For those interested in seeing the future of professional baseball, there likely will be no better showcase this year than the Southern League All-Star Game — and certainly not one you can see live in Jacksonville.
Suns manager Andy Barkett’s team is not having an amazing year, though it certainly is better than the debacle faced by the Jacksonville Suns’ parent club, the Miami Marlins. Nevertheless, Barkett helms the South Division All-Stars this year, and six Suns were chosen for the squad, including four pitchers — starters Adam Conley, Sam Dyson and Jay Jackson, and reliever Michael Brady. Dyson is sidelined with a back sprain and on the disabled list.
Jake Marisnick joins the squad from the Suns’ outfield. Kyle Jensen, had he not been promoted to New Orleans already, likewise would've been an All-Star. Jensen has Major League ability already, and it’s only a matter of time before he's showing it in the National League.
Suns fans know what to expect from these players. They know, for example, of Marisnick’s power — something fans in Miami might well be seeing in a couple of months after September call-ups, and something that might be seen in the bottom of the first inning at Bragan Field, as Marisnick will be leading off for his squad. They know how left-handed pitcher Conley can strike out virtually anyone at any time, and the efficiency of Dyson, who might not be related at all to the vacuum cleaner company, but who keeps the base paths clear of runners more often than not. They know that batters hit a bit more than .200 against Jackson, and they know that Brady closes games virtually every time out.
Beyond the local heroes, there are some must-see players on the South squad. For starters, a trio of .300 hitters — Montgomery Biscuit Kevin Kiermaier, Justin Greene from Mobile and Mississippi’s Jose Martinez. On a circuit where pitchers generally prevail, a .300 average is serious.
Bottom line: If you pick up this magazine (or check out the website) in time, be sure to see this game; it will be a highlight of what's been a crowded summer sports calendar.
HOT PEPPER: A new voice is talking sports on WJCT 89.9’s “First Coast Connect.” I used handle the sports duties along with other occasional appearances. But Cole Pepper, one of the most capable sports broadcasters in Jacksonville history, is an excellent addition to the show’s mix on Monday mornings. Pepper’s stentorian voice makes even the tinniest speaker sound stereophonic, and his insight into all Northeast Florida sports is unmatched — except perhaps by Sam Kouvaris and Dan Hicken, but that point is indeed arguable.
Pepper has handled recent weekend sports segments for WJXT, and his addition to the “First Coast Connect” roster is just one more earmark of the program’s legitimacy and proof of its quality. At a time when public broadcasting on a national level seems perpetually under siege, what will save it on a local level will be the willingness of top-level contributors to lend their expertise in a format that is not driven by commercial concerns which allows them to express serious opinions to one of the best audiences anywhere. Melissa Ross, the program’s host, is “very excited” by Pepper’s addition to the roster — and listeners undoubtedly will value his insights as pro and college football seasons near.
WEDDING BELLS: A note of congratulations to Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny, who was married July 6. There must have been something in the air that weekend. I wasn't in town for the Poz wedding (and wasn't invited, point of fact). But I had other things to do. I was off in Georgia getting married to my own beautiful bride.
A word to those considering marriage: If you have the opportunity to marry in the North Georgia mountains, do it. On your honeymoon, you can zipline between the peaks, climb tall mountains and commune with nature. Sincere congratulations to Posluszny — and indeed to all who take the matrimonial leap this month and beyond.