Ferriss Field attracts baseball legends
Ferriss Field on the campus of Delta State University is a truly mystical place to me.
It was there in my youth that I witnessed one of the truly great college baseball players take the mound and work his magic. On the days Delta State had a game, I could hardly wait to get out of class and hustle over to the baseball field.
He was not very tall, and his weight always seemed to be a problem. To the untrained eye, he resembled a short football player rather than a college pitcher. I mentioned his name to Allen Pickens whose son, Garrett, pitches for the Statesmen, and one day Allen called to tell me that the player I had mentioned was sitting in the stands right in front of him. “He was a great one,” I told Allen. “The best college pitcher that I ever saw.”
Last Saturday afternoon, Judy, my grandson, Blayke, and I made our way into Ferris Field to watch the Statesmen take on the Ouachita Tigers. As we stepped past the first row of seats under the pavilion, I noticed two men talking quietly about the game. To be honest, I didn’t recognize either of them, so we proceeded to our seats. At Delta State, it is the custom to visit with old friends before, during, and after the game, but I didn’t recognize anyone. Batting practice was still going on, and fans were still coming into the ball park.
After a while, Allen and his wife appeared. Allen has a vested interest in the team, so you wouldn’t be surprised to know that he takes DSU baseball very seriously. We talked for a few minutes, and then Allen pointed to the first row. “That’s your man,” he said flatly.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“That’s Joe DiFabio,” Allen responded.
Forty-five years had passed since I last witnessed Joe DiFabio take the mound for the Statesmen, and as you would expect, time had changed us both. Instead of that youthful swagger he displayed as a student, he moved slowly, instead of dark thick hair, his hairline had receded, and like me, he had gained weight.
Both Judy and I had been at DSU when DiFabio was setting pitching records, and I felt compelled to go down and re-introduce myself.
“I was here when you were here,” I reminded him as I shook his hand. “I didn’t know anyone was that old,” he responded with a laugh. We talked for a few minutes about our time at DSU, and then I returned to my seat. “I thought I would never see the man from New Jersey again,” I remarked as I settled into my seat. “‘Dizzy ’ Dean once said about a great fast ball pitcher that ‘he could throw powder river.’ Well, Miss Judy,” I remarked, “DiFabio could throw ‘powder river.’ ” Judy laughed and replied, “I remember.”
Even in his youth, DiFabio never looked like a college athlete, and he certainly didn’t look like a pitcher. But when he took the mound and cut loose with that first pitch, you knew you were witnessing something special. He was an aggressive pitcher. He threw strikes. He could set you up with a wicked curve ball, and then set you down with a fast ball so fast that you only saw a white blur. His pitching philosophy was simple: “hit this.” The last part of this philosophy was “if you can.”
Not many batters ever did.
Just as the umpires called “play ball,” legendary Coach Dave “Boo” Ferriss made his way into the stands and sat down behind DiFabio. Coach Ferriss had been DiFabio’s college baseball coach.
Watching these two men laughing and talking together, I realized what a truly historical moment this was. There they sat, one of college baseball’s most successful coaches visiting with one of his truly great pitchers. This scene was priceless, worth infinitely more than the price of admission. Together, these two men had made Delta State history.
Then I looked over to the DSU dugout, and there was Coach Mike Kinnison standing on the top step giving instructions to one of his players, and I instinctively knew that history was still being made. Thirty years from now, legendary Coach Mike Kinnison will be sitting in the stands talking with one of his former players, and history will once again repeat itself. Delta State has a way of attracting great people, and no less than three were present at Saturday’s game.