Warren County’s baseball pedigree richer because of Newton, Pettway

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 26, 2005


Dave “Boo’ Ferriss, the Boston Red Sox great and ambassador for Mississippi college baseball, looked over the dais at the four finalists for the award named in his honor.

“These are the four best players in Mississippi,” he said. “They are like a murderers’ row. If I had to face them, I would pitch them low and behind.”

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

The crowd gathered at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum erupted into laughter and the four honorees broke into smiles.

Ole Miss’ Stephen Head, Delta State’s Craig Newton, Ole Miss’ Brian Pettway and Millsaps’ Garner Wetzel had been chosen by a panel of coaches, scouts and one media member as the most-deserving players of the state’s top college baseball honors.

In this state, there are 12 four-year colleges that have baseball teams. Each team has about 25 players. Of those 300 or so athletes, four were vying for the top honor, two of them from Vicksburg.

Give that a thought for a second. Half of the best of the best played ball on the youth league fields of Culkin or Halls Ferry Park. They were scrawny kids turned into college superstars. They traveled countless miles to even more countless tournaments, honing their skills to become the best possible.

They started playing before a renaissance of baseball in Warren County. When they played in the youth leagues, the high schools were good but not in the hunt for state championships year-in and year-out.

Newton and Pettway, teammates on the Warren Central teams that really started this county’s renaissance, sat side-by-side. Newton, with his shaved head, led Delta State to a World Series title last season, and is trying for another this year.

Pettway, with full goatee and broad shoulders, led the Ole Miss Rebels to a share of the Southeastern Conference Western Division title.

Pettway went home with the Ferriss trophy, but both are hard-nosed, no-nonsense baseball players. Both blue-collar, uncomfortable in the suits and ties for the formal dinner. Both wanting to get back on the field for another day.

In the back of the room sat Sam Temple. His arrival at WC in 1997 started a meteoric rise for his team and baseball in general. He smiled at the notion that two of his players were on the same dais. He smiled knowing that the hard work – hours and hours of practice in rain, miserable heat – not only paid off for the high school team he coached, but also for his former players’ successes on the college diamond.

But like Temple has always done, he shied away from taking credit. “This is a credit to their parents,” he said. “Both of those young men have great families.”

They also have great talent, great desire and an unwillingness to fail. It’s that mentality that helped baseball in this town grow by leaps and bounds. It’s that mentality that every youth league baseball player who wants to earn a place on the same lofty stage as Craig Newton and Brian Pettway should note.

Think about it one more time: 12 teams, 25 players per team, 300 players total and four finalists for the top award. Half of those finalists began on the same fields Warren County’s youth are playing on today.

What a night for baseball in this county.

We can only hope it’s just the first of many.