The first time he heard chants of “Eddy! Eddy!” echo throughout the old Alex Box Stadium 20 years ago, Eddy Furniss didn’t think the fans gathered could possibly be cheering for him.
They had to be lauding LSU star wide receiver Eddie Kennison, whose 100-yard punt return touchdown against Mississippi State two years earlier garnered national attention. Sure, Furniss had just produced a three-home run game as a sophomore, but in his mind he was just a tall guy who occasionally swung a baseball bat.
“(Kennison) ran that 100-yard touchdown, so I thought he was the one everybody was cheering for,” Furniss said. “I looked around and thought ‘Where’s Eddie?’ ”
Turns out the fans were chanting Furniss’ name back in 1996, and they did it again Friday night.
LSU formally retired Furniss’ No. 36 jersey in Alex Box Stadium about 15 minutes before the Tigers tangled with Mississippi State. He joined Ben McDonald and former coach Skip Bertman as the only Tigers in program history to have their numbers enshrined.
“I still can’t believe it. What an experience,” Furniss said shortly after tossing a ceremonial first pitch right over the plate. “It’s something that you never dream about receiving or even happening to you. It happens so rarely. It’s just a huge honor, it really is.”
The three-time All-America first baseman still holds Southeastern Conference records for hits (352), home runs (80), RBIs (308), doubles (87) and total bases (689).
Furniss owns several spots in the NCAA record book, too: He’s third in total bases, fourth in home runs and doubles and fifth in RBIs. He was named the SEC Player of the Year in 1996 — the same season those chants started — and won the Dick Howser Trophy as college baseball’s most outstanding player in 1998.
The 40-year-old received a standing ovation from the crowd while flanked by 35 family members, many of whom were not aware his number was being retired until the university announced it in late March.
Wife Crystal and their three children stood nearest Furniss as the video board displayed highlights from his four-year LSU career.
“Tonight we honor a man who is the perfect role model for our LSU athletes,” athletic director Joe Alleva told the crowd moments before Furniss’ number was unveiled. “He was known not only for his talent and intelligence but also for his compassion and willingness to serve others.”
When Furniss’ number was revealed above the suites along the first-base line, some in his entourage got a little emotional.
“When I saw them pull down the tarp, I almost wanted to cry,” said son Will, 12. “But I was on television.”
Furniss was on television plenty as he helped his team win national titles in 1997 and ’98. The Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the fourth round of the MLB draft in 1998, and he spent five years in the minor leagues before retiring from baseball.
He’s now a physician in his hometown of Nacogdoches, Texas. Furniss turned to medicine, which he said he “always wanted” to do, after accumulating a 3.7 GPA in zoology.
Many of the fans who became enamored with Furniss during his days splitting studies and baseball greeted him half an hour before the ceremony. Furniss obliged their requests for autographs and pictures, even stopping to sign a young boy’s baseball as Alleva escorted him into the coaches’ offices.
“He was such a big part of LSU for so long,” said Crystal, equally as overwhelmed as her husband. “Part of what’s so great about LSU is that all of the fans have been fans since the beginning. So all of those people remember Eddy.”
Furniss will now be remembered as only the 10th LSU athlete or coach to have their jersey retired. The others are Bertman and McDonald; men’s basketball players Bob Pettit, Pete Maravich, Rudy Macklin and Shaquille O’Neal; football players Billy Cannon and Tommy Casanova; and women’s basketball player Seimone Augustus.
Even after watching his number go down in LSU baseball history, Furniss still didn’t believe he belonged in such company.
“You look back and look at the names that have been retired in the past,” he said. “And you think to yourself, ‘I’m not a part of that group. I’m just a guy who came and did the best he could.’ ”