College baseball in MS beats footballBy RICK CLEVELAND,
Mississippi often is called a football state, and you can make a strong case because so many of the world’s greatest football players come from here. Again, this year, Mississippi produced the largest percentage (per capita) of players selected in the NFL Draft.
Louisiana was second. It wasn’t close. Mississippi also has produced the largest number of Pro Football Hall of Famers – again, per capita – of any state. (West Virginia is second. Again, it is not close.)
However, in terms of how our college teams fare in the various sports, a far better case can be made that Mississippi is a baseball state. Our teams win with amazing consistency. What’s more, they draw fans in this relatively small state at a remarkable rate. Mississippians do love their baseball; we also love winners.
Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss baseball are often cited for their consistent winning ways and for their strong fan bases.
Today, let’s take a closer look at surely the most successful baseball program in the state on a year-to-year basis, and that would be Delta State.
Mike Kinnison’s Statesmen are fresh off winning an NCAA Regional this past weekend and advance to a Super Regional against the University of Tampa this weekend.
The championship victory over Valdosta State – won 9-6 last Saturday – lifted the supposedly rebuilding Statesmen to 42-12 on the season. That’s winning at a 78 percent rate, which is fantastic for baseball. But you should know that in his 23rd season as head coach at DSU Kinnison has won 981 games and lost only 311. That’s a winning percentage of 76 percent over 23 seasons, which is unheard of.
It is even better than Kinnison’s mentor, the legendary Boo Ferriss, the father of all this Delta State baseball success, who won 639 games and lost 387, a still lofty 62 percent winning ratio. (It should be pointed out that Ferriss’s teams competed against a schedule that often included Ole Miss, State, Southern Miss and Alabama among other D-I powers.)
Funny story: Long ago, Ferriss was walking off the field at Tuscaloosa after having swept a doubleheader from the Crimson Tide. Bear Bryant, the Alabama athletic director much more famous as the football coaching legend, was there to greet him.
“Boo, I don’t know why we continue to play you,” Bear said. “You beat us too much.”
To which Ferriss responded, “Well, Bear, in that case, I don’t know why anybody plays you in football.”
All Bear Bryant could do is laugh.
Ferriss started it all, carving the baseball field that now bears his name, out of a bean field. He once cut Kinnison from his team and then asked him to serve as the manager. Kinnison did but he sneaked into the batting cage at every opportunity, played summer ball after the season and then made the team the next year. Then, lo and behold, he became an All American, one of Ferriss’s greatest and most beloved players. If Hollywood did the movie, the script would seem too ounbelievable.
And now, in addition to coaching the baseball team, Kinnison has become the school’s athletic director. This may or may not be his last season as baseball coach. The athletic director will make that decision.
He would be wise to keep the coach, the guy who replaced eight of his nine everyday starters this season and then went out and won 42 games and both a conference and a regional championship.
I am reminded of a season several years ago when Kinnison had to replace nearly every starter and much of his pitching staff.
This was February and Ferriss, still living and still a huge Delta State fan and supporter, was nonetheless excited about the season’s prospects.
“All I know,” Ferriss told me, “is Mike Kinnison is still the coach. As long as he’s the coach, Delta State baseball will do just fine.”
As usual, Boo was dead-on.
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.