/If you knew Boo, you are thankful for him

If you knew Boo, you are thankful for him

Boo Ferriss was killed as the sun rose on Thanksgiving Day. All who knew him well know that there is something right about that, regardless of how much we grieve. We are thankful for Boo Ferriss and all that he has done for so many. We are grateful he lived such an extended, productive life. We are grateful to have known him and are grateful that he has enriched our lives as well as the lives of thousands and thousands of others who have been made better by him. Boo Ferriss made the world, especially his beloved Mississippi and Delta, a better place. That is something we are grateful for. Obituary: At 94, the Great Boo Ferris died. We are grateful for his lessons about baseball and how to live. We are grateful for the contributions he made to both baseball and sports in general. We are grateful that a shoulder injury that ended one of the most promising baseball careers ever, opened the door to a coaching career that has had an impact on literally thousands upon thousands. We are grateful for his loving family, particularly his beloved Miriam. We are grateful that he passed away peacefully, surrounded with his loving family, 11 days before his 95th birthday. * * * I am grateful. Coach wrote me many lovely letters after my children’s births and my parents’ deaths. It was often without any special reason. I am grateful that he allowed me the opportunity to write his biography, and for the time we shared during the research. This book remains my favorite piece of writing about sports for more than 50 years. It was 55 years ago that my father introduced me to Coach. I’ll never forget it. It was in Hattiesburg. Mississippi Southern was about to face Delta State. My father was talking to a tall, wide-shouldered man wearing a gray flannel uniform and a green cap. Dad waved me onto the field. My daddy called me “Rickey” and said, “I want to meet the greatest Mississippi baseball player.” This is Coach Boo Feriss. Understand that I was a huge baseball fanatic. I knew every player in the Big Leagues. Read the sports pages to learn how to read. Calculating batting averages was one of my favorite math tasks. I played baseball every day and dreamed about it all the time. Dad called him the greatest Mississippi player. This caught my attention. The coach could not have been nicer. He asked me my position. He asked me what position I played and I replied catcher. That’s the fastest way to get into the Big Leagues. “Good catchers are difficult to find.” Coach made it seem like I was worth a million dollars. Since then, he has been doing it every day. That day, Delta State defeated Southern 1-0. It’s funny what you can remember about yourself when you forget where your keys are or how the Egg Bowl ended. * * * My dad didn’t tell me that day, and I’ve learned more in the past half century that Coach was not only the greatest player in Mississippi baseball history but also one of the most important men in Mississippi. He was the gift that kept on giving in Mississippi. He taught his players, and everyone who knew him, more than just baseball. He showed them how to be themselves, how they should treat others, and how to make other people feel better. He was a great example. He inspired you to follow his example. Jimmy Newquist, one Ferriss’ most successful players, says that at first I believed I was special because of how he cared about me. “After a while I realized he treated everyone as if they were special. Everyone thought they were special.” The coaches’ players were so inspired and learned so much from him that many of them became coaches. They taught their players how the game works and how to reach others. The branches of the Boo Ferriss baseball tree keep putting forth more limbs. His shadow casts over everything. Although he is gone today, he will be remembered by the thousands of people he influenced and will continue to influence. Boo Ferriss’ death is a tragedy, but his life was full of joy. Mississippi Today’s sports columnist is Rick Cleveland. Check out his columns as well as his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.