A True Christmas Wrapped in Maroon and White Written by Mark Stowers
Good Mornin’! Good Mornin’!
On Thursday one of our greatest state treasures had a birthday. Whenever I call him for an interview, I call him, Coach, as do hundreds of his former players. Dave “Boo” Ferriss turned 92 and the celebrated former Boston Red Sox pitcher said he got calls all day from folks all around the country. Back in October, Ferriss was honored at his alma mater, Mississippi State, as the Grand Marshall of the homecoming parade and his fraternity, Kappa Sigma, honored him by naming their courtyard in his honor. As the first ever, full scholarship baseball player for the bulldogs, he’s always worn his maroon pride along with his Red Sox and Statesmen achievements. While at homecoming he took time to talk to the bulldog baseball team that had made it to the finals of the College World Series. He joked with them, recalled their stats to them individually just like the biggest fans do. He’s a proud bulldog but there’s something else about this team that Ferriss is probably just as proud of.
A few players, former players and other State students as well as an assistant coach and the team’s chaplain are headed to the Bahamas. No, not for relaxation and fun in the sun – it’s a mission trip. And Ferriss, who brought the Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization to the Magnolia State many decades ago would probably be going with them if he could. And I wouldn’t count him out just yet. During the Christmas break when most folks are playing with their new toys and watching Bowl Games, this rag tag bunch will be driving to Orlando, then hopping a flight to the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. They’ll be working on building projects in the morning and then teaching the kids and others the finer points and fundamentals of baseball and building relationships and talking a whole lot about Jesus.
Now this isn’t one of the well-known spots where vacationers sip drinks with umbrellas. No, it’s an island with a population of about 12,000 but many of those residents live in poverty. Ross Mitchell, MSU’s 12-0 All-American reliever and leader of the celebrated dugout “Bench Mobb”, will be a part of the team from the MSU Phase 2 campus ministry.“Our chaplain, Matt Jolley, put it all together and he invited the baseball team to take part as well students from across campus,” Mitchell said. “It’s a baseball mission trip.”
The Phase 2 team will get up every morning and put in some construction time around the island and then will gather up kids and adults to play some baseball – something most of the team has a pretty good idea of how to do. And each team member is paying his own way, scraping together the $1,000 needed to cover the costs of the trip including travel, lodging and meals. The team has been fundraising and accepting donations of any type of baseball equipment to take down for the kids there.
“People have been constantly blessing us with what we need for the trip,” the redshirt junior. “We are so privileged here in America that when we want to play (baseball) we just pick up stuff and play. But in more poor places like where we’re going, there’s not much of an opportunity.” The islanders apparently play softball but Mitchell and the rest of the crew will be bringing the fundamentals of hardball to the island and hopefully leaving them with more than just a bat and glove.
“In having a heart for other people and a heart for God, I just felt like this is my job as a Christian to go and share with people who may not hear the word as much but also show them the love,” Mitchell said. “And provide them with some of the same opportunities we have here in America.”
Jolley has been the team’s chaplain for the past five years. The MSU alum is a full time missionary that raises all of his support and works under the guidance of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Starkville. The team has to be careful in working with NCAA athletes, especially when raising funds for the mission trip. The compliance office keeps tabs on trips such as these.
“This is not a ‘Baseball team mission trip’ but a student mission trip through the Phase 2 campus ministry that some of the baseball players are going on,” Jolley explained. “This will be the seventh trip that I have led down there. All of the trips in the past have been focused on some type of construction project. We have worked on a health clinic, a community center, and several individual houses.” But on each trip, Jolley noticed “how much the Bahamians love fast pitch softball. It is the main sport on the island that the youth and men play. This past year the school system decided to stop having fast pitch softball as a sport and to instead start a baseball program. The kids there love baseball but many do not even have their own glove, much less know the fundamentals of the game.”
So as the chaplain to the College World Series Runner-ups, Jolley knew he had some cache he could use to the betterment of the project. “This year I decided to use my role as the chaplain of the MSU baseball team to bring down some of the players along with others students involved in our Phase 2 campus ministry and let part of our trip be putting on baseball camps,” he said. “Our group will spend the mornings working on a building project and the afternoons putting on baseball clinics. We will use the clinics as a way to share our faith by sharing our testimonies with the boys who come and wrapping up each day with a short Bible study. Our hope is that God will use us to impact everyone who comes and that this will become an annual trip that will allow us to build on the relationships we make this year.”
The team members are collecting new and used equipment – anything any kid or adult would need to play baseball.“Each person going will have their own personal suitcase and then a bat bag packed full of baseball equipment. The kids who take part in the camps will get to pick out their own glove and bat and will be so excited to have their very own baseball equipment.”
The mission team consists of five current players, two former players, one coach, 15 other students as well as Jolley and his two oldest daughters, Anna Jaymes (6) and Adolyn (4). In less than a month, the team will be headed down but they are still in need of equipment and funds to get the whole team there. Jolley estimates about half of what is needed has been collected so any and all donations from churches are welcome too, along with individuals and businesses. You can check out the program’s website, www.MSUphase2.com, and there is a link to donate online as well. If you wish to write a check you can make it out to Emmanuel Baptist Church and put “Phase 2” in the memo line and mail it to Emmanuel Baptist Church at
P.O. Box 1763, Starkville, MS 39760.
So instead of getting a few more gifts under the tree that will probably be exchanged anyway, why not give a gift that celebrates the true meaning of Christmas?