Community remembers longtime scorekeeper John Grace
By Greg Gulas
For the past 40 years, the local Class B baseball league was John Grace’s life.
From managing Bob Cene Park’s hitting facility, to scheduling spring high school games to running the scoreboard from its state-of-the-art press box on Field No. 1, Grace was the one constant that you could always count on seeing.
Grace passed away Wednesday at age 70 and all that knew him agree that his biting wit, dedication to the park and especially the Cene family has created a void that won’t soon be filled.
“I think back to when my father was around and John kept score of the games. He ran the scoreboard, our training facility and did just about everything that needed to be done and all without any fanfare,” Bob Cene, Jr, president of Class B Baseball Inc., said. “He took care of the kids, did a lot for the community and I can guarantee you that he’s with my father now watching a baseball game from up above.”
A Chaney High graduate, Grace retired as parts manager for Girard Equipment Company (Fruehauf) and was a big supporter of McDonald High School athletics throughout the 1980s and 1990s, earning the nickname “McDonald Super Fan.”
A New York Yankees diehard, his Bronx Bombers could do no wrong. He was the Astro Falcons’ biggest fan as well.
“When I took over the reins of Astro Falcons seven years ago, I came to realize just how much the team, the park and most especially the Cene Family meant to John,” current 18-U team manager Andy Timko said. “He was always at the hitting center and always put in a full day. He did it for the kids and never missed.”
Don Pletcher is manager of the league’s Baird Brothers franchise and in 2014, as manager of Ohio Glaciers, won the NABF senior division World Series, which was played at Bob Cene Park.
“John was someone that I looked up to simply because he respected the game and the way it should be played. He was Astro Falcons through and through, yet we were a lot closer than most thought,” Pletcher said. “His greatest attribute was that he acknowledged you when you did a good job, no matter what team you represented. When you parted ways, you’d say ‘see you later’ and he would reply with his signature, ‘Lord willing’ phrase. That is what I will miss most.”
Ron “Red” Baker sat alongside Grace in the main press box the past 22 years, estimating they worked nearly 5,000 games together with him serving as public address announcer.
“He was definitely the glue that held the place together. He was my best friend and I am going to miss him dearly,” Baker said. “I recall doing the announcing at Pemberton Park and asking him if he would like to run the scoreboard. He liked it so much, got to know Bob Cene, Sr. and when they built Cene Park in Struthers, Mr. Cene asked him to come along and run the scoreboard. The rest, as they say, is history.”
He was a friend to every media member that ever covered a game because of his willingness to keep them posted with the scores, as well as offering critical weather updates.
“It seems as though I’ve talked to John every spring and summer during my 28 years of doing sports, looking for score updates and schedules. I first knew John through his voice, then met him person about 20 years ago and he was as gracious in person as he was on the phone,” 21 WFMJ Sports Director Dana Balash said.
“When I needed to know a schedule or get a final score, even in inclement weather or late at night, John made sure that I got that information. He was a true gentleman and will be sadly missed by all. He touched a lot of players, coaches and everyone associated with baseball at Cene Park. Going to the park this spring and summer just won’t be the same.”
High school coaches depended on Grace for their scheduling and appreciated the little things he did behind the scenes that were taken for granted.
Former Ursuline head coach and current athletic director Sean Durkin called Grace the face of Cene Park.
“He knew every player on every team and every player from the area,” Durkin said. “He was the one guy that you’d always see at the park and he was definitely a favorite of mine.”
Class B league president Scott Ruark added that he lost a very, very good friend.
“Loyal and trustworthy are two words that you don’t just pass around and John was both,” Ruark said. “He handled a lot of cash for us and you knew there would never, ever be a problem. Before Bob Cene, Sr. passed away, he made us promise to take care of John and in turn, he gave us his loyalty and dedication. He was old school and that is why so many liked him. You don’t find many like him around today.”