Fifty-five years is a long time. But it doesn’t seem so for Brewer lawyer Joe Ferris.
It was 1964 when the tall right-hander was named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player after pitching the University of Maine to a third-place finish.
That performance, and a 16-3 career record, have helped Ferris become the sixth Black Bear to have his number displayed on UMaine’s Wall of Legends. Ferris will be honored at 11 a.m. Saturday before UMaine’s America East game against Binghamton at Mahaney Diamond in Orono.
Ferris will throw out the first pitch to his catcher on the ’64 team, Carl “Stump” Merrill.
Ferris’ No. 29 will join former greats Mike Bordick (3), Bill Swift (8) and Mark Sweeney (12) along with two coaching icons, Jack Butterfield (21) and John Winkin (5).
Bordick, Swift and Sweeney enjoyed extensive major league baseball careers. Butterfield, Ferris’ coach, was the 1964 Division I National Coach of the Year and worked for the New York Yankees. Winkin is UMaine’s all-time winningest coach.
“I am very pleased,” Ferris said. “It’s elite company: Three major leaguers and two oustanding coaches. And all great guys.”
Ferris said he remembers everything from the 1964 season.
“It was a dream. It was a miracle we did as well as we did,” Ferris said of his sophomore season, which got off to a “tough start.”
He said that in his first varsity appearance, he walked six batters and walked in four runs.
“But Jack, God bless him, had confidence in me and I started the next game. I pitched a two-hitter against Hampton Institute … Jack told me it was one of the best games he had seen a Maine pitcher pitch.”
Ferris appreciated Butterfield’s style, which used positive reinforcement.
“He tried to build you up, not break you down,” said Ferris, who noted that his Brewer High School coach, Charlie Heddericg, did the same thing.
Ferris and the ’64 Black Bears became the first UMaine team to reach the College World Series. He beat Seton Hall 5-1 in the opener and in the third game, he came on in relief against No. 2 Arizona State with two runners on and two outs and UMaine leading 4-2.
Ferris struck out Sal Bando, who hit 242 major league home runs.
“I threw a pitch below his knees and he swung over the top of it. I can see it right now,” Ferris said. “It was one of the biggest outs I ever got.”
Ferris then started against defending national champ Southern California and pitched a complete game in a stunning 2-1 victory. Four of the first seven USC batters got hits off him.
“I spent the first inning backing up bases,” Ferris joked.
After a leadoff double in the second, Butterfield told him to throw more breaking pitches. Ferris retired 17 hitters in a row.
UMaine was eliminated by Missouri 2-1 in the next game.
Ferris went 2-0 with a 0.87 earned run average in the College World Series.
The son of Elias and Selma Ferris recalls coming home to a large throng of fans in downtown Bangor and Brewer.
“We got the royal treatment,” Ferris said. “They closed down Main Street in Bangor and Brewer. It was kind of neat.”
A few days later, he received a big surprise.
“My mother woke me and said she heard on the radio that I was named the Most Outstanding Player,” Ferris said.
Ferris, a member of the Brewer High School, UMaine and the Maine Sports halls of fame, went 9-0 with a 2.23 ERA in 1964.
He still owns the UMaine records for winning percentage in a season and a career (16-3, .842).
“I played on three good teams,” said Ferris, who threw a curve and a slider to go with his fastball and also developed a change-up.
He wasn’t drafted and never received an opportunity to play pro ball. Instead, he went into law.
Ferris has been a staunch supporter of the athletic program and the baseball team.
“The program was good to me so I try to help any way I can,” said Ferris, who speaks highly of UMaine coach Nick Derba.
Ferris said it is much more difficult for an eastern team to get to the College World Series these days because colleges are putting money into baseball.
Ferris has impacted the UMaine program on many levels over the years.
“He was one of the greats in the program’s first College World Series appearance and has been a major supporter of the program since then,” Derba said in a release. “Not only is he a huge fan of baseball but he attends and supports all Maine athletic events. Joe is a legend and deserves a place on the Wall.”
Ferris will have a lot of family, friends and former teammates on hand Saturday including daughter Jaime and step-daughters Jody and Jill. He isn’t sure how his “first pitch” is going to go.
“I’ve had rotator cuff surgery on both [arms]” he said. “I’m excited about having my name on the wall.”