Originally created 07/09/98

Furniss named player of week



The ritual began every spring for Crystal Griffith. As the nights turned steamy in Baton Rouge, she would fill the tranquil Texas evenings with the heroic sounds that emanated from Alex Box Stadium.

Her high school sweetheart was beginning another baseball season at LSU, so, on weeknights when Ed and Kay Furniss couldn't see their son play, Griffith would call her future in-laws, flip on the LSU broadcast, and leave the phone by the radio before she made the trek to the stadium.

For four years, Eddy Furniss delighted Nacogdoches, Texas, this way. Of course, for four years, a few others delighted in the Furniss' long-distance relationship.

"I never asked how much those phone bills were," Eddy Furniss says with a chuckle. "I don't think I want to know."

The phone is reserved mainly for person-to-person interludes nowadays.

Even though Eddy has devastated opposing pitchers during the three weeks since he joined the Augusta GreenJackets, there seems to be a major problem back in Nacogdoches.

"We can't find any radio stations that carry his games," says Kay, sounding distraught about the loss of her evening indulgence.

That may not be a problem for very long.

Furniss rapped a two-run double to center in his first professional at-bat on June 20, and he's been cruising ever since.

Entering Wednesday night's game, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Furniss was hitting .500 (32-for-64) with eight home runs, 27 runs, 27 RBI and five doubles. Last week, he was named the South Atlantic League's player of the week, and his .953 slugging percentage and .605 on-base percentage bordered on the preposterous.

"I had no idea of the numbers until they flashed on the scoreboard in Charleston last weekend," said Furniss, who won two national championships at LSU.

"Leland Maddox (Pittsburgh's Director of Scouting) said to me if I do well, I may move up very quickly. He said there's a lack of left-handed hitting first baseman in the organization. So this is a great opportunity for me."

It's an opportunity he set out to create after a "disappointing" junior season at LSU, in which he hit .378 with 17 home runs and 77 RBI but wasn't drafted until the 14th round.

Stung by the snub, Furniss stayed in school last summer and worked harder than ever. He became stronger and faster, and improved his skills as a baserunner and as a defensive first baseman.

"I think there was maybe a little of that, `I'll show you mentality,"' said Skip Bertman, Furniss' coach at LSU.

Furniss adopted a different approach, establishing a series of goals for his final season at LSU. He wanted to hit .411 (the LSU record is .410); he hit .403. He wanted 27 doubles; he hit 27. He wanted 30 home runs; he smacked 28. He wanted 89 RBI; he knocked in 72.

That prolific final stint -- in which he won the Dick Howser Trophy as the college player who best exemplifies performance on the field, leadership, moral character and courage -- established him as the all-time SEC leader in home runs (80), hits (349), RBI (309), doubles (87) and total bases (689). It also put him in the top five in NCAA history in four categories.

"Furniss is arguably the best four-year player in college history with the numbers he put up," Bertman said. "Maybe a player had a better single season, but certainly not over a four-year career."

That success can be traced back to the summer when he was 9 or 10 years old and Dr. Ed Furniss built a batting cage for his son on their farm in Nacogdoches.

"Get up and go hit," was what the elder Furniss bellowed to his son every summer morning.

No matter if the blisters formed concentric circles around his fingers, or if the skin was ripping from his hands.

"I remember one time," Furniss says. "I think I was 12, and I hit so many balls ... You know that feeling when you're lifting weights and your arms are too tired to do that last one? I remember I couldn't even lift the bat anymore.

"Believe me, it wasn't fun."

No hitting instructors, no batting camps. While his friends were off frolicking in the summer heat or heading off to some baseball camp on some college campus, Furniss plunged into the deathly hot Texas sun, swinging until he had nothing left.

"That's exactly how I learned," Furniss says. "I would become so tired that, naturally, I learned how to hit a ball the hardest with the least amount of effort."

That precious swing has Furniss on the verge of playing where his parents can watch or listen every night.