Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 15, 2013

MARK MAYNARD: Gibson will take spot on Portsmouth mural wall

Mark Maynard
The Independent

GRAYSON — Greg Gibson was reluctant at first to accept being put on the Portsmouth baseball mural wall.

It wasn’t that the current major league umpire wasn’t flattered with the offer but he didn’t seem worthy.

Being placed beside area baseball greats like Don Gullett, Al Oliver, Larry Hisle, John Stephenson, Gene Tenace, Gene Bennett and even Branch Rickey, among others, can humble a person in a hurry.

Gibson wasn’t really from the Portsmouth area, growing up down the road in Ashland.

But family matters. That was a lesson his wife, Michelle, drove home to him.

“Being the wise wife she is, she told me ‘This isn’t for you, this is for family.’”

With that, Greg Gibson agreed and on Wednesday he’ll be recognized along with Pat Borders during the Portsmouth Murals Baseball Banquet, an annual affair that always attracts a Hall of Fame audience to the river town.

“Gene (Bennett) called my dad (Acie Gibson) and told him ‘We want to do this for Greg,’” Gibson said.

Acie Gibson is from the Portsmouth area and was pastor of the New Boston Church of God for 17 years. He and his wife Joyce are beloved in throughout the area and sons Greg and Barry, both Rose Hill Christian School graduates, have made them proud.

But the family ties don’t end there.

Gibson said he did some research on the floodwall that will bear his image and understands it was built after the 1937 flood that devastated river towns.

“It came during the depression and was built for safety and to stimulate jobs and the economy,” he said. “That’s the very floods that may have taken some of my family member’s lives. My grandparents went through this. That meant something.”

He also did it to honor his parents, who were dedicated to that community for so many years.

“They stood with friends on the best days and stood on the worst days,” he said. “They gave a lot. My dad is 100 percent a pastor. He put a lot of heart and soul to that community. He started the National Day of Prayer Day for quite a few years.”

Said Gibson: “It also will mean a lot to his boys and someday my grandkids will see that.”

At the end of the day, it will also be very special to this outstanding Major League umpire. He has been call in the big leagues for 15 years. He grew up in Ashland but spent many summer days with his grandparents in Franklin Furnace, Ohio.

It was Gibson’s grandfather, a diehard Reds’ fan, who got him interested in baseball. He played Little League in Ashland for Frank Rolen.

Now, he’s going up on the murals beside a special collection of baseball greats. Incredibly enough, he will be the second umpire — the first one was South Shore native Terry Craft.

Craft and Gibson never called regular season games together although they did work once in spring training, Greg remembered.

Gibson is building a nice resume for himself. He has umpired six Division Series, two League Championship Series, the 2011 World Series and one All-Star Game.

He’s still an active umpire and will leaving on Sunday to prepare for spring training in Phoenix.

Speaking on Wednesday will be one of Gibson’s idols — former major league umpire Randy Marsh. The Covington native is “a 5-star General” with five World Series assignments. He also umpired four All-Star Games and countless LCS and divisional series. Today he is an umpiring supervisor — essentially Gibson’s boss.

“Randy Marsh has looked out for me, taken care of me and yelled at me when I needed it,” Gibson said. “He’s like an uncle is the best way to put it. He’s a member of the family in many respects.”

It was Randy Marsh who gathered Kentuckians Larry Vanover, Sam Holbrook and Gibson to umpire the first game played in Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park in 2003.

Marsh was recently named Director of Umpiring for MLB. He worked in the National League from 1981-99 and both leagues from 2000-2009 until retiring.

Sharing the spotlight with Gibson will be Borders, the former Toronto Blue Jays star who spent most of his childhood growing up in Scioto County. He was the Most Valuable Player of the 1992 World Series after hitting .450 with one home run. He is also one of only four players to win an Olympic gold medal and a World Series title.

If you need a way to start thinking baseball, this is the event to attend.

Gene Bennett, the legendary Reds scout for 58 years, spearheads the event.  They come from far and wide, many because Bennett asked them.

“They come out of pure respect for Gene Bennett,” Gibson said. “He does a lot for the southern Ohio area. He does a lot for his community.”

Greg Gibson has been a good ambassador for his community, too. Being enshrined on the Portsmouth Murals may be humbling to him but it’s deserved as well.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.