Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Rick Cleveland: Greatest baseball player in Mississippi history

This was 53 years and several months ago at the old Mississippi Southern College baseball field just off Highway 49 in Hattiesburg. Delta State College was about to play MSC in baseball. I was 9.

My dad was on the field talking to a tall, broad-shouldered man in a gray flannel uniform with a green cap. Dad waved me out onto the field.

“Rickey,” my daddy said, “I want you to meet the greatest baseball player in Mississippi history. This is Coach Boo Ferriss.”

Understand, I was a baseball nutcase. Knew every starting line up in the Big Leagues. Learned to read reading the sports page. Learned to do math figuring batting averages. Played baseball every waking hour and then dreamed about it, too.

The greatest player in Mississippi history... Dad said. That got my attention.

Coach Ferriss could not have been more kind. He asked me what position I played. And when I answered, catcher, he said, “Well that's the quickest way to the Big Leagues. Good catchers are hard to find.”

Coach made me feel like a million dollars. He's been doing it ever since.

Delta State beat Southern 1-0 that day. Funny the things you remember when you can't remember where you put your keys or the score of last year's Egg Bowl.


What my dad did not tell me that day — and what I have learned in the more than half a century since — is that Coach Ferriss not only is the greatest baseball player in Mississippi history, he is one of the greatest men. At 93, he has touched more lives than we can scarcely imagine. In Mississippi baseball, he is the gift that keeps on giving.

You see, Boo Ferriss taught his players about more than baseball. He taught them how to carry themselves, how to treat people, how to make others feel better about themselves.

“At first I thought I was special because he cared so much,” says Jimmy Newquist, one of Ferriss's many successful players. “After a while, I figured out he treated everyone like that. Everybody thought they were special.”

Coach's players learned so much — and were so inspired by him— many became coaches themselves. And they taught their players how to play the game and how to reach people. From the Boo Ferriss baseball tree, the branches keep producing more limbs. His shadow is cast over all.

This past weekend, on a wind-chilled, “goosebump” day in the Delta, people gave back.


Brookhaven sculptor Kim Sessums' handsome, eight-foot, bronze statue of Boo Ferriss, unveiled Saturday, captures Ferriss vividly and in mid-clap. Perfect. Ferriss was forever nurturing his players from the third base coaching box and from the dugout, usually with a loud clap.

“Coach kept things so upbeat,” says Mike Kinnison, who went from manager to All American under Ferriss and has become a coaching institution himself. “The games were important and we wanted to win, but we never felt any pressure because of his demeanor. He was always so encouraging.

“He still is,” Kinnison continues. “I'll be fuming about a player who is one for his last 25, and I'll look over and Coach has his arm around him, telling to keep his chin up, that he's done it before and he'll do it again. I call him the great encourager.”

Among the players Ferriss inspired and encouraged is Tim Harvey, a Laurel native, who went on to a splendidly successful career in hotel management. Harvey gave the lead gift for the renovation of the baseball stadium, dedicated Saturday along with the statue. Tastefully modernized Tim and Nancy Havey Stadium/Ferriss Field, is now the centerpiece of a Boo Ferriss baseball complex that includes the stadium, an indoor practice facility, a clubhouse, a Boo Ferriss museum and one of the most appropriate statues in Mississippi — or anywhere.


Rick Cleveland ( is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.


Anonymous said...

I did not play baseball at Delta State, but my boss did. Boo would come by and see him from time to time. I saw him a couple of years back when he was coming out of a book signing at LeMuria. He smiled and said, "Hey, you used to work at the paper with Mark!" I had been gone from that job for about 14 years, and he was in his late 80s. He still remembered me and made it a point to smile and say hello. Some people make the world a better place just by being in it.

PittPanther said...

KF, you misspelled Oil Can Boyd.

Earl Cann said...

PittPanther: Newsflash! You're a dick.

Anonymous said...

If Tommy John surgery had existed when Ferriss was with the Red Sox, he may have been one of the greatest of all time. His brief career was very impressive.

Anonymous said...

Cleveland is correct - there may not be a nicer human being in the world than Boo Ferriss. He was the DSU baseball coach during my time and I spoke with him a couple of times on campus. Years later, the man still remembers my name. Uncommonly fine gentleman and a baseball legend.

Anonymous said...

I had a relative who played for Coach Ferris in the 70s. In the early 2000s, Coach Ferris met up with another relative of mine and asked about his former player. Coach Ferris called out the full address where my relative had lived as a high schooler and said he could never forget it because he had written so many letters recruiting the player. Incredible mind.

Kingfish said...

Take it up with Mr. Cleveland, Pitt. I merely copied and pasted what was sent.

Kingfish said...

Pitt, never mind, you're just a plain jerk. A head case who blew up and is little remembered by anyone.

PittPanther said...

Sheesh. Tough crowd.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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