Story by Robert Wilson
Photos by MSU Media Relations and Robert Smith
David Clark’s Father’s Day today will be like none he has ever had in his life.
Clark and his wife Keri are in Omaha celebrating Father’s Day watching their son Kellum play for Mississippi State in the College World Series. Kellum, a freshman, will probably start at designated hitter for the Bulldogs. He has started the past 16 games, 11 at DH and five in left field. No. 7 seed MSU, 45-16, plays No. seed 2 Texas, 47-15, today at 6 p.m. on ESPN2 in the last of the eight first-round games in the double-elimination tournament.
“I expect it to be the ultimate out-of-body experience for Keri and I and our community and family,” David said. “We know the struggles as they got real. We experienced the failure on and off the field to get there. I expect once I get settled, I will just sit quietly and take it all in as if it’s the ultimate payoff for an awesome journey that started at West Lauderdale under coach Jerry Boatner back when I thought he was teaching me to be a better baseball player but learned later in life he was trying to just teach me how to be a better baseball dad.”
But several months ago, Kellum being in the lineup wasn’t the focus of the Clark family – Kellum’s health was.
Kellum was named the Two Men and a Truck/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Player of the Year last spring as a senior at Brandon High in the shortened season due to COVID-19.
“Kellum’s stomach started bothering him last summer before the major league draft,” David said. “Kellum reported to MSU in August of 2020 and participated in fall drills and their fall schedule. He still wasn’t feeling well, but he played. He lost about 30-35 pounds between August and October while trying to train and preparing for his freshman season at MSU.”
Kellum continued to work once spring semester started, but stomach issues worsened.
“The ice storm (in early February) came at the precise time Kellum’s condition was its worst,” David said. “He had no access to doctors, pharmacies, or decent food for about a week and his stomach was in awful shape. He went with the team to Texas for the season opening weekend (he had one at-bat), but after that I went to (MSU Coach Chris) Lemonis and asked for a leave of absence to get Kellum in front of his doctors at G.I. and Associates we could finally put his care before everything else. He was diagnosed with a stomach imbalance, was treated with medicine, lifted up in prayer and was on the road to recovery. The people at G.I. and Associates and at MSU have been wonderful to work with.”
Five weeks later, Kellum had gained 20 pounds and was back in uniform. A 6-foot-4, 220-pound left-handed hitter, Kellum started the third game of the South Carolina series on May 9 and went 2 for 4 and he’s been starting ever since, 16 consecutive games, 11 at DH and five in left field. He’s hitting .259 (14 of 54) during that stretch with his best game going 3 of 5 in the third game against Missouri. He had two hits in three games against Notre Dame in the Super Regional last weekend in Starkville.
David built the “Clark Center,” at his house in Brandon so Kellum could work out while he was sick.
“I can honestly say that when Kellum was at his sickest point days after the ice storm lock down, I could hear the crack of that bat like nothing was wrong,” David said. “At his sickest point of his condition he was still out there getting his reps in hitting, throwing and taking self-thrown ground balls off a pitch back all the while keeping his faith. Also, during his recovery, I witnessed the power of prayer and friendships. Honestly out on my pier, I had my first real encounter with God, and it changed me forever. I sometimes I do wonder who was God teaching, Kellum about keeping his faith or me about growing mine?”
Kellum had a great high school career. He grew up in Brandon but decided to go play in the eighth grade at Jackson Academy and then JA coach Jay Powell, a former West Lauderdale High, MSU and major league pitcher and member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. David, Kellum’s dad, also went to West Lauderdale and knows Powell. Kellum hit .340 as an eighth grader, .298 as a freshman and .340 at a sophomore at JA before transferring back to Brandon High. He hit .500 with six doubles and 10 home runs as a junior and .467 with six doubles and three home runs as a senior in the shortened season.
Kellum has faced adversity before his stomach issues. He was playing in his final game as a junior in the playoffs against Biloxi and was scheduled to go to Florida to participate in a camp with some of the top high school players in the country several weeks later. But when Kellum slid into second base with a double, he sprained his knee and was scheduled to be out for at least two months. His chance to be seen by college coaches and major league scouts was out the window and his national rating dropped. But he was able to play some with Team Elite out of Georgia for part of the summer.
“I remember that final six-hour drive home after that last summer game with Team Elite my silent faithful one piped up and said, ‘Dad, do you think it is possible that God knew that my journey had been too easy before my knee injury and maybe he gave me that injury to keep me grounded and make me stronger in my faith?’” David said. “The boy has had a habit of teaching his old man a lot of important things about life. So, I thought about it and I said, ‘Son from where you sit in your relationship with Him, I think that is very likely.’”
David said 16 major league teams came to their home in the fall of 2019 and it looked like Kellum was on the fast track to possibly being drafted, but COVID-19 hit. Mississippi State is getting the benefit of Kellum’s ability now.