03/30/2013 8:10 PM ET
Braves return to their old Mississippi digs
By Michael Christensen / Special to MLB.com
PEARL, Miss. -- The trip to Mississippi brought back memories for a lot of Braves players, many of whom passed through Trustmark Park en route to the big leagues.
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons made the jump from Mississippi to Atlanta last year on June 2. Simmons said he vividly remembers when Mississippi manager Aaron Holbert called him into his office and told him he was going to The Show.
"It was a surprise to me," Simmons said. "I was just focused on the task at hand, trying to get better. I couldn't believe it when he told me. I did not expect it."
Outfielder Jordan Schafer was on the Mississippi Braves' 2008 Southern League championship club.
"We had a special year," said Schafer, who cracked Atlanta's starting lineup in center field the next spring and homered in his debut. "That wasn't the most talented team, but we were scrappy and found ways to win.
"The guys came together that year and we had a special bond. I have good memories of that."
"It's good to come back," said Atlanta right fielder Jason Heyward, who arrived in Mississippi on July 4, 2009, and was in the big leagues in April 2010.
"This was a big step for me and for all of us in getting to the big leagues. I put up good numbers here. I'm happy that the fans here will get to see us play again."
This event was also a homecoming of sorts for left-hander Paul Maholm, a Mississippi native who pitched at Mississippi State; Atlanta pitching coach Roger McDowell, who played for the Double-A Jackson Mets in the mid-1980s; Atlanta third-base coach Brian Snitker, who managed the first Mississippi Braves team in 2005; and first-base umpire Lance Barksdale, a Mississippi native.
Cox gets baseball fix managing Future stars
PEARL, Miss. -- Bobby Cox was perched in a Trustmark Park dugout on Saturday, wearing a Braves uniform again, fielding questions from the media and spewing baseball wisdom.
Though he has been retired since 2010, the former Braves manager still seemed right at home.
"This is fun for me," said Cox, 71, who managed the Future stars in the exhibition game against the Major Leaguers, the first of its kind at the home of the Braves' Double-A affiliate. "It's fun to come down to the Minor Leagues and manage a game like this."
He also managed the Future stars in last year's game at Gwinnett.
"I think the kids appreciate somebody who's old and been around the game," Cox said. "I get my baseball fix in with this. Going cold turkey would have been hard. I get enough baseball to satisfy me for a while."
Cox, still a consultant with the Braves organization, won 2,504 games as a Major League manager, most of those with the Braves, who he led to the 1995 World Series title. Cox said he liked what he saw of the Future stars, who worked out here on Friday night.
"They're enthusiastic, energetic and talented," he said. "I think they realize this is a process. You've got to have some patience." Cox didn't want to single out any of the prospects as ones he particularly liked. "There's quite a few guys," he said. "You'll see."
Graham fine with starting season at Double-A
PEARL, Miss. -- J.R. Graham will start the 2013 season where he finished 2012, with the Double-A Mississippi Braves. And he's OK with that.
Graham, a hard-throwing right-hander ranked by MLB.com as the Braves' No. 4 prospect, could not have pitched any better during his stint in the Major League camp. He worked nine innings and didn't allow a run.
When the Braves assigned him to Double-A, Graham took it in stride.
"I know there was some talk about me making the big club, but that wasn't an issue with me," said Graham, who pitched for the Future stars in a 10-0 loss to Atlanta on Saturday. "I was happy to get the invite to camp and I just wanted to make an impression, pitch the way I know I can. I think I showed them what I can do."
Graham, a fourth-round Draft pick out of Santa Clara in 2011, went 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA for Mississippi last season after going 9-1 with a 2.63 ERA at High-A Lynchburg. Graham was a closer in college and pitched out of the Atlanta 'pen in Spring Training, but he'll start again for Mississippi.
"That's what they want me to do here and that's fine," he said. "I've done both [start and relieve]. I'm fine with either one, whatever gets me to Atlanta."
Graham pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in Saturday's game, allowing a hit and a walk.
Michael Christensen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.