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Ferguson: Few words, big deeds

POSTED October 06, 2011
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                                           Ferguson: Few words, big deeds

             TORRINGTON – He was the professor/coach. Equally at home with Connecticut Yankees and New York Yankees, the Iron Curtain and the Iron Horse. .

            He was John Ferguson, to his friends just `Ferg.’ Part Renaissance Man and part salt of the earth guy, he was a giant in so many ways, a gentleman in every way. He liked the background but his contributions were nothing short of front and center.

            `Ferg' died Monday after a lengthy battle with lung cancer at the not-old-enough to go age of 71. He was a sports guy from the get-go, a solid athlete in high school and college, a coach and Athletic Director later on.

            Around these parts we got to know `Ferg’ though his efforts as a coach and A.D. at Northwestern Connecticut Community College and his long tenure as assistant  coach with the Torrington High baseball team and short stint as Northwestern Regional head coach. All of that while working as a history professor at Northwestern C.C.

            Maybe nobody spent more time with `Ferg’ than former THS coach Gerry Carbone. Certainly few felt worse about `Ferg’s passing than Carbone.

            “He battled real hard the last two years, it took its toll,’ said Carbone with a crack in his voice. “He was a gentleman and a teacher of the game.  He was all business. I could never call him an assistant. Our minds were on the same page. We thought alike. He knew who I was and I knew who he was.”

            Carbone and his pal `Ferg’ go back a long way. When they were young the families got together and would go down to Yale Bowl. When Carbone was just starting out in his coaching career at Shepaug Valley, he helped `Ferg’ who was coaching the Torrington American Legion team.

            When Carbone became the Torrington coach it was `Ferg’ who spent almost two decades by his side. `Ferg’ was fiery competitor who never took anything for granted. He was fundamental and he mixed instruction with demonstration.

            “He was the type of guy who would be sliding into third base with the players. The kids loved him,” said Carbone. And no lead was ever safe. I remember one day we were beating a team by five or six runs. I was feeling pretty comfortable. 

            “I said, Hey `Ferg’ we’ve got this one. I could see the vein in his neck pop out almost immediately. “It’s not over,” he said. During a game if the momentum was changing he would say, “Can you hear that? Can you hear the train coming over the hill?”  It was classic.”

            The duo teamed up for a couple of titles in the 1990s, maybe the best 1-2 punch in the NVL. `Ferg would leave to go up Route 8 a bit and take over the Northwestern Regional team but he would return a couple of years later, finishing up in 2005.

            A short time later Carbone would take a one-year leave of absence after his father, Jutso, passed away. He hoped to reunite with `Ferg’ but it wasn’t mean to be.

            “I always wanted one more chance to coach with him, but it never happened,’ lamented Carbone.

            Carbone stayed close with `Ferg’ in recent days. He remembered the passionate baseball guy and good friend. He talked about how pumped up his buddy was when Torrington played a game at Cooperstown on Doubleday Field and the opponent, Newburgh, N.Y., showed up in pinstripes.”

            ‘Ferg was always a Yankee fan, right up until the end.

            “He was still talking Yankees early in the week,” said Carbone “(I think) he chose the day he chose (to die) because he didn’t want to see A.J. Burnett pitch another game. He hated him. `Ferg’ was old school – Packers, Notre Dame and the Yankees. He loved the Yankees.”

            Carbone dropped off `Ferg’s’ old high school No. 7 at his house recently. He was asked about Ferg’s record which he didn’t know. But he did know this.

            “Forget the wins, it was about the number of kids he coached and helped,” said Carbone.

            John Ferguson beat Hodgkin ’s disease in his younger days. He was always a fighter and he fought this until the end. But he was also a giver and he gave much. He was a man worth listening to. Listen to the quote provided by his wife in his obituary.

            ‘Baseball is a simple game. You run 90 feet and turn left.” And, “When you win, say nothing and when you lose, say less.”

            `Ferg’ wasn’t a big talker. But sometimes you don’t have to be. His work speaks volumes.  There is plenty of other people around that will tell you that. He never had to open his mouth.

            He will be missed.


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