At an emotional press conference in Cleveland on Monday, new Delta State coach Rodney Batts made a resounding statement about his plans for the team: “It’s gonna be no different. I am a product of this program.” Batts played at DSU for Bill Marchant, who played for Boo Ferriss, the patriarch of the proud program. Batts coached at DSU under Mike Kinnison, who played for Ferriss. Batts is just the fourth coach at DSU in the last 57 years. “That kind of stability has really benefitted our program,” Kinnison said while introducing Batts, who spent the previous five years as head coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Kinnison, now the DSU athletic director, said he wanted if at all possible to stay within the DSU coaching tree in hiring his replacement. He said Batts is “the right choice at the right time” as he symbolically turned over the keys to program. “I’m here because of you,” Batts said with a nod to Kinnison. Batts spent 19 years at DSU as a player, grad assistant, volunteer assistant and full-time assistant. He said through tears Monday that the DSU campus was home, and he knew he had made the right decision to come back when scores of former Statesmen players began texting him after the news broke last week. DSU, one of the strongest NCAA Division II programs in the country, owns a national championship – Batts was an assistant under Kinnison during that 2004 season – and expects to contend for another every year. Said Batts: “I understand the challenge. I understand what it takes.”
Let this flow over you: In 23 years as the Delta State head coach, Mike Kinnison won an NCAA Division II national championship, six regional titles, eight Gulf South Conference championships (including 2019), nine GSC coach of the year awards and 981 games with a .756 career winning percentage. A no-nonsense kind of guy with a keen eye for finding players who fit at DSU, Kinnison coached dozens of All-Americans and three national players of the year. The Benton native played for Boo Ferriss and coached under Bill Marchant, two other Statesmen coaching legends, and was elected to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Kinnison announced today that he is relinquishing his coaching duties to focus full-time on the athletic director role he assumed earlier this year. The search is on for the next coach. How would you like to follow that act? First Hill Denson retires at Belhaven, now Kinnison steps aside at DSU. The college baseball scene in Mississippi will look very different in 2020.
Collegiate Baseball’s preseason Top 40 poll for NCAA Division II schools did not include Delta State. The Statesmen were in the Also Receiving Votes category. O ye of little faith. DSU is one of just eight teams still standing in Division II, off to the College World Series in Grand Prairie, Texas. The Statesmen, ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation, are 44-11 with Gulf South Conference regular season and tournament titles and a South Region championship on their ledger. Tradition never slumps, as they like to say up in Cleveland, and the Green and White certainly has that. The 6-4 win over West Alabama on Monday at Ferriss Field gave the program its 12th regional title, its sixth in 21 years under coach Mike Kinnison, who is four wins shy of 900. One of those wins delivered a national championship in 2004. You want tradition? Kinnison was a second-team All-America shortstop at DSU under the great Boo Ferriss and led the 1978 team to the College World Series. Lowered expectations — in some circles, at least – for 2017 were based on the heavy personnel losses from last year’s team, which also made the regional. But Kinnison rebuilt the roster with some masterful recruiting, bringing in juco transfers like GSC and South Region player of the year Zack Shannon, Seth Birdsong, Jason Popovich, Emil Ellis, Justin Nussbaum and Brian Lane plus University of Houston transfer Clay Casey, a former DeSoto Central High star. Detractors might point out that, for all those CSW trips, DSU has won only the one national title. But, hey, it’s one of only two by any four-year school from the Magnolia State.
Brent Rooker will probably take home the Ferriss Trophy on Monday. He has received national attention while putting up monster numbers for a nationally ranked Mississippi State team that has battled through its share of adversity. Delta State’s Zack Shannon has big numbers, too, for a conference champion – and he would be the first Statesman to win the award named for former DSU coach Boo Ferriss. All three of the Southern Miss finalists have been outstanding for a nationally ranked conference title team: Taylor Braley, Dylan Burdeaux and freshman sensation Matt Wallner. There really isn’t a wrong choice here, but in some ways, there is more to like about Braley than any of the other finalists. The junior is the only true two-way player. A third baseman/DH, he is batting .330 with a .478 on-base percentage, 12 home runs and 50 RBIs. As a pitcher, he is 5-2 with a 3.48 ERA and 64 strikeouts over 11 starts. And the Oak Grove High alum is the only Mississippi native among the finalists. That ought to count for something.
If there were a Mount Rushmore of Mississippi baseball, the likeness of David Meadow “Boo” Ferriss would be on it. You could argue all day about the other three – and there are many worthy candidates – but Ferriss would be on there. Absolutely. He was a great player, but he was more than that. He was a great coach, but he was more than that. He was as nice and humble and accommodating a man as you could hope to meet. The list of lives he touched, on and off the field of play, would stretch from Southaven to Moss Point. Ferriss, or Coach Ferriss as many called him, left us on Thursday at the age of 94. He’ll never be forgotten.