January 8, 2014 8:22:44 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE - Nick Mingione and Ben Bracewell were convinced they knew what it meant to feel fortunate at what they have in this country and at Mississippi State.
The Mississippi State baseball coach said he grew up in a lower income situation in Florida but had clearly never seen anything like the situation he encountered during the latest version of the Phase 2 campus ministry trip to the Bahamas.
"It's pretty humbling because you realize how much you have here, whether here is in the United States, or being a scholarship athlete at Mississippi State University," Mingione said. "A perfect example is the idea of water conservation because how they got water is from rain."
Twenty-six people, including six current and former members of the MSU baseball program, traveled last week to the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas do some building projects and put on baseball clinics for the youth on the island. Some of the current and former players included Ross Mitchell, MSU reliever and leader of the notorious "Bench Mobb" group, graduated pitcher Kendall Graveman and senior outfielder C.T. Bradford.
In an unintended consequence, MSU baseball garnered more fans because of the active student-athlete participation in such a solid charity cause.
"We had students that weren't sports fans that show some of the contributions by these players and immediately they were saying 'when do you guys play at home in the spring'," MSU team chaplain Matt Jolley said. "They've draw more fans of the program simply because they want to support the guys and not so much they enjoy baseball."
Part of the building projects including building actual homes for the citizens of Eleuthera because most of the families simply continue building parts of the house themselves as they acquire funds and materials to do so.
"When you're driving along you see these houses that aren't completed and that's normal because it's essentially done in sections and it'll take 7-10 years to build a home there," Mingione said.
The trip was organized and led by MSU baseball team chaplain Matt Jolley, who had made six previous trip to the island on the Bahamas but said this seventh trip involved the most participation.
Jolley has made the trip previously as part of his Phase 2 ministry that he and his family started locally in Starkville. This last mission trip to the Bahamas was also the first trip that included baseball instruction and donated baseball equipment to the local people.
"Nick Mingione said to me immediately 'you realize you're going to have 50 or so people want to sign up for the next one' and I told him that would be a nice problem to have from a logistics standpoint," Jolley said. "Just seeing all of the people experience of feeling of appreciation for what we have and to give back is the whole point of the trip. It's about the people."
Fifth-year senior right-handed pitcher Ben Bracewell was able to join this mission trip and was the first ministry trip he'd ever experienced since knowing Jolley since his first year at MSU.
Bracewell, who has promoted his faith while being a highly productive contributor to MSU baseball, said the experience changed him in a distinct way emotionally and spiritually.
"You just know before you ever go that odds are you're going to get more out of it than you'll have a chance to give back and that's exactly what happened," Bracewell said. "The whole trip put life into perspective for me when you see how nice and happy these people are and balance that with what they don't have from a necessity standpoint."
The schedule was pretty vigorous as each morning the group worked on building projects that included mixing concrete by hand because of the resources the people of the island have.
In the afternoon, the MSU baseball players executed baseball camps and clinics with the native kids. In the evenings the group would share religious testimonies in a public fashion.
"Having grown up poor, I know what it's like to not have a lot but at the same time, I feel blessed to be here and blessed with so many things," Mingione said. "I'll never forget that to water the field took a fire truck to do it and they lined the field with beach sand. You appreciate the little things so much."
Mingione was the coordinator of baseball camps from 2009-12 at MSU but the clinics they were running on the island was much more basic but not elementary because of the popularity of fast-pitch softball in the Bahamas.
"I've done a mission trip with baseball instruction in Latvia and that one had more difficulties because those people had even seen the game of baseball at all," Mingione said. "You come back a different person especially when for example, you give a 7-year-old boy a pair of shoes and he looks up at you like you gave him millions of dollars. That big couldn't stop smiling and looking at his feet."
MSU coach John Cohen has been more than open to people like Jolley as he hopes to provide lessons from trips like this that could translate to chemistry in a team setting.
"The thing with these guys is they don't have a lot of time, especially during the season, because their schedule is class, practice, study hall and repeat," Jolley said. "Coach Cohen has been so open to having me be around for them and be there for whatever they need. It's been a rewarding experience."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.