Managing To Get By

7/23/2006 – Cape Cod Times

July 23, 2006 Cape Cod Times By RUSS CHARPENTIER STAFF WRITER Dear Harrisonburg Fans, below is an article written about one of our good friends and former Turks coaches, Coach Cooper Farris from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Many of you enjoyed getting to know Coach Coop and his family during their seven summers in Harrisonburg. I thought this would be a good opportunity for you to hear from him about the last year of their life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Cooper, Lindsey and Lauren and wish them all the best. God bless you, Bob and Teresa Wease, and Harrisonburg Turks friends Wareham, MA … Nearly 1,000 mourners arrived at Michael Memorial Baptist Church in Gulfport, Miss., the morning of Sept. 10, 2005, and Cooper Farris called it the most remarkable thing he had ever seen. Hurricane Katrina had ravaged the Gulf Coast less than two weeks earlier, leaving the region without power, phones, newspapers, radio or television, and without almost any gas. The storm left homeless many of those lucky enough to survive the storm. The church steeple toppled and was still on the ground. Yet thousands were drawn to the church to say goodbye to Beverly Farris, wife of Wareham Gatemen manager Cooper Farris. ”It was so hard to get around,” he said. ”You couldn’t drive. There was so much debris. The roads were all messed up.” Life was all messed up. Cooper Farris is most comfortable around a baseball field, an orderly world defined by three strikes, four balls, 90 feet. But now his world was turned upside down. Beverly Farris, 52, his wife of 25 years and the mother of Lindsey, 24, and Lauren, 22, had died of complications from melanoma on Sept. 3, 2005, the Saturday after Katrina changed the region forever, just as cancer changed the Farris family forever. ”We were hoping some of her students and friends would come (to the service),” Lindsey said, knowing in the aftermath of Katrina there was no way to get the word out. And they came, linked forever by the devastation of a hurricane, the devastation of this life and this family. ”Some people had only the clothes on their back. There were a lot of flowered shirts in that crowd,” said Lindsey. Beverly Farris’ body had been shipped some 30 miles north to Hattiesburg, Miss., because there was no power, thus no funeral home refrigeration on or near the Gulf Coast. The casket was closed, said Cooper, because she had lost her hair and so much weight to the disease. And there were no flowers – none had survived Katrina’s wrath and none could be shipped. But there were friends, and family, and Beverly’s former students and former players of the coach, all there to pay their final respects. ”We had pictures,” Cooper said. ”Her sister had made a video and all the people she loved to hear sing came to sing. ”It’s hard to explain, seeing all those people come in (to the church),” he said, tears in his eyes. ”It was real touching, real down to earth,” said Chris Calcote, Cooper’s friend and athletic director at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. ”It goes back to the Southern mentality. People in the South group up around their own. She touched a lot of people.” ”She still is,” said Cooper Farris. Son of Mississippi He is one of their own, a son of Mississippi in the truest sense. Born in Corinth, Miss., Cooper Farris lived from fourth grade on with his parents on the campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston, about 20 miles north of Gulfport. His father, Ken ”Curly” Farris, was head baseball coach at the community college for 28 years. He won 756 games and was elected to the National Junior College Athletic Hall of Fame. For Cooper, growing up on a college campus was idyllic. ”We had the run of things in the summer,” he said. ”We had the swimming pool, we played on the football field, in the gym and on the baseball field. It was like our own little country club, and we played from daylight to dark.” Farris was a standout in baseball and football at Stone County High School, and played two years for his father at Gulf Coast CC, where they won two state titles. From there his education continued at Delta State, where he played second base for another legendary Mississippian, former Boston Red Sox pitcher Dave ”Boo” Ferriss. After graduating in 1975, Farris assisted Ferriss for two years while earning a master’s degree. He then coached high school baseball in Mississippi for seven years and in Texas for five before returning to succeed his father at Gulf Coast in 1989. ”You could see back then Cooper would be a successful coach,” Boo Ferriss said. ”He’d grown up in a baseball atmosphere and developed a good knowledge of the game. I’ve been very close to him all these years. We developed a great friendship. People ask me if he’s my son. There’s a little difference in the spelling, but I don’t mind people saying that. He’s a top-caliber guy.” Ferriss and Farris. One is 84, the other 53. They talk quite often, and when Cooper Farris speaks of Boo Ferriss, it’s always, ”Coach this, and Coach that.” There’s reverence and respect, and the feeling is mutual if you listen to Boo. ”He handled (Beverly’s illness) real well,” Ferriss said. ”We were all hurting for him. It was such a long ordeal, that cancer, but he stayed by her side. I knew he was going back to Cape Cod (Baseball League) this summer. I knew he needed that.” It was fate Cooper and Beverly were not high school sweethearts. They weren’t even college sweethearts. ”We went to Gulf Coast together,” Farris said. ”When we went to Delta State, she dated my roommate. It’s one of those stories. We got together about a year after we graduated.” Beverly Harvey, with blonde hair and a bubbly personality, was a cheerleader at school and in life. ”She enjoyed getting out, seeing things, doing things. I was the opposite,” Farris said. He was at a coaches’ convention in Jackson, Miss., in 1978 when he bumped into Beverly again for the first time since graduation. ”She worked in the bank and I saw her in the lobby. It wasn’t planned. Just fate.” Fate led to marriage, two daughters and a life of baseball. While Cooper taught and coached at the local college, Beverly did the same at the local high school. They raised a family in the town of Saucier, Miss., near Gulfport, and put Lindsey and Lauren through college. Cooper, the baseball man, was surrounded at home by three women. ”Even the dog was female,” he said. ”I didn’t have a lot of say. There were a lot of battles and I won a few, but not many. I’d get triple-teamed, then the dog would start barking.” ”He was always more protective than strict,” said Lindsey, who is working toward her doctorate in physical therapy at Tennessee and is getting married in December. ”He never liked us to date ballplayers. He knows how they think. I’m engaged to the first baseball player I ever dated.” Lauren, the younger daughter, is an intern in corporate sales and promotion with the Triple-A Albuquerque Dukes of the Pacific Coast League. ”He’s finally gotten used to having daughters,” she kidded. ”He’s been shopping with us once. I don’t think he’ll ever go back.” For all the bantering that goes on among them, there’s no denying the love. Even if Lindsey recalls every summer vacation being centered around baseball. ”We had our times together,” Cooper said. ”We went to church on Sundays. That was our day to be together. Summers were there for us. I coached in Harrisonburg, Va., (in the Shenandoah Valley League) for seven years. They loved it up there. The area of town we were in was a ski resort. We had a three-level chalet on the side of a mountain with a swimming pool and golf course.” Then came the Cape League opening at Wareham. Team general manager John Wylde hosted Cooper and Beverly in September 2000, and Beverly made the decision almost immediately. ”(John) flew us up here,” Cooper said. ”The leaves were near turning, it was cool. We were down there sweltering in the heat.” Just like that, Wareham had a new field manager. His best friend Where fate brought Cooper and Beverly together that day in the bank, it also dealt them a cruel hand in December 2004. Beverly Farris went to a doctor to see about a knot that had developed in her left groin. ”We thought it was a hernia,” Cooper said. ”They told us they thought it was a blood clot and they hoped it would downsize, but if not go back after Christmas. ”The second week of January, the doctor removed it in outpatient surgery. Four days later, they called her. They had sent the tissue to a lab. She called me at practice. I just took off and went home. I called the girls that night with the hardest phone call I’ve ever made.” Their mother had a malignant melanoma. ”About five years ago she had a mole removed from her leg above her knee,” Cooper said. ”We think it traveled to the lymph node in the groin.” Beverly would live another eight months, moving in and out of hospitals, including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. At one point she endured daily 3½-hour round trips to New Orleans for chemotherapy. Cooper and Beverly moved into her sister’s house, just five miles from campus and next door to her parents, so she could receive better care. That is where she spent her last days, first with a walker, then in a wheelchair, then completely bedridden, through the chaos of Katrina. That may read like a quick synopsis of a family life turned upside down. The reality of watching a loved one slowly die cannot be described with mere words. ”She was my best friend,” said Farris. ”I think about it every day.” He remembers how he had to carry her to the bathroom, or to the kitchen table, or to her chair. ”I didn’t even think about it then. I just did it.” Cooper Farris is a devout Christian. While many would have asked why, his is a faith strengthened by the ordeal. ”He thinks we don’t know about this,” said Lauren, his younger daughter. ”He would go outside a lot when we were there. He talked to God and did a lot of praying. When she was sick, we often had prayer together and read the Bible together to ask for help and to ease the pain.” ”Like I told them,” he said, ”If mom could come back right now, she probably wouldn’t. She’s in a lot better place than we are. She was in a lot of pain, but she never complained. We were sleeping only about two hours a night. The girls don’t know that, I don’t think.” It is a weekday morning in midsummer and Farris, a man of few words, is sitting in the loneliness of the weight room at Wareham Middle School. Tears fill his eyes, and a long silence follows. ”(God) did make it better,” Farris finally says. ”She’s not in pain anymore.” Baseball helps him cope Cooper Farris is in pain. Those who know him best understand and feel it themselves. They know this baseball lifer missed games and practices during the 2005 season at Mississippi Gulf Coast, and made only the briefest of appearances in Wareham last summer while caring for Beverly. ”You could see the wear and tear on him,” said Calcote, his athletic director. ”But he did well with it and did what he had to do.” Farris is back with Wareham this summer for his sixth season in the Cape League, along with his longtime Gulf Coast and Gateman assistant Ryan Beggs. The two share a cottage, and his daughters are thankful of that. ”We worry about him as much as he worries about us,” said Lauren. ”You look around the house (in Mississippi) and all you see is my mom and all you feel is her presence. One good thing about his job in Wareham is he’s not going home to an empty house.” Lauren and Lindsey are grateful, too, that their father has baseball, the other love of his life, to help him deal with the grief. ”He’s at the baseball field more than ever,” Lindsey said of his time at school. ”He’s home at 10 and is out the door by 7. I just wish happiness for him. I think he finds it on the field. That’s his peace. It’s more than just a game for him.” Farris keeps plugging along, getting lost between the lines. He was that way as a player, said Houston Astros scout Mike Rosamond, who played with Farris at Delta State. ”You couldn’t hit him too many ground balls in practice. He was always asking for more,” said Rosamond. ”His dad coached for so long, it’s in Cooper’s blood. He just fits the mold of a coach very well. He tries to coach his players like he would the game itself. If you’re going to do something, do it right.” The intensity is still there, Beggs said, but ”the last two seasons have been very hard on him. He was trying to do two things at once, but the priority was his wife. ”He has a passion for baseball, but (her suffering) took something out of him. He likes to keep things to himself, but you could see it eating at him. Some days he’d talk, some days he’d be real short. I’ve never gone through what he’s gone through. I can’t imagine. Some days are really tough for him.” Said Wylde, the Wareham GM: ”Coop and I don’t talk very much about personal things. I honor his privacy. (But) I think he’s so happy at the field.” Beggs watches as Farris spends long days at the ballpark, pushing the clock so it’s bedtime when he goes home. ”He’s the type of guy who tries to fix everything. With his wife’s case, he found something he couldn’t fix,” said Beggs. Those words aren’t meant to be harsh. Beggs has worked with Farris for eight years, runs his pitching staff and, as the cliché goes, would run through a wall for his boss. But like everyone else, he wishes he could have done more. ”He’s something else,” Farris says of Beggs. ”He’s done a lot this year. I don’t know if I could have done it without him.” Changed forever Beverly Farris’ final days – in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when there was no power, no comforts of home – were some of the most difficult. ”She had an infection (septicemia) and her temperature couldn’t go above 101,” Farris said. ”We had a little portable air conditioner we ran near her. ”We had a generator, and gas stations would open sporadically, so I’d get up at 5 a.m. and get in line. I had a buddy who would tip me off, tell me this station 15 miles away was going to open. There was a limit of five gallons. That would keep the generator going for the day.” It was the infection that finally caused Beverly to succumb, Farris said. ”If she hadn’t had the original surgery for the blood clot, I wonder if she’d still be here. It might have gotten her eventually, but would she still be here now?” Now for Cooper Farris is the homestretch of the Cape League season. His Wareham Gatemen are in second place, in the thick of the playoff picture in the Western Division. He’s hoping to add a third league championship to his résumé. At games, he’s in the dugout, in the third base coach’s box, relishing something he can control. But the rest of the time, when the games are over and he’s away from the field, is a different story. He calls his daughters every day, always ending their conversations with: ”Are you sure you’re OK?” He has changed. His daughters have changed. ”We have a deeper perspective on things,” said Lindsey. ”We don’t worry about the small things.” Cooper talks about how Beverly ran the business end of the marriage, keeping track of insurance and bills and all the mundane details that are now his responsibility. ”There’s a lot more to worry about now,” he said of his two daughters. ”Beverly helped handle lots of problems. It makes you enjoy your time together more. ”When she and the girls would come up to Wareham, they’d want to go to Boston and shop right away. I’d get agitated, say ‘let’s do something.’ When the girls came up this summer, I didn’t want to let them out of my sight.” They are his family. He has baseball, he has his religion, he has … what else? ”He’s the same coach as before,” said Beggs. ”But he knows something is gone. His biggest fan is gone.” Staff writer Russ Charpentier can be reached at 508-862-1263 or rcharpentier@capecodonline.com. (Published: July 23, 2006)


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