McComb, Mississippi has produced an improbable number of notable people for a town with a population that hovers right around 13,000. Bo Diddley, Brandy and Ray J, and Britney Spears all hail from McComb, as do a handful of NFL players and exactly three MLB players: Matt Tolbert, Adrian Brown, and Jarrod Dyson.
There’s one other thing McComb, Mississippi is well-known for: in 1961, this tiny town, so deep in the southwest corner of the state it’s practically Louisiana, became an unlikely center of the Civil Rights Movement after a well-known voting rights activist was murdered in nearby Liberty. Once known as “the bombing capital of the world”—in 1964, on June 22nd alone, three separate black homes in McComb were bombed, and the complete list of violent incidents is bone-chilling—McComb became a touchpoint for the SNCC’s battle for voting rights and also faced an ugly struggle for school integration, culminating in a walkout by black students at Burglund High. Today, nearly two-thirds of McComb’s population is black; one-third of the total population lives below the poverty line. It may be easier to grow up in McComb now than in the early 1960s, but it’s by no means easy.
Jarrod Dyson spent the first eight years of his life in a public-housing complex he calls “The Bricks” before moving with his mother, Cecelia, and five siblings into a home of their own on the other side of town:
“We called it 'The Bricks' because it was tough, man. It was like almost a trap...You've got to be strong-minded to come out of a place like that, with drugs involved and a lot of bad stuff going on around the neighborhood."
Tough places make tough people. At McComb High, and under the watchful eye of his mother, the slight Dyson nonetheless excelled in both football and baseball, earning All-Division honors. As the leadoff hitter for the McComb Tigers, Dyson represented a constant threat on the bases. “The running joke on the bench was that if you walked him, it was like giving up a triple,” recollects his high school coach, Chuck Freeman. “He’d steal second and third every time.” But scouts were more interested in Jarrod’s teammate Pat Barnes, and looked past the five-foot-ten Dyson. Dyson continued on to Southwest Mississippi Community College, which has produced a grand total of seven drafted players since 1989, four of whom signed with teams. Of them, only Dyson has made it to the majors. He was selected on a hunch by veteran scout Art Stewart, who was taken with Dyson’s 80-grade speed, in the 50th round of the 2006 MLB draft—a round that doesn’t even exist anymore, as it yielded players who stepped on an MLB field—even once—about 1% of the time. His signing bonus of $5,000 would have gotten him a fairly decent used car in 2006, just fine for making the drive from McComb to the Royals’ spring training facility in Arizona.
It took Dyson four years to break out of A-level ball and into AA, and then another year to get to AAA-Omaha. In a late-season call-up in 2010 he was impressive on the bases in limited opportunities and earned a spot on the 25-man to begin 2011. Unfortunately, a breakout year from Melky Cabrera had Dyson hopping back and forth between Omaha and Kansas City. After Cabrera was traded to the Giants before the 2012 season, Dyson still didn’t have an opportunity to be an everyday starter, splitting time with Lorenzo Cain. He’s never cracked 400 PAs in a season, but when Dyson is in the game, he is an impact player. He had arguably the most important stolen base of the entire 2015 MLB season, which came on the heels of what was arguably the coolest stolen base of the entire 2014 MLB season.
Dyson is just cool. It’s understandable that Royals fans are really bummed about losing him.
No I mean, really bummed.
Dyson comes to Seattle at the end of one chapter in his story. He’s a 50th-round pick from a tough background, and he is a World Series champion. He’s proven what he needed to prove. There’s now a street named after him in McComb, the former Warren Street, that is literally on the right side of the tracks, in case you like your metaphors especially heavy-handed. So what does the 32-year-old have left to prove?
That he can be a frequent contributor, for one. Steamer has Dyson projected for over 400 plate appearances, which would be a career record. He’ll sit against left-handed pitching, but in an outfield that prizes speed and defense, Dyson should get some more opportunities in a lineup that only needs him to get on base, which he does at a career .325 clip. Dyson will also be looking to showcase his celerity in the more spacious confines of Safeco Field and prove that he hasn’t lost a step off his game, which relies so heavily on his speed. This past year, only Dyson and perpetual pest José Altuve recorded five consecutive seasons with at least 25 stolen bases, and Dyson will look to build upon that number from the leadoff spot (and hold off fellow speedster Jean Segura for said spot).
And finally, he aims to prove that any town—even one with as protracted a history of failure as Seattle—can become a baseball town. From Larry Stone’s piece:
“When you turn the corner, it’s a great feeling, man,’’ he said. “To be a part of it is a greater feeling. When you see a team that’s not been there in awhile, and the fans know that, and you know that, it’s almost like pressure on both sides. The fans want to see it as well as the players want to see it.
Or, as Dyson put it at Fan Fest:
Tough places make tough people. Dyson says every time he doesn’t feel motivated to work out, he thinks about where he’d be without baseball, back in McComb, the town where he says he’s like “a nut in a shell,” and that carries him forward. It feels like Seattle is always a long shot to play meaningful October baseball, but Jarrod Dyson has outplayed the odds his whole life. The Mariners are betting on him having enough gas left in the tank to help zoom them into the postseason.