January 26, 2013 11:39:18 PM
The Columbus High School baseball team is going to kick off the 2013 season in style.
Former Tupelo High and Mississippi State University standout Chris Stratton will be the guest speaker at 6 p.m. Thursday for Columbus High's First Pitch Banquet in the Columbus High cafeteria. Senior Christian Dale also will hold a ceremony to announce his signing with Jones County Junior College.
The event, which will feature a barbecue dinner and is a fundraiser for the team's trip in March to Orlando for spring break, is open to the public. Tickets are $10 and can be reserved by emailing Columbus High baseball coach Jeffrey Cook at email@example.com.
Cook said sports memorabilia, including a baseball signed by Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, a jersey from former MSU standout and current Texas Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland, an item from Stratton, as well as other items will be on sale. Members of the Columbus High and Columbus Middle School baseball team also will be introduced.
Cook couldn't be happier about welcoming Stratton to Columbus.
"He is kind of humble about doing this and so gracious about helping," Cook said. "It is good our guys see success happens to people who work hard and do things the right way with good character, effort, and determination.
"He graciously accepted the invitation and is just looking forward to doing it."
Stratton, a 6-foot-3, 186-pound right-hander, helped MSU win the Southeastern Conference tournament and advance to the NCAA tournament last season. The San Francisco Giants used the 20th pick of the first round to select Stratton last June in the annual Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft. Stratton went 0-1 with a 2.75 ERA in eight games (five starts) last season for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes of the Giants' short-season Class A affiliate in Keizer, Ore. He was struck in the head by a line drive last August nearly two months after he signed with the Giants.
Stratton played against Cook when he was at Tupelo High. Cook coached Stratton as a member of the coaching staff of Team Mississippi at the Junior Sunbelt tournament in McAlester, Okla. He said he was impressed by the ay Stratton took time on the trip to Oklahoma to throw with his son, Jackson. He said he and Jackson continued to support Stratton when he was at MSU, and followed him on his initial steps as a professional.
"He has the highest character, and he always had the respect of all of the guys," Cook said of Stratton. He just worked hard and was a humble, polite player. As a coach, you notice that kind of stuff from players on other teams. We had such good battles when he and (former Columbus High standout) Billy Autrey were here. Even as coaches, you want to be around those type of players.
"The perseverance with what he has done at Mississippi State, when he started great as a freshman, had not so great of a junior year and turned it around to be a first-round pick, that is a success story all our kids at Columbus need to hear. It is good to know that does work for people here in Mississippi, and that is works for people close to us and who have played on our field."
Cook said he contacted Stratton in the fall and asked him if he would be willing to speak at the event. He hopes the banquet helps kick off a promising season for the Falcons, who have advanced to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A North State playoffs the past two seasons.
"It has been heading in the right direction, and we hope for continued success," Cook said. "It is a great time to show what we have got."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.