Benton Moss pitches idea, catches attention

Benton Moss’ fastball is dangerous. So much so that the North Carolina right-hander, who’s in his second season as a weekend starter, already has 61 strikeouts on the season — an average of more than one per inning he’s pitched.

Helping lead a defense that has allowed the Tar Heels to top the Division I rankings all season long is a huge responsibility, but the sophomore Morehead-Cain scholar, a guy who’s used to holding down a variety of roles, understands it’s not his only one.

After all, his community isn’t just the 33 other players he takes the field with daily.

Together with North Carolina alumnus Chase Jones, a former UNC baseball player and founder of the Vs. Cancer Foundation, Moss has been helping plan a fundraising event for childhood cancer that will culminate in the series finale against Duke this weekend at Boshamer Stadium.

Moss, who is scheduled to pitch Saturday, will try to sit down more than a few Blue Devils as his team looks to add yet another W to it’s already lengthy win column.

The next day, the UNC and Duke squads will get their heads shaved in front of a crowd at Boshamer Stadium, bringing a close to an event which aims to strike out a problem Moss knows is so much bigger than baseball.

The gift of giving back

Fumbling with his navy blue baseball cap, Moss dropped it on the Boshamer Stadium dirt, revealing the underside of the brim. On it, “Isaiah 40:31” is scrawled in thin, black ink.

It’s one of Moss’ favorite verses, something he sees often throughout the day when he lifts the cap off his head and puts it back on, as pitchers often do.

It’s his devout faith that keeps Moss going, a faith that has instilled in him a love for helping others.

His mother, Ashley Moss, first remembers that quality manifesting itself in the form of a work camp near his Enfield home at which Moss would spend some of his middle school summers. There he worked with a team at the homes of elderly people in his community to do house repair — basic electrical work, painting, whatever needed to be done.

For three years in high school, Moss, a trained piano player, helped plan and participated in an hour-long Christmas concert at a nearby senior center. At one of them, Moss organized a donation collection, which helped provide Christmas presents for a needy family at his school.

Ashley Moss has seen those types of selfless qualities in her son for as long as she can remember. And, she points out, she knows exactly where they come from.

“A lot of the outreach he’s done has been faith-based, either through our church or through some other organization,” she said. “Benton understands … the importance of giving back. It’s just what you do.”

Hitting home

Chase Jones was a freshman in college when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. In October 2006 he had surgery, and a week later, he started chemotherapy.

It’s been more than six years since he finished his treatments, and Jones is confident that he’s beaten cancer for good.

It’s to those who cannot say the same that he’s dedicated his career.

During his junior and senior years, Jones started and organized the BaseBald for the Cure event, during which UNC baseball players shaved their heads to help raise money and awareness for childhood cancer research.

Jones graduated in May 2011 and was hired three months later by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a childhood cancer charity, to help run the annual event at UNC and elsewhere.

In 2012, the BaseBald event at its various sites raised more than $400,000, all of it going to a national organization to fund research.

Having spent much of his time just blocks away from UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Jones felt it necessary to not just fund cancer research on the national level, but also to help those suffering right around the corner.

So in December 2012, Jones founded Vs. Cancer, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering college teams to raise money for children’s cancer, with half the proceeds from each event going to a local hospital and half to national research.

“What these kids need in our local children’s hospital is the research that’s funding treatments, but they also need the care they find every day,” Jones said. “And that’s what we’re providing.”

The money raised so far has helped create teen rooms for patients at children’s hospitals and hire child life specialists, who help cancer patients cope with treatments.

UNC baseball coach Mike Fox has taken his team to the children’s hospital several times in the last few years, most recently last fall, when the Tar Heels got the opportunity to play with some of the very kids their annual event helps.

“We’re just happy to do a small part for a very huge problem,” Fox said.

Benton’s big idea

A student at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, Moss was assigned a semester-long project in professor Amin Sayedi’s class in January. The goal: work with a team to provide a marketing campaign for a local company.

Having a close relationship with Jones and well aware of his new foundation, Moss knew just how he could accomplish the task, combining his loves of baseball and service in the process.

Moss approached Jones with the idea for he and classmates Lexi McClain and John DeBlock to take on the marketing and organizing of the annual UNC fundraiser, which for the first time will be affiliated with the Vs. Cancer Foundation. Jones, busy with the organization’s duties at similar events elsewhere, was more than happy for the help.

Throughout the semester, the trio has managed the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the UNC event to help organize and promote the fundraising efforts. They also helped direct and produce a 37-second video for the event, featuring Moss and other Tar Heel athletes, which has been played at UNC sporting events during the past month.

Sunday, when the Duke and UNC teams take the field after the game for fresh haircuts, it’ll be because of relationships Moss and his classmates have made with the local Great Clips franchises, whose barbers will be donating their time for the cause.

The event, now in its fourth year at North Carolina, is something that’s near and dear to the Tar Heels’ hearts. Having the man behind it all in their own clubhouse is something that makes it even more special for senior pitcher Chris Munnelly.

“(Benton) honestly just wants to do good for other people,” he said. “He’s one of those guys that’s going to change the world one day; it’s just a matter of time.”

Renewed strength

Moss said it’ll take just a few short weeks for his buzz cut to be at it’s normal length again after he gets shaved. The team, now 36-2, could be vying for its first national title before Munnelly, who sports a longer cut, gets all of his back.

But for a group that harps on team unity, standing in solidarity with those who don’t have the choice but to be bald is what’s more important than appearances.

“To whom much is given, much is expected,” Moss said. “Each person finds their joy in different things, and I enjoy giving back to people and trying to add value to people’s lives.”

This year, 40 schools are participating in similar events to benefit the Vs. Cancer Foundation. On Sunday alone, baseball players will be shaving their heads and raising money at Elon, Brown and Richmond, in addition to UNC.

“I love the fact that it’s become commonplace on our baseball team now to give back to kids’ cancer,” Jones said, “And even more so the fact that all these players, Benton included, see that they can do something about it.”

Moss conceded that he can’t fully grasp, nor does he claim to understand, what cancer patients go through.

So instead, reminded by the words printed inside the cap that will soon fit a little more loosely on his shaved head, Moss will use his renewed strength to aid those who need strength the most.

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