“Even though I walk through the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4. 

This bible verse has been engraved in the mind — and on the body — of Missouri State’s new volunteer assistant coach, Craig Massoni. 

Earlier this summer, Massoni woke up to a lot of bleeding near his belly button. There was a purple mass that had taken over his entire belly button, and it had burst open. He took a quick shower and bandaged it up, hoping that would hold up while he went to coach the Arkansas State Red Wolves on their senior day. 

After he threw batting practice, he sat back in his chair and looked down to see blood covering his white uniform. Once again, he bandaged himself up and coached through the game. 

Afterward, he went to see a doctor at urgent care to stop the bleeding. Two days later, he saw a surgeon for a biopsy. 

On June 26, Massoni received a diagnosis that would change his life: He had stage 3 melanoma. 

“I don’t think there’s anything in your life that prepares you for that moment,” Massoni said. 

According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common type of cancers. And while melanoma only accounts for one percent of skin cancers, it is the most aggressive and deadly form of skin cancer. 

The ACS projects about 96,480 new cases of melanoma and roughly 7,230 deaths in 2019. 

When the doctor told Massoni how serious the cancer was, Massoni immediately called three people — his mom, his dad and Missouri State baseball head coach Keith Guttin. 

Guttin and Massoni had previously agreed that Massoni would join the staff on July 1 before any official team events happened, so he could get acquainted with the rest of the staff and the community. 

“I told him, ‘Look, I’m really excited to be there, but this is what’s going on,’” Massoni said. “‘I don’t know what it means for my upcoming schedule, and I understand how competitive this business is, and if you guys feel like you need to move on, I totally understand.’ And he responded to me like I was nuts. That made me feel really good.”

Guttin said Massoni’s dedication to developing student-athletes and his resume made him a desirable candidate for the position.

“He was our choice, and we certainly weren’t going to back down from that because of an illness,” Guttin said. 

But instead of moving to Springfield, Massoni headed to Nashville, Tennessee to seek treatment and be with his family. 

During that time, Massoni received many calls and texts from the baseball staff checking in on him. 

“It’s very humbling to see people wrap themselves around you during a difficult time,” Massoni said. “More importantly, to see people wrap themselves around my family. I don’t go through this alone. No one is going to convince me that my mom’s not losing sleep over this.”

Massoni said his first reaction was shock. But soon after, the fight-or-flight decision creeped into his mind. 

The 27-year-old credits his life experiences and competitiveness to the fact that he immediately jumped into fighting mode, asking the doctor to tell him what to do to get better. 

“I do feel fortunate to have mentors that not only taught me the game of baseball but taught me how to be a man and how to deal with things,” Massoni said. 

Massoni grew up just outside of San Francisco. After playing community college ball, he transferred as a junior to Austin Peay State where he won Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year. 

After the MLB draft, he spent two years playing for his hometown team, the San Francisco Giants, before moving on to play three years in the independent leagues, including the Gateway Grizzlies. 

In 2017, Massoni began his coaching career at Arkansas State, and in just two years, helped create a powerful offense that finished in the top of the division. 

Massoni said he is grateful to Red Wolves head coach Tommy Raffo for delegating so much responsibility to him and for giving him the chance to prove himself as a coach. 

“He probably had too much blind faith in me right off the bat, but I thank him for that,” Massoni said. 

Raffo let Massoni take on the hitters and threw him right into the fire. He said Massoni showed the utmost dedication to the players, and in return, they respected him and wanted to be him one day. 

“We think about him everyday here,” Raffo said. “He left a great impression of work ethic, commitment and passion for the game. It rubbed off on a lot of people. There will always be a following for Craig Massoni here.”

And the following doesn’t stop there. A few of Massoni’s hometown best friends have created a GoFundMe account in his honor. 

When his friends originally reached out to him about the idea, Massoni politely declined.

But soon the bills started rolling, and when the friends reached out a second time, Massoni said he realized there comes a point when you have to humble yourself and accept help when you need it.

“It’s pretty incredible what people have done for me and my family,” Massoni said. “To take that financial stress off of this, that’s one less thing to worry about and lets me focus on doing my job when I’m here and being a patient when I’m at the hospital.”

Since Massoni is a volunteer, he doesn’t get paid by Missouri State. The NCAA allows three full-time roles — one head coach and two assistants. 

This past spring, the SEC proposed an amendment to allow schools to employ a fourth full-time staff member and get rid of the volunteer position. The vote failed by a vote of 36-25. 

The Division I Council will revisit the issue in October. 

Massoni, along with most of the nation, hopes it passes. 

“I think if you talk to volunteers across the country, we’re not asking for $1 million salary,” Massoni said. “We’re asking for enough money to pay our bills and put food on the table.”

However, he said he is thankful that his ability to get treated will not come down to the finances and he’ll be taken care of one way or another.

Currently, Massoni is traveling back-and-forth between Springfield and Nashville, doing treatments every third Monday and flying back in time for practice on Tuesday. 

Because the cancer is growing, the treatment has to be aggressive and will continue for 12 weeks. At that point, the doctors will wean him off one of the drugs and see if the medication is working. If not, they will change course. 

“(It) feels like we’re moving in the right direction,” Massoni said. “I made a decision with conviction. I feel good about the doctors I’m with. I feel good with my faith and my decision.”

Massoni said he’d be lying if he said death has never entered his mind, but it doesn’t consume him. 

He said he thinks you should spend your time on Earth, whether 20 or 100 years, doing what you’re passionate about. For him, that’s reaching people and impacting lives through baseball. 

“Even though I walk through the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4. 

“When I first came across that verse, the analogy was more about sports,” Massoni said. “I was playing baseball for a living and battling fear. Now, no matter what I face, between my family and my faith, I never feel like I’m going through it alone.”

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