Barry Lyons brought the weekly “Our Love Affair with Baseball” luncheon to a conclusion Friday with a retrospective of the six-month series at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art.
The series that began May 13 was offered by the museum every Friday along with an exhibit featuring baseball history on the Coast and memorabilia from the area’s players.
Lyons, a Biloxi native and the exhibit’s guest curator who secured most of the speakers, enjoyed revisiting his baseball career. He was a catcher for the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, California Angels and Chicago White Sox.
“I have a passion about baseball,” said Lyons. “Playing major-league baseball is something I dreamed about as a kid. I made memories that are life-lasting.”
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Ohr-O’Keefe assistant curator Rhea Minor enjoyed the speaking series and exhibit.
“It has been a way to bring in people who love baseball to see the museum,” she said. “I learned a lot listening to speakers who had played baseball and seeing how the game evolved.”
Former Biloxi Dodgers pitcher Dicky “Lefty” O’Neal and Cliff Kirkland spoke during the series about their memories integrating the Negro League team as white players.
“The series brought back some of the old memories,” former Biloxi Dodgers catcher Johnny Thompson said. “When I was playing, no one asked me for my autograph.”
Thompson now gets asked for his autograph at events such as the speaking series and the annual Negro League reunion in Birmingham, Alabama.
Former Clarion-Ledger sports columnist Rick Cleveland was the first speaker on May 13. Cleveland focused on legendary Delta State coach Boo Ferriss, the former Boston Red Sox pitcher who nurtured the baseball dreams of many Mississippi players during his tenure with the Statesmen. Lyons was one of Ferriss’ Delta State players.
Gary Sarnoff and Gary Higginbotham told about the history of professional baseball on the Coast. Sarnoff, who wrote the “Wrecking Crew of ’33,” which is about the last Washington Senators team to win the American League pennant, talked about the team holding spring training in Biloxi in the early 1930s.
Higginbotham told the history of minor league baseball in Gulfport and Biloxi starting with the Crabs in the mid-1900s. In the 1920s, the Tarpons played for three years in Gulfport, but after the Tarpons left, the area would not have a regular minor league presence until the Huntsville Stars Southern League franchise moved from Alabama to Biloxi and became the Shuckers.
Overtime Sports President Tim Bennett, Mississippi Braves general manager and Southern League vice president Steve Desalvo, Shuckers play-by-play announcer Chris Harris and Lyons told the story of Biloxi landing the Double A team.
The series also featured former Atlanta Braves star Dale Murphy and former Mets star Darryl Strawberry.