Bullpen Club Receives Facelift

The Ernie Labarge Bullpen Club remains an important aspect of the Ole Miss baseball program. But there have been some changes.

The club has made tremendous enhancements in its website and has expanded its activities, both for the benefit of its members and for Rebel baseball.

Beginning today and continuing the next few days, a letter will be mailed to almost 1,600 Rebel fans who are or have been affiliated with the club through membership at some time. It will include details of the club, its improvements and changes, and also contains a letter from Coach Mike Bianco.

The new and improved website is up and running. Although it is still a work in progress, fans can check it out now. Go to www.ernielabargebullpenclub.com and take a look.

Rob Francis, Director of Baseball Operations at Ole Miss, said the club remains true to its original intent: to promote positive spirit for Rebel Baseball; to provide its most loyal fans with an "insider's perspective" on the happenings of the Ole Miss Baseball program; and to assist the program in reaching its fundraising objectives.

"Our club has grown to monumental proportions to where now it's become more like a small business," he said as the Bullpen Club transitions this season to operate with the assistance of the UMAA Foundation. "The club is extremely important to our entire program. And we've put a lot of thought into developing a system that allows it to remain true to the vision of people like Mr. Ernie and so many others that have helped build it to what it has become."

Part of the re-evaluation process involved working with the UMAA Foundation and the University of Mississippi Foundation to create a more efficient way to process membership forms and application fees. "The Foundation incurs the costs that the club once did for processing membership applications. Now, the club gets to keep 100 percent of the membership dues. Aside from mail-outs, we have no overhead. More of what our fans so generously donate goes towards helping our baseball program."

That can only be a good thing for Ole Miss Baseball, which is obviously what the club is all about.

"We all have a vested interest in making sure this is all done the right way," Francis said, noting positively Ernie's daily involvement and tireless efforts until his untimely death last year. "When a person makes a donation, we want them to feel good about it and know it is being used totally for the good of the baseball program."

One aspect that should be exciting for members is the addition of a once-a-month gathering and meal during the season that is scheduled for the new baseball Rebel Club. Restricted to "members only," fans will be able to gather with coaches and selected players to talk Ole Miss Baseball, hear from them on certain aspects of the program, and be more involved and informed than in the past.

"We want club members to feel they are getting something more than just a ‘Thank You', or a hat or a polo shirt," Francis said. "Events that foster interaction between our staff, players, and our incredible fan base are another way we believe we can do that."

Francis, in his second year at Ole Miss, will be the point man for the club within the baseball staff. While he knows and understands the success of the club from its past, he also has high goals for the club and its future.

"If we've been at 1,500 members, why can't we shoot for 2,000 or 2,500?" he said. "Our re-organization efforts have established the infrastructure to do that, and we want to work toward that type of growth in the future. We believe that, now with some of the added perks we're providing for our members through the website, it will attract more people to become involved."

Francis said he hopes fans will check out the website and see what it's all about. There are areas for player feature stories, photos, questions and answers, blog entries from players, a baseball alumni section, and a message board for fan interaction. As the season approaches, certain areas of the site will become restricted to members-only.

"It's a work in progress," Francis said. "We're still walking through some of it and figuring some things out. But we feel we're off to a really good start with this, and we invite fans to check out what we're doing. If you're a Diamond Reb fan, we truly believe you'll love what we're going to provide our members."

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