In Memory of Wanda Ferris
May 24, 1996
I don't know how many of you spend time at the Disch. I don't even know if you'll know who I'm writing about. But, I heard the saddest thing I've ever heard at the Disch during this afternoon's game between Miami and Long Beach. I heard that Wanda had died in a car crash on her way to the Aggie game in College Station. That would have been on Saturday...the 27th of April.
I remember watching Wanda and Mel the first year I decided to get season tickets for the Longhorn baseball team. That must have been in 1989 or so. I really can't remember. Anyway, they always had the best time. And, they went to all the games. Mel would miss the odd game, maybe two or three times a year, when he just had to golf...but I don't think Wanda ever missed a game I went to. Those first few years, Wanda and Mel had seats about 10 rows below mine. I'd watch them wave to all the other "regulars" as they arrived at the games. They laughed and joked with everyone. Then, about three years ago, they changed seats. They moved to the same row my seats are in. Over about 8 seats and across the aisle. Soon, I was one of the "regulars" they greated so fondly. At the end of that first season (after winning the SWC tournament and then losing to Oklahoma in the Central II Regional here in Austin), we all wished each other a happy summer and said how we couldn't wait 'til the next season got under way.
And then last year. It was the same, all over again. Great big smiles graced their faces when they saw me coming up the stairs for that first game against the Alumni. Big hearty handshakes were exchanged. We all wondered how the season would go. Would Kip Harkrider be as good as his brother (who Mel affectionately referred to as "MISTER Tim" when he'd go to the plate) had been? Who would start at first base? Where did all those "Chads" come from? There were three! And on. During an away game (I think it was against Rice), I remember hearing Mel's voice cheering the Horns on as I listened to the game on the radio...his seats must've been very close to the announcer's booth. The season came to an end...the Horns didn't host the conference tourney or a regional. So we said our good-byes early.
Which brings me to this year. I beat Wanda and Mel to the stadium on Alumni game day. Which was very rare. They were almost always at the Disch before me. Afterall, I tend to run in at the last minute, often arriving only a minute or two before the first pitch. I was early for the game this year, though. And, it was great watching Wanda and Mel, bundled up against the chilly wind, coming up the stairs. They smiled and waved to people as they came up. And, I went over to the aisle to say "hi" when they had their stuff situated. Mel saw me and a big grin lit up his face. I reached out my hand to shake his and he just pulled me into a big hug. Wanda followed suit. As the season progressed, we all puzzled over what could be wrong with the team. Who would've believed last year's great infield wouldn't gel this year? What was wrong on the mound? But, things started getting better. Spirits rose. We started being a bit more optimistic about where the Horns were headed.
They used to go to a lot of the away games. When I told them I was going to the Houston series, they were sad to report, they weren't gonna make it. I decided on a rather "spur of the moment" kind of thing to go to the evening game against Baylor in Waco. My sister and I arrived a bit late...we made it in time for the first pitch but just barely. We didn't have time to look around...we just picked some seats behind the plate and started watching. Within moments, I heard Mel's familiar voice yelling encouragement to the team from the bleachers along the first base line. As usual, they were having a blast. Then, it started to rain. During the rain delay, we met up with them and then sat with them for the last 5 miserable innings of the game.
Suddenly, the last scheduled home game of the season came along. It was against the Aggies. We'd talked about the TCU series beforehand. They hadn't decided if they were going to go or not. I told them about the double-header in The Ballpark and that cinched things. They were gonna go. But, the Aggies came first. We won that last home game in a big way. What fun. I went over to them at the end of the game to wish them a happy summer...just in case we didn't get to host a regional. Mel said they'd see me in Arlington...and later on at the regional. He was pretty confident that Texas would get to host. I went up to Arlington for the games at The Ballpark the next week. I had a great time. I tried to keep an eye out for Wanda and Mel but there were just too many people at the game. And, then I got word that Texas would again be hosting one of the NCAA regional tourneys. Then the conference tourney in Lubbock came and went. And, then the Regional started. And, no sign of Wanda and Mel that first day. Ruby and I wondered about that. Where could they be? They must've gone out of town. Maybe, I thought, they'd be back for Friday's games. Then Friday came. Then I got the news. Ruby (who has seats a couple of rows behind Wanda and Mel) asked someone else about them. And she was told about the car crash. She immediately came over to me and gave me the terrible news. They'd been on their way to the games in College Station. In fact, they were almost there. Wanda died instantly. Mel sustained lots of injuries including two broken arms.
Gusball will never be the same. At every game, it was Mel's voice you heard bellowing a hearty "HOOK 'EM, HORNS!" as the last note of the National Anthem faded. I hope to hear it again someday but I don't know if I will. Wanda was the ultimate Dot Race fan. She always stood excitedly waiting for the results as she matched "her" dot against those of a woman who still has seats in Wanda and Mel's old section and Katie who has seats in their new section. She accepted both "wins" and "losses" at the Dot Race track most graciously. Wanda and Mel both loved the team and viewed the players very affectionately. They marveled at my score keeping. At least once a game, Mel would come over to see how many strikeouts the pitcher had or how many hits the batter had...or I'd go over to point out that O'Dell had already thrown 6 strikeouts or, as in the case of a game against Cal State Fullerton, the squad had combined for 17 walks and 2 hit-batsmen. Early this season, Wanda wanted to know what a "6-pea" was. I was stumped. Then she explained that it had flashed up on the scoreboard along with the previous batter's stats. Hmmm...suddenly the light dawned. I'd heard "6-pea" but she'd said "6P" so I told her it meant the batter had popped up to the short stop in his previous at-bat. She was so pleased. That was Wanda...quick to a smile and happy to learn something new. Gusball will never be the same.
Wanda, I will miss you more than I can say. Y'know...I never even knew your last name before today. All I knew was your happy smile and terrific enthusiasm for Gusball. Rest in peace.