Once a year for the last six years a portion of the Major League Baseball community comes to Portsmouth. The event, the sixth annual Portsmouth Murals Baseball Banquet held Wednesday night, occurs to raise money for the floodwall murals downtown but also serves as a reminder of Portsmouth’s place in the baseball world.
Among the guest attending the banquet were several of the stars whose likenesses grace the baseball mural and others including former MLB All Star with the Pittsburgh Pirates Al Oliver, former Cincinnati Reds’ pitcher Don Gullett and Major League Baseball’s Joint Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Tim Maxey.
The local baseball celebrities weren’t the only MLB representatives. The event was also attended by keynote speaker, Charlie Reliford, Hall of Fame sports writer Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News and front office personnel from several organizations as well as multiple former players.
Reliford, a 19-year veteran umpire, from Ashland, Ky., has worked two All-Star games and two World Series.
The banquet is organized by Portsmouth Murals Inc. but it is Gene Bennett, senior special assistant to the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, that helps bring in the big names.
“It’s a job,” Bennett said with a smile. “I know about every one of them that’s in here over my years. We’ve been real good friends. I’m just fortunate that when I call them they’re glad to say yeah they’ll come.
“This thing has really got to be a great banquet, probably one of the better ones in the whole state of Ohio,” Bennett added. “We have people from all over the country coming in here. We have like 47 baseball people in here tonight and those are the guys that really make this thing.”
McCoy, who retired during last baseball season, expressed his excitement about attending the event.
“It’s real special,” McCoy said. “Gene Bennett invited me down about three years ago and I decided to come down. It’s just unbelievable and that’s why I come back every year. To me it’s one of the highlights of the year seeing all the baseball people. It just amazes me how many baseball people come from this part of the state... The size of the community and the turnout they have here, it’s fantastic. It’s great to be able to talk baseball in January.”
Former Reds Tom Browning and Ron Oester planned on attending the banquet but were held up on U.S. 23 South as a result of a gas leak that shut down the highway Wednesday evening.
JOHN STEGEMAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org