A Delta celebration of a wonderful life

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CLEVELAND — Covenant Presbyterian Church couldn’t hold the crowd for Boo Ferriss’ funeral on a cool, sun-kissed Delta Wednesday, and we all knew that before we went. The Ferriss family knew, as well.

Boo Ferriss

AP file photo

Boo Ferriss

Perhaps the coliseum at Delta State might have been large enough, but it didn’t matter. Boo Ferriss, the baseball legend who died Thanksgiving Day a few days short of his 95th birthday, left explicit instructions for his funeral. At the top of his list: It would be in the church where he worshiped for most of his adult life.

Not far from the top of Ferriss’ beautifully handwritten instructions is this: “Service is to praise and glorify the Lord, not one of praise for me, and not a lengthy service. The Lord has greatly blessed my life and been a great source of strength through the years. My blessings are many and I have much to be thankful for.”

Ferriss put it another way to Delta State baseball coach Mike Kinnison, who was much like a second son to him. Said Kinnison, “Coach said he didn’t want it to be a lot of hullabaloo about him. He wanted it short and sweet.”

It was.

Rick Cleveland

Melanie Thortis

Rick Cleveland

Rev. Tim Starnes presided and he did glorify God, but he used the manner in which Ferriss lived his life to do so. The entire service, attended by more than 500, lasted 45 minutes. Smiles far outnumbered tears, as funeral goers often nodded their heads when Starnes told about the goodness of Boo Ferriss.

Starnes let us know he was preaching from behind a pulpit purchased in 1946 by none other than Ferriss, who had just won 25 games in his second Major League season. He had pitched a shutout for the Boston Red Sox in the ’46 World Series. He was, with the possible exception of Bob Feller, the best pitcher in baseball at the time. He made all of $20,000 that season.

A photo of the check Boo Ferriss wrote in 1946 to pay for a new pulpit for his church.

Rev. Tim Starnes

A photo of the check Boo Ferriss wrote in 1946 to pay for a new pulpit for his church.

Yes, and Starnes has a photo of the Bank of Shaw check Ferriss wrote on Dec. 18, 1946, to the church for $585. It is written in Ferriss’ impeccable script, and in the notation line it says: For “church pulpit furniture.”

That would be like a Major League star buying a whole new church today.

When a shoulder surgery in 1947 curtailed one of the most promising careers in baseball history, Ferriss turned to coaching. He always believed it was God’s will.

Said Starnes, “Miriam (Boo’s wife) told me baseball gave Boo a platform to do what God called him to do, which is coach. She’s right.”

Boo Ferriss taught more than baseball, he taught life lessons. He had a deep faith in his Lord, but he didn’t so much preach it to his players as he led by example. That is, he lived his life – every minute of every hour of every day, every week, every year – by The Golden Rule. He did unto others as he would have them do unto them.

A statue of Coach Boo Ferriss stands outside the Delta State baseball stadium.

Liz Cleveland

A statue of Coach Boo Ferriss stands outside the Delta State baseball stadium.

On the right-hand side of the church sat dozens of his former players, many of whom flew in from all over the U.S. Most are graying or bald now, but they still carry themselves like ballplayers, broad-shouldered and erect. And they all share a love and respect for Ferriss. “Boo’s boys,” they call themselves, and they are.

Kinnison, who has done so much to carry on the Ferriss tradition of excellence at Delta State, smiled through moist eyes as he talked about his mentor, who had been in failing health for several months.

“I don’t want this to sound wrong, but it was almost like the good Lord weaned us from Coach,” Kinnison said. “He has been so much a part of Delta State for so long, but over the last few months as his health failed, he couldn’t come to the practices or the games. He couldn’t come to church or do so much of what he loved to do.”

Kinnison continued, “He told me tell all his boys not to worry about him, that he had lived a long and blessed life, and he knew whose hands he was in and he was ready. If ever a man was ready, he was ready.”

So Wednesday, rather than mourn the death of David Meadow “Boo” Ferriss, we celebrated his life, a truly wonderful life.

Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at [email protected]