Boo Ferriss died as the sun was rising on Thanksgiving Day, and all who knew him know there’s something appropriate about that, no matter how sorrowfully we mourn.
That’s because we are so thankful for him and all he has meant to so many. We are thankful he lived such a long, productive life. We are thankful we knew him and thankful that he enriched our lives and those of so many thousands upon thousands who are better people because of him.
Indeed, the world – his beloved Mississippi and the Delta, in particular – is simply a better place because of Boo Ferriss. We are thankful for that.
We are thankful for him teaching us not only about baseball, but also about how to live, about kindness, virtue and grace.
We are thankful for what he has meant to baseball and athletics in general.
We are thankful that when a shoulder injury ended one of the most promising careers in baseball history, it began a coaching career that has influenced literally thousands upon thousands.
We are thankful for his loving family, especially his beloved Miriam.
We are thankful that he died at peace, surrounded by that loving family, just 11 days from what would have been his 95th birthday.
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I am thankful. I am thankful for all the letters Coach wrote me, in that lovely handwriting, after the births of my children and the deaths of my parents – and often for no special reason at all. I am thankful he allowed me to write his biography and for all the time we spent together during the research for the book. It remains the highlight of my more than half a century writing about sports.
I am thankful my dad introduced me to Coach 55 years ago. I’ll never forget it. This was in Hattiesburg. Delta State was about to play Mississippi Southern.
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 by 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 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 more than half a century since — is that Coach not only was the greatest baseball player in Mississippi history, he also was one of the greatest men. In Mississippi, he has been the gift who kept on giving.
You see, Coach taught his players and all who knew him about more than baseball. He taught them how to carry themselves, how to treat people, how to make others feel better about themselves. He taught by example. He made you want to be like him.
“At first I thought I was special because he cared so much about me,” says Jimmy Newquist, one of Ferriss’ 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— that 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.
He died today, but he will live on through the thousands he influenced and those they in turn will influence.
We mourn the death of Boo Ferriss, but we celebrate his most wonderful life.