Eddy Furniss loved being an LSU Tiger baseball player. He loved the school, the state of Louisiana, the city of Baton Rouge and the food.
But mainly, he loved LSU’s baseball fans.
“I loved being a player and really loved the fans,” he said. “I was always talking to the fans during games and stayed after games signing autographs. I really enjoyed that. If someone wanted my autograph, I wanted to do it. I wanted to embrace it, especially if it was for a kid and I could make a difference in their life.”
Furniss, a 1994 Nacogdoches High School graduate who is now a physician in his hometown, will be inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame June 21-23 at a celebration in Natchitoches, La.
A four-year starter at LSU, he received the 1998 Dick Howser Trophy as college baseball’s best player. He still is the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leader in hits (349), home runs (80), RBI (309), doubles (87) and total bases (689).
LSU won two national titles during his career there, ironically enough, against schools that he also considered attending — Miami and Stanford.
The one thing that Furniss excelled at on the diamond was hitting a baseball.
Stories float around about him hitting baseballs during high school practices at Dragon Field, the ball orbiting into flight, crossing Maroney Drive and landing in the city swimming pool.
“Never happened,” Furniss said. “That would have been a blast.”
Furniss said a ball may have hit the road and bounced near the pool, but none made a splash down on the fly into it.
Furniss was the last guy who thought he was any good at baseball. He said he was as surprised as anyone when colleges from across the nation recruited him.
“I always thought I would be a doctor,” he said. “Baseball was always something I was good at.
“I didn’t even think I was going to play college baseball. I wasn’t 8 years old and saying ‘you know what, I’m going to play at LSU.’”
But the coaches were persistent.
“I was like ‘OK now, I’m going to play college baseball. I’ll do it. Fine.’”
He selected LSU because the program had a winning tradition, and Baton Rouge was a relatively short drive for his parents to make to watch him play weekend series.
It wasn’t all fun and games at LSU.
While some of his teammates and classmates made sure they experienced the total college experience, Furniss stayed focused on his goals of playing baseball and becoming a doctor.
“Playing a college sport and trying to do good in school are the hardest things I ever did,” Furniss said. “It was like having a full-time job and going to school at the same time.
“A lot of people do it. But I had the job at night, where it got mentioned in the paper the next day.”
Furniss said Thursday night is the night that college students go out in Baton Rouge.
“I was there at class — chemistry — even after road trips, every Friday morning,” he said. “Me and about five others. I didn’t have any time to goof off like that.
“You don’t waste time. You don’t waste what you have. If you’re paying to go to school, you go to school. It’s a matter of excellence.”
Furniss finished his college career by hitting .403 in 1998 with 27 doubles, three triples, 28 home runs, 85 runs and 76 RBI despite being walked a career-high 72 times and striking out just 40 times. He was a first-team all-America and all-SEC player.
“He’s the best pure hitter I knew,” said former teammate Tom Bernhardt, now a youth baseball hitting instructor, in a New Orleans Times-Picayune story. “He was a great teammate. I’ve never seen someone as disciplined, on the field and off the field. There’s only a handful of guys I really respected. All around, Eddy had everything.”
A part of two national title teams at LSU, he was taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the fourth round of the 1998 draft.
He played in the minor leagues with the Pirates, Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers, without reaching the major leagues.
“I lived in 13 different towns in eight different states in five seasons of professional baseball,” Furniss said. “It was a hard life.
“Once you got an apartment that would lease to you for six months and put the utilities in your name, it was time to move somewhere else.”
Furniss’ best season in the minors was 1999, when he hit .261 with 23 home runs and 87 RBI and was named the Carolina League’s All-Star first baseman.
“I could hit, but I got stuck at Double A,” he said. “I told myself if I got stuck at one place for two years, that would be it.”
Not playing in the majors doesn’t bother Furniss.
Following his stint with pro baseball, he finished school at LSU. Already married, he and his wife, Crystal, started working toward the future and started a family.
He spent four years in Houston, at UT-Houston’s Health Science Center before he completed his residency at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth in three years.
He is practicing medicine with his father, Ed Furniss, in Nacogdoches.
He and his wife have three children, Will, 8, Ella, 5, and Owen, 2.
Furniss was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame 2010 class in Lubbock.
The upcoming induction is significant because it’s from the state where he accomplished so much as a player and teammate.
“It’s neat,” he said. “That’s one thing that I never thought I would ever qualify for — to be in the Hall of Fame in another state.
“It took a good amount of luck, being at the right place at the right time, and playing with really good teams.”