COLUMN: Team Carone

During an Ole Miss-Arkansas baseball game last weekend, I heard from former Ole Miss player Alex Williamson.

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Alex said Rick Carone was coming to Oxford and was going to sing the national anthem on Saturday prior to the game against Georgia. That's today.

I knew Rick's story, at least the most recent part of it. The former catcher for the Rebels was only here one school year, but his life changed in dramatic ways because of that 1993 season. But arguably not as much as it has in the last year.

On May 21, 2013, Rick was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Four days later he got an additional report on his situation.

"Stage IV. Terminal," said Rick's text to me this week explaining how it was presented to him.

I covered Rick and his team when he played here. I talked to him this week for the first time in 21 years.

We talked about his illness. We talked about how he's handling it. We talked about his trip to Oxford this weekend. It's a part of his bucket list.

One of the things he wanted to do was to sing the national anthem at a major sporting event. Just something he thought would be neat. He'd done it a couple of times when he played in the minor leagues.

His buddy, Alex Williamson, said "How about at an Ole Miss baseball game?"

"Let's make it happen," Rick said.

Ole Miss and its people, Rebel Nation and athletics department people, then made sure it would happen.

So prior to the 4 p.m. game today in Oxford-University Stadium, somewhere near Swayze Field's home plate where he used to catch balls and strikes from his pitchers, Rick Carone will belt out the Star-Spangled Banner.

His coach at Ole Miss, Don Kessinger, still a familiar face at games, will be there. He can't wait to see Rick.

"Alex Williamson called me and said Rick wanted to sing the national anthem at an Ole Miss game. I said ‘I didn't know he could sing.' I know he's a heck of a catcher and a great guy," Kessinger said.

Carone will be a busy man today. He's speaking to the Rebel baseball team at noon. Prior to singing, he will throw out the first pitch.

So many people are a part of Rick's story now. Team Carone ( is the project that was started for the cause by his friend Kern Egan.

It's a community of family, friends, and supporters dedicated to helping Rick beat Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer.

Everywhere he turned, people were trying to help. Like former Rebel pitchers John McNeese and Jamey Price, the latter having been involved in events in Arkansas and will be in attendance at today's game.

"He's such a great inspiration to so many," Price said. "He's touched so many lives with his battle."

Shoot Down Cancer was an archery tournament in Conway, Ark., in March. It was staged to help Rick's cause. Price was involved.

Rick Carone returns to Ole Miss
File Photo

When a tornado ripped through Mayflower, Ark., two weeks ago, Rick knew he had to get back down there to those same people who had helped him.

"I said we need to stop and give back to those people who gave to me," he said. "And that's what we did."

Rick was on his way to Texas from his home in Illinois. Rick was a professional baseball player after leaving Ole Miss, making it to AAA but never to the major leagues. His hometown White Sox drafted him out of Ole Miss.

For a decade now he has been a part of a company that has become a household name in America.

"I'm a videographer for Buck Commander," Rick said. "Duck Dynasty is the brand on A&E. Duck Commander has been going on since 1972. Buck Commander started in 2007."

They are all part of the same company started by the Robertson family of northern Louisiana. An avid outdoorsman, Rick got to know them because he attended Ole Miss.

"When I went to Ole Miss, David Dellucci and I became best friends," Rick said of the Baton Rouge, La., native who became a superstar player at Ole Miss, had a lengthy career in the major leagues, and won a World Series. "He introduced me to Willie Robertson. David and Willie were hunting buddies. David is the catalyst to me for getting into the outdoor industry."

Rick met cheerleader and diamond girl Kyle Davis at Ole Miss. They married and are the parents of two daughters – Karsyn and Tyler. The girls live in Texas with their mother. Rick still calls Illinois home. His daughters will be at the game today supporting their dad.

It was Kessinger, a Chicago legend from his playing days with both the Cubs and White Sox, who brought Rick to Ole Miss after junior college to play baseball.

"We really watched the Chicago area pretty closely," Kessinger said of that fertile recruiting area for him and his staff. "Being candid, I didn't have much trouble up there getting into a living room to sit down and talk to somebody. We got a lot of good players to come to Ole Miss from the Chicago area."

As is the case with many talented junior college players – last season's Ole Miss catcher, Johnny Bench Award winner Stuart Turner a perfect example – they are only here one season. But worth it if they are the players you need.

"We liked everything, from the way he caught to his character to his leadership," Kessinger said of Carone. "Everything we heard about we were excited about, and it all turned out to be true."

Current Ole Miss baseball staffer Marc MacMillan, a teammate, hasn't seen Rick in 20 years.

"I remember Rick always had a smile on his face," Marc said. "I remember this one time, and I'll never forget this. Steve Shipman was our athletic trainer. We weren't supposed to wear spikes in the locker room or the training room. Rick comes in and he doesn't have his spikes on. He comes in and just breaks down and starts dancing and saying ‘Hey Ship, I'm cutting up the rug.' Like he was cutting the rug up with his dancing.

"That's the way he was, a lot of fun and good to be around. I know all the guys think fondly of Rick."

Rick Carone is doing well almost a year into his battle. He continues treatments. He continues to work.

Dellucci said the prayer support and love that has surrounded Rick has been beneficial in his fight against the odds.

"The physical condition of Rick is a prime example of how prayer and the generosity of others can boost one's physical well being," Dellucci said. "He is proof that miracles are happening every day and that nothing is impossible through God."

Certainly Rick Carone agrees. He was baptized as an infant and baptized again last winter by longtime friend and associate Willie Robertson. As a matter of fact, the baptismal can be found on YouTube.

"God has a plan for everybody, and we all know that if we're Christians and acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we know where our ending is going to be," Rick said. "We know our start and our finish. What's in between is our free will.

"Obviously when I chose to go to Ole Miss, met David, met the mother of my children, David introducing me to Willie Robertson, still having the close friends and teammates I have at Ole Miss, my coaches, this is all in God's master plan. I wouldn't be able to do it without all those people.

Rick and his daughters
File Photo

"All those people tell me I inspire them. All those people inspire me every day. I'm just a guy trying to get by, live my life, and live it the best I can and the right way. Going to Ole Miss was one of the decisions that solidified where I am right now. Had I gone to Clemson or Arizona, the two other schools I visited in junior college, everything would have been completely different. I would have been on a totally different path."

Kessinger, his coach, said today isn't the only day he is thinking of his former catcher.

"I've been praying for him for quite some time now," Kessinger said. "I have a picture of Rick and his two daughters on my desk that remind me to pray for him every day. Now he's coming to sing the national anthem at Ole Miss."

And to write one more important life moment off his bucket list.

"I delivered one of my best friend's eulogies," Rick said. "I said, 'Why do we wait until people are gone to let them know that they matter to us and that we love them?' Even before I was diagnosed, I'd say 'Hey, I love you' to a buddy, to a friend, to people that mean something to me. I let them know they matter to me. That's been given back to me full circle since I was diagnosed.

"I'm still here and doing well. Everyone knows the statistics of pancreatic cancer. I don't concentrate on that. I concentrate on beating it and living every day like it's my last. My prayer each and every night is, one, I know God's a miracle worker and I know He can heal me. And two, if that's not in His plan, that He keeps me feeling good and healthy and He allows me to be inspired every day and that He allows me to inspire someone every day.

"Because I get messages every day from phone, text, or social media, how I've touched someone else's life. I don't know 90 percent of them. That, in turn, inspires me. My prayers are answered every day."

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