BILOXI --The inability to hit a curveball prevented Rick Cleveland from following his dreams into Major League Baseball, turning him into a sports writer and editor for the last five decades.
That was the story Cleveland told an audience at the inaugural luncheon celebrating baseball Friday during the "It's More Than a Game" exhibit at the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art.
Cleveland, historian for the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, experience started as the Little League catcher for Bobby Myrick, who appeared in 82 games for the New York Mets over a three-year career in the mid-70s. After each inning, young fans watching the game would come around the dugout to see how red his palm became catching Myrick.
"Baseball has always been my favorite sport," Cleveland said. "You never know what you are going to get at a ball park."
Never miss a local story.
Getting into sportswriting for Cleveland was easy following his father, who wrote for the Hattiesburg paper. After the games, the sportswriters covering various events would gather at his father's house and tell stories.
"I thought this was a really wonderful way to make a living," he said. "I learned how to read by reading the sports section and how to do math by figuring batting averages in the box scores."
Most of Cleveland's talk centered around legendary Delta State coach Dave "Boo" Ferriss, whose promising Boston Red Sox career was shut down by a shoulder injury in his third year. Ferriss, who came out of Shaw, Mississippi, in the early 40s was drafted first by the Red Sox and the Army. In the Army, Ferriss was assigned as a sports instructor to Randolph Air Force Base and spent his time playing Army baseball. In 1944, Ferriss led the Army teamwith a .417 batting average - beating future Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter by three points for the batting title - and compiling a 20-8 record on the mound.
Slaughter got revenge on Ferriss in the 1946 World Series, sprinting home from first on Harry Walker's single to left-center in front of Ted Williams in Game 7, a play known forever as the "Mad Dash", to give the Cardinals a seven-game series win. Ferriss, who shutout the Cardinals in the fourth game, started the final game and almost had a key RBI in the second inning as Walker ran down a deep fly Ferriss' at-bat with an over-the-shoulder catch.
"In his first eight starts, he beat seven other teams in the American League," Cleveland said. "He didn't need the designated hitter," Cleveland said.
Ferriss, who was 639-387-8 at Delta State, was presented with the Statesmen's Division II World Series trophy in 2004 by coach Mike Kinnison.
Cleveland also praised the state's college baseball teams, but gives Ole Miss and Mississippi State the best chance to reach the College World Series.
"Collectively, this is the best college baseball season in Mississippi history," he said.
Cleveland has written four books, including "BOO A Life In Baseball, Well-lived" in 2009 and "Mississippi's Greatest Athletes" in 2014.
The series continues next week with J. Con Maloney, the former owner of the Minor League Jackson Mets and Jackson Generals.