By Mark Maynard -- The Independent
Nobody has to twist Charlie Reliford’s arm to convince him to visit the area.
The veteran major league umpire lives in Bradenton, Fla., but always calls Ashland home.
Reliford has accepted an invitation to speak at the sixth annual Portsmouth Murals Baseball Banquet on Jan. 13. The event is a fundraiser for the upkeep on the giant murals depicting professional baseball greats with Portsmouth area connections.
Reliford is a fan of the murals and the event.
“It’s one of the events I enjoy so much every year,” he said. “They pretty much speak my language — baseball and the people from this area. The murals are something I tell people about all the time. They’re spectacular.”
Many of the honorees who appear on the flood wall’s 20-foot murals typically attend the event. Some of them included: legendary Cincinnati Reds super scout Gene Bennett, former major league umpire Terry Craft, former Reds and Yankees pitching great Don Gullett, former Brewers great Larry Hisle, former Pirate great Al Oliver, former A’s World Series hero Gene Tenace and former New York Met John Stephenson.
The event always draws a prominent list of representatives from major league baseball, including members of the Cincinnati Reds front office and fellow area umpire Greg Gibson, among others.
“The whole Cincinnati Reds front office was there last year,” Reliford said. “Old coaches that were around and officials that were around when I was growing up in the area, people like Bill Newman and Bobby Kouns. There’s a wide variety of people involved with sports in the area.”
Reliford, who has battled nagging injuries the past couple of seasons, is busy this offseason with duties regarding the baseball rules committee. He is one of nine members on the committee. He left for the winter meeting in Chicago on Sunday and will be meeting with other members of the rules committee.
The biggest rule change recently enacted was the advent of using replay to determine the outcome of certain plays.
“I was wholeheartedly against it when it first came out,” Reliford said. “I was the first to use it and haven’t used it since. Given the difficulty of all the new stadiums, the microscopic prospective of baseball, it’s turned out remarkably well. I’d be hard-pressed to say that some day it’s not going to expand.”
However, Reliford said commissioner Bud Selig isn’t for expanding the replay. “I hear the commissioner all the time say he doesn’t want to expand it,” Reliford said.
There have been other changes since Reliford began his major league umpiring career nearly 20 years ago.
“When I first came to the big leagues, a huddle was unheard of,” he said. “We have a signal on my crew where we can say, ‘I think I have different information, if you want it.’ But I tell them to never come running over because you might just be complicating the problem.”
Reliford has called two World Series (2000 and 2004), three League Championship Series, four Division Series and two All-Star Games in a brilliant career that started in 1991.
As for the January visit home, Reliford is thankful for the invitation.
“I’m especially thrilled that Gene Bennett asked me to be part of this,” Reliford said. “He has always shown enormous support for umpires in our area. We’d see him sitting in the stands. I always look around to see if Gene is behind the plate where all the scouts always sit.”
Reliford said Bennett was instrumental in him signing his first umpiring contract with the National League.
“Gene would always tell my boss ‘You better buy his option before the American League gets him,’’’ Reliford said.
Tickets for the banquet are $50 and past events have been sold out with around 500 in attendance. It wil be at the SOMC Friends Community Center, 1202 18th St., Portsmouth.
Tickets and sponsorship information is available by calling the Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce at (740) 353-7647. The president of the Portsmouth Murals, Inc., is Robert Morton.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.