PORTSMOUTH — As another Independence Day dawns, families throughout Scioto County and elsewhere will once again be involved in timeless traditions — such as notable golf tournaments, cookouts and get-togethers, and fireworks displays.
For Josh McGraw’s family, it’s another 4th of July at the baseball field.
That’s because the McGraw family tree, including three McGraws as players, has branched out to feature four generations which have either coached for and/or played for Portsmouth Post 23’s American Legion program.
While McGraw’s maternal grandfather, Bill Newman, was the head coach for Post 23 for three decades —he, his father Sam McGraw and his son Caeleb McGraw have all played.
Josh McGraw, a 1995 proud Portsmouth High School graduate and former Trojan and current Jackson High School head coach, returns for his second season coaching the Junior program.
Caeleb — the primary Juniors catcher and junior-to-be at Jackson — is a third-generation McGraw to play AND catch, which began with Sam, who starred at Portsmouth High and with Post 23 in the late 1960s and 1970 season.
And don’t forget about Caeleb’s grandmother, Josh’s mother, Sam’s wife and Newman’s daughter Karen — who formerly kept the team scorebook for her father and currently keeps it for her son.
In fact, she has been baseball book-keeping since the age of 13.
Indeed, and as Independence Day draws near and jives with Karen’s birthday, the McGraws are once again at a ballfield.
“My grandpa had four daughters and they all grew up at the park. Luckily, my mom was one who just loves baseball. My mom’s birthday is July 3, and she is always at the ballpark because there was a 4th of July tournament somewhere. I think she has spent every birthday of her life at a ballpark,” Josh said. “Whether her dad was coaching or her kids were playing or her grandkids are playing, she was always there. Every night we were at the park. And it was a family event. My grandpa was coaching, my mom kept his scorebook just like she is keeping my scorebook now. She is strict just like he was. They don’t give away hits very easily. My dad was at the games and for a few years, he helped my grandpa coach. It was a way you met friends, it was a way you hung out with your buddies, and you hung out with your family at Branch Rickey Park at those baseball games. It was fun.”
And, those baseball games were those of Portsmouth Post 23.
“It was a big deal for me to come back and coach in the program. My family really enjoys it, and I feel like I am paying some sort of respect to my grandpa and also the other players and coaches that put in time,” said the coach, smiling often during an in-depth and reflective interview with The Portsmouth Daily Times . “It was, is and always will be a big deal for me. It was a big honor to wear the Post 23 uniform growing up. We got our jackets, and we wore those with pride.”
At first, though, at the age of three, Josh sported a Post 23 ballcap and uniform —serving as a batboy for his grandfather’s teams.
He spent his summers in the sometimes searing heat handling the bats for 40, 50 or even sometimes 60 games.
“For most of Post 23’s existence, I’ve had a relative in the program and grew up in the program. I can remember my grandfather picking me up and we would ride to Hillsboro or someplace for games. He was an old-school coach whom I learned a lot from,” he said.
Newman coached the program from 1958 thru 1987, and his players included —among many — all-time Scioto County greats such as Al Oliver, Gene Tenace and Larry Hisle.
All three went on to play for Major League Baseball franchises.
“My grandpa coached a lot of great players. At one time, he had three Major League Baseball players on his team. I can remember being six or seven years old, going over to my grandpa’s house and hanging out with my cousin, and Al Oliver or Gene Tenace and Larry Hisle would be there in the living room. At that age, I didn’t care. I just grabbed my glove and went outside and played catch. But you get older and later in life, and realize there were Major League Baseball players in my grandpa’s house,” Josh explained. “I didn’t even pay attention.”
Sometimes, Josh said, that lack of attention extended to his game duties.
“There was a lot of big-time baseball being played during those years. They had a lot of great players. Growing up in that program, being a batboy, going to the practices, going to all the games. A lot of times I got in trouble by my grandpa because I wasn’t always picking up the bats,” he said, with a laugh.
He was, though, throughout his childhood picking up information from his grandfather and other outstanding Scioto County coaches.
“John Tipton, Dean Schuler, Dennis Hagerty, Stan Doddridge just to name a few. There were a lot of great coaches back in the day in Scioto County. I was fortunate enough to hang out with them all. They would hang out and talk baseball, and I would be seven, eight, 12 or 15 years old and I sat there and soaked in the game. I knew my role and didn’t say a word, but you learn a lot from them on how to play the game and coach the game. I think I am honoring them in a way,” he said. “They taught a lot of guys the game of baseball and it feels good to put the Post 23 cap on and honor those guys.”
Newman got out of coaching Post 23 prior to Josh playing, as Stan Doddridge coached him — as the all-Ohio catcher competed for the club from 1993 thru 1995.
Josh said he wanted to be a better ballplayer than his father, and he believed he was a trash-talker.
“When I grew up, my dad played a lot of baseball. I always heard stories from my dad’s buddies and from my grandfather about how good my dad was. But I always wanted to be better than him. I don’t know if I ever was, but I used to talk some smack,” Josh said, with a smile. “But it was just fun.”
Fun yes, but highly — even ultra — competitive just to secure a spot on the 18-man roster.
At the time, there was only one Post 23 squad —unlike the Junior division which exists in Ohio today and wasn’t adopted until after Josh’s eligibility expired.
“It was very rare at that time for a sophomore to make a Legion team. It (Junior American Legion program) is a great thing now. It would be amazing if there had always been a Junior team to let kids play. There would have been some great teams,” he said. “I remember some kids that got cut who were legit baseball players. In the mid-90s, you would have over 100 or close to 120 kids at a tryout. Only 18 were going to make the team. You would try out at a position, and there would be 10 to 12 guys at each position. You had your work cut out for you.”
But maybe the McGraws had an advantage in the fact that they were catchers.
After all, catcher — often equivalent to a football quarterback — is arguably the most difficult of the nine positions to play.
Josh said he played infield as a sophomore, but naturally caught as a junior and senior.
Now, Caeleb catches for the Juniors group — in addition to his high school Ironmen.
“It’s a thing in my family. If you are right-handed, you have to catch. My grandpa used to say you don’t make catchers, catchers are born. He wasn’t a catcher, but my dad was and that’s the way he raised me,” Josh said. “My nephew is a catcher at Morehead State. My son is our main catcher, and maybe I will have a grandchild one day and he won’t have a choice. In this family, that’s just what you do.”
And in Caeleb’s case, he’s caught a lot already.
For Father’s Day weekend (June 19-21), the Juniors competed in the Chillicothe “Kickoff Klassic” —playing six games in three days and posting a 4-2 record.
Caeleb caught ALL six games.
“After that sixth game, he could hardly move. But he showed a lot of heart, coaching all those games and not complaining and playing well,” Josh said. “He threw some guys out, blocked the ball all weekend.”
The McGraws know not only what it means to don the Post 23 colors, but also occupy behind the plate.
Like fathers, like sons — as they say.
“It’s just an honor to be a catcher on the Post 23 team, and my son believes that. He likes wearing the Post 23 hat as well. He knows it’s in our family. He had some options to play summer ball elsewhere this year, because people were calling wanting to pick him up. But he told me he wanted to play at Post 23. So I just said ‘Alright, let’s go’. And so we’re with Post 23 again this year,” Josh said. “I was given the opportunity to coach and I would like to stay in the program as long as they will have me. We coach hard-nosed like my grandpa. My dad learned from him and I learned from my dad and hopefully one day my sons will learn from me. We want to be hard-nosed blue-collar baseball players and coaches.”
And, the McGraws desire to always associate with Portsmouth Post 23.
Just like any other Independence Day before.
“Post 23 is a storied program. Lots of history and it’s an honor to represent it,” Josh said. “For me and my family, it’s a big deal.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved