Extra Innings is a collection of new essays from different writers about all kinds of baseball topics, including the steroid era, player scouting and development, and pitching injuries. I was especially pleased to see that one of the chapters was written by Derek Carty, who is one of my favorite baseball writers. I started reading Derek’s articles back when he was writing his own blog, and it’s been nice to see his excellent work recognized.

Bicycling the Natchez Trace

Bicycling the Natchez Trace is in its third edition and for good reason. Even before you get on the trail you will get caught up in the engaging mini history lessons from author Glen Wanner. Wanner has been traveling all 500 miles of the Natchez Trace from Mississippi through Alabama and Tennessee, noting the Indian mounds to Civil War battlegrounds to the simplicities of small town southern life for many years.

Glen Wanner emphasizes the variety of bicycle tours available on the Natchez Trace. Cyclists can go on a several-hour tour to a several-day tour. You can load your bike up on your car and then hop off for a self-contained cycling tour.

If you do decide to go for a long tour, Wanner details every suggested tour with information on distance, terrain and accumulated elevation, historical highlights and recommendations for camping, lodging and food.


We are truly lucky in Mississippi to have one of the premier cycling roads in the country. Surely one of the best ways to follow the paths of Indian hunters, Mississippi boatmen, pioneers settlers, soldiers and even outlaws is a cycling trip on the Natchez Trace.

Here is an account of cycling on the Natchez Trace in Mississippi:

Mississippi JUCOS: The Toughest Football League in America

A Guest Blog by Author Mike Frascogna

How did JUCO football begin?

Mississippi’s Junior College (now called community colleges) began in the 1920s, when the State Legislature approved agricultural high schools adding a thirteenth and fourteenth grade. The typical junior college in those days was a boarding school, still with a concentration on agricultural studies.

Most of the students grew up working hard in tough environments–helping make crops or cutting timber on their family farms or taking odd jobs if they lived in town. These raw-boned farm boys were naturally drawn to the rough sport of football. Almost as soon as the first classes began, these young men began playing football among themselves.

They soon mastered the basics and grew tired of playing against each other. So they sent an invitation–probably more like a challenge–to the boys from the junior college a few counties over. The winners of the first game would seek out yet another opponent to play, while the losers were honor bound to avenge their loss through a rematch. Soon these matches became more frequent and this led to the need for schedules.

Schedules led to fixed seasons, which in turn led to the naming of champions. Football fever took hold and has never let up. The result is Mississippi’s current system of junior/community college football referred to as “JUCO ball.”

JUCOS: The Toughest Football League in America

Signing TODAY at 6:00

 See all JUCO blogs.

JUCO: River Rats vs Coast Scum

When Mississippi Gulf Coast Junior College was first established in 1925, it was known as Perkinston (Perk for short), the namesake of the town where it is located. Later the official name of the school was changed to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (also known as Gulf Coast).

Just 28 miles down Highway 26 from Perkinston is another small town named Poplarville the home of the Pearl River Junior College Wildcats. The two schools are neighbors from a geographic standpoint and both are members of the South division of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges.

However, beyond these general comparisons any references to similarities between the two schools must be approached very delicately. Perhaps the best way to express the feelings the students at each of these fine institutions have for one another is to be candid. As many communication experts, psychologists and therapists recommend, openness, honesty and candor can often lead to better understanding between two parties whose opinions differ on certain topics. Or, as expressed in a more colloquial style, “Just put the hay down where the goats can get it.” So here goes; the Wildcats of Pearl River and the Bulldogs of Gulf Coast cannot stand each other. Their level of dislike soars to even higher altitudes when the two schools meet on the gridiron.

To try to put their mutual feelings for each other in perspective consider that the Bulldogs at Gulf Coast are referred to by their friends at Pearl River as “coast scum.” Conversely, the Wildcats at Pearl River are affectionately called “river rats” by their buddies at Gulf Coast a/k/a Perk. These two terms represent the most sanitized references one school has for the other after deleting all the colorful, descriptive, but unnecessary adjectives attached to these names.

JUCOS: The Toughest Football League in America

Signing: Thursday, December 15 at 6:00


JUCO: The Infamous Jones Game

A Guest Blog by Author Mike Frascogna

Played November 7, 1964 at Scooba, the undefeated Lions were beaten by arch-rival Jones County Junior College 32-13 to spoil East Mississippi’s trip to the Junior Rose Bowl and a shot at the National Championship.

During the game Scooba’s All-American quarterback, Bill Buckner, was sent to the hospital with a severely broken jaw. Public opinion seemed to favor the notion that the incident on the field involving Buckner’s injury was an intentional act of violence to get him out of the game. The teams discontinued playing each other for ten years before resuming play.

JUCOS: The Toughest Football League in America

Signing: Thursday, December 15 at 6:00

JUCO: Football in the Mississippi JUCO League

A Guest Blog by Author Mike Frascogna

Love it or hate it, Mississippi JUCO football is unique. The League, while considered by some to be rogue, has produced literally thousands of players who have gone on the compete at the Division I and professional levels.

Hidden in all the glamor of big-time college and professional football are the staggering number of high school and college coaches produced by the JUCO system. Not much attention is given to the players who ended their playing careers at the JUCO level but used their experience to advance their skills as coaches.

Additionally, little attention is given to the student side of the player’s experience. For many of the players in the past, as it is today, JUCO ball allowed them an opportunity to continue their education simply because it was financially affordable. After completing two years of community college, many of the students, whether or not they continue to play football, go on to complete their degree requirements at four year colleges and universities.

JUCOS: The Toughest Football League in America
Signing: Thursday, December 15 at 6:00

 See all JUCO blogs.

Mississippi’s 100 Greatest Football Players of All Time: Some Interesting Statistics

A Guest Post by Editor Neil White

In researching, Mississippi’s 100 Greatest Football Players of All Time, we discovered some fascinating statistics. Consider this about our state:

588 native-born Mississippians have played professional football

726 professional players attended Mississippi institutions of higher learning.

Here’s the breakdown:

No. of NFL Players by College or University

University of Mississippi 181

Mississippi State 127

University of Southern Mississippi 97

Jackson State University 89

Alcorn State University 51

Mississippi Valley State University 26

Delta State University 8

Mississippi College 7

Millsaps 2

Rust College 1

Mississippi’s Community College System 137

 Total 726

Defensive Back for the Detroit Lions Lem Barney (20) in action, returning punt vs Cincinnati Bengals Ron Lamb (40). 9/27/1970 (Photo by Walter Iooss Jr. /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Breakdown by position:

Receiver/Tight Ends 18

Running Backs 14

Defensive Backs 14

Quarterbacks 12

Defensive Linemen 11

Offensive Linemen 10

Linebackers 8

Special Teams Players 6

Played both ways 3

Breakdown by colleges/universities

Green Bay Packers QB Brett Favre (4) sitting on bench at Don Hutson Center. Cover Photograph for Sportsman of the Year. Green Bay, WI 11/26/2007

University of Mississippi 33

Mississippi State 14

Jackson State 14

U. of Southern Mississippi 9

Alcorn State 4

Mississippi Valley State 4

Jones County Jr. College 1

Itawamba Community College 1

Mississippi College 1

Out-of-state Colleges 19



Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton (34) flies into the endzone for a one-yard touchdwon during a 20-10 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on November 1, 1981, at Tampa Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Sylvia Allen/Getty Images)

Breakdown by race:

African American 58

Caucasian 42

 See the complete list in Mississippi’s 100 Greatest Footbal Palyers of All Time, Nautilus Publishing, Nov. 2011

Neil White, Editor

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