Ray begins All-Star coaching job despite cancer

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 1, 2010

NATCHEZ — It takes a big commitment to coach a youth baseball All-Star team.

But when you are battling cancer, the grind of conducting daily practices, attending meetings and dealing with parents gives way to the joy you feel by teaching the game you love to children.

At least that’s how Mike Ray sees it.

Ray is coaching the Natchez Dixie Youth 8-year-old All-Star team despite undergoing chemotherapy treatments for melanoma.

Ray, whose son Will is a member of the All-Star team, has been coaching in the Natchez Dixie Youth league for 14 years and is coaching the All-Star team for the second year in a row.

“I just really enjoy the kids,” Ray said. “I’m not out here for the parents or me. I want the kids to look back when they’re 70 and remember their All-Star experience with fondness. My dad instilled the love of baseball in me, and I want to pass that down to my son and the rest of the kids.”

Ray was diagnosed with melanoma on Oct. 5 of last year and has undergone regular chemo treatments to combat the disease.

Still, he hardly missed any games or practices during the season, and Faye Piazza, whose son Ethan played on Ray’s team during league season and is also on the All-Star team, says he is an inspirational role model for his players.

“It is very inspirational for them,” Piazza said. “I’m four months pregnant, and I feel like I’m dragging out here. And then I look at him and he is taking chemo and is always here for the kids.

“The kids love him. They would do anything for him.”

Ray hasn’t let the chemotherapy slow him down much when he coaches.

The only real difference is that instead of coaching from the third base coach’s box, he sits on the bench at the edge of the dugout to give instruction to his players.

“Sometimes it gets hot, and I’ll have to go sit in the shade,” Ray said. “But it’s not much of a hindrance to me.”

Ray said in addition to impacting young people’s lives, coaching baseball has a therapeutic benefit for him.

“It really makes me feel better seeing the kids out there trying hard and having fun,” Ray said. “It’s therapy in getting me out of the house, it’s low stress, believe it or not, and I’m able to get my mind off things for a while.”

And while it is yet to be determined whether the Natchez Dixie Youth 8-year-old All-Stars will win the district or state tournaments, Ray is winning a much more important battle — his fight with cancer.

“I’m beating it,” Ray said. “And I’m going to keep on fighting it until I’ve won.”