LaBarge was 'can do' person

Anyone who knows anything about Ole Miss Baseball knows how valuable Ernie LaBarge was to the nationally-ranked Rebel program. Ernie succumbed to cancer Thursday morning.

Thousands and thousands of lines have been penned through centuries of literature about the measure of a man.

Lines that are supposed to make you feel better in times of loss.

They don't provide much comfort when you lose a good one.

Ernie LaBarge, who passed away Thursday, was one of the good ones.

I don't know a lot of specifics about Ernie, but you didn't have to know much to realize he was a special person.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ernie when he retired and moved to Oxford over a decade ago. He seemed like just an average good Joe looking for a place to prop his feet up and enjoy now that his career was over.

But I found out quickly Ernie might be retired from his "job" but he wasn't going to retire from work, from effort, from being useful and from being a leader.

Ernie, you see, was a doer, not a sitter, not a ponderer, not a daydreamer. He was a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done type, never sitting still too much.

For some reason, which I never asked why, Ernie took a shine to the baseball program. His interest was in building the then-floundering Bullpen Club - a support mechanism for fans to help the baseball team in a lot of ways - into one of the better support groups in America.

Ernie was tireless in that task. He almost singlehandedly grew the Bullpen Club to nearly 2,000 dues-paying members. I don't know if this is true or not, but legend has it when he took over and began soliciting members, the Bullpen Club had less than 50. Amazing.

He was a staple at Oxford-University Stadium. He was the first person I would see and speak to as I entered the stadium. It was really odd, but when you - or I, I should say - saw him, it made everything "right" in that environment, that little corner of our world.

I know this sounds strange, and maybe it was just me, but a baseball game without Ernie there - which was rare - seemed, well, different. Unattended or something I can't really put my finger on. A little hollow.

Even before baseball became a "happening" at Ole Miss, Ernie, the ringleader, and his cohorts were seeing the big picture, the potential for growth and the opportunity for baseball to be a major player in Rebel athletics.

His vision for baseball came true, and he was, without a doubt, one of the driving forces behind its growth.

Ernie had a tremendous relationship with Rebel Coach Mike Bianco. Mike was smart enough to recognize someone who wasn't giving him lip service and got things done for his program.

Certainly, Ernie had help, and lots of it, and those folks deserve thanks as well, but I have never heard anyone deny he was the driving force behind the accomplishments of the Bullpen Club, and they were numerous.

I dare say no single Rebel fan has ever done more for involving the masses in a support capacity than Ernie LaBarge.

A long time ago, Ernie told Jeff Roberson and me that he thought the Bullpen Club should have 2,000-plus members. When he left our office that day, I told Jeff "that old man is crazy."

Obviously, I didn't know the mettle of Ernie. I didn't understand what one person could accomplish if they dug their heels in and wouldn't let go of the rope.

Ernie made me a believer in the power of one.

I don't know how you measure a man. To value one over the other seems wrong.

But I can say this without hesitation. I doubt there will ever be another Ernie LaBarge in these parts. Those shoes just may be too big to fill.

Rest in peace, good man. You deserve a break, but don't think you will be forgotten. Nobody who knew you will allow that to happen.

For my part, I know it will be a long time before I look along that wall behind the home plate box seats and not expect to see Ernie there.

And I'll miss him, as will many more.

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