Baseball and Johnny: Local pro ballplayer reflects on his years with the game

When Chester resident Johnny Grubb, 62, sat down Friday afternoon, baseball was on his mind; after all, the game had given him a lot to think about. Looking like a ballplayer, his eyes drifted out the window, waiting for the spring season to start.  

Of his 16-year playing career in the Major Leagues, Grubb first recalls his great managers – not his World Series ring from his ’84 season in Detroit, his all-star selection in ’73, or even his 21-game hitting streak in ’79.

“I was lucky to have real good managers,” he said, offering a broad smile and a hint of a southern drawl. Grubb added, “All the way through youth ball I had good coaches.

They expected a lot out of the players; they taught you how to play the game and expected you to respect the game –like hustle and play hard – and taught us the right way to go about it.”

It was no surprise in ’99 when Grubb became head coach at his Alma matter Meadowbrook High School, 12 years after retiring from the big leagues.

Around that time Grubb coached future Major League pitcher Cla Meredith, 27, who recently got word of needing season-ending surgery on his throwing elbow. Grubb doesn’t fret, Meredith is a “gamer”, he said. “I’m sorry Cla has to go through that.”

In the light of optimism, Grubb even shared his own parallels to Meredith’s news, illustrating how after an injury-plagued spring in ’85, he had arguably his best season a year later. “It’s funny how things like that work sometimes; something like that might happen with Cla, too, where he bounces back and has some great years.”

Grubb coached at Meadowbrook for the next 10 years, ultimately coaching with Meadowbrook teacher Brian Conlon, to whom Grubb eventually gave the team’s managerial duties. For Conlon, it was “huge shoes to fill.” He’s the type of person you’d never know was this big icon, Major League ballplayer in the area because he’s so down-to-earth …He was really good with the kids.”

Not one to talk a lot about himself, Grubb, as Conlon remembers, occasionally told a really good story during pregame workouts, like facing Hall of Fame pitcher, the much-feared gunslinger from Texas, Nolan Ryan.

Conlon also remembers Grubb visiting Meadowbrook early in the school day, checking out his players during class and consistently working hard to manicure the field.

“His story does great things for Meadowbrook High School …” said Conlon. “It was an honor and a privilege to coach with him. He’s a great guy definitely.”

Through a long baseball career of many ups and downs, one person has remained at his side – his wife of almost 44 years, Linda, 61. “She’s been a good wife and she’s a good person. She’s helped me out a lot along the way, I’m so very thankful,” he said.

Upon their move from the West Coast, and after Grubb’s trade to the Cleveland Indians from the San Diego Padres, the two bought a house in Chesterfield and “from that point on, we always had a home in Richmond.” However, Grubb adds that coming to Richmond was seldom during the long season.

“It’s not a normal lifestyle at all,” he said, admitting that his job put a lot of strain on the rest of the family – his wife and two sons. “For them, it was hard making all the changes because the baseball life can change in one pitch; things can change very quickly.”

Despite how well modern-day professional athletes get paid, players during the 1970s apparently had it a bit harder. According to Grubb, many had to work some sort of other job during the offseason.  Either way, Grubb discovered early in his career just how much was riding on his baseball career – at that point, it was no longer a kid’s game.

“When I was out there playing ball games, I really felt like I was doing it for other people,” said Grubb, “I was trying to do it for God and I was trying to do it for family.”

Wife Linda then interjects, checking up on her husband to see if he went to his hitting lesson that day. “She looks out for me, too,” he said.

In retrospect, she feels it is an “oddity” to have been together this long, since their days in the 60s when they were high school sweethearts. She agrees that the moving part was the most difficult part of her husband playing a long Major League career. But for the last 24 years the Grubb family has nestled themselves in the heart of Chesterfield County.

“The small-town part of Chester is kind of neat, we think,” said Mrs. Grubb. “We live a pretty quiet life, I guess.”

They say it’s due to their four grandchildren.

Two to three days a week, Grubb can likely be found playing golf at the Meadowbrook Country Club with a morning group of retirees. “Being retired, it’s a little bit different,” he said. Now he’s working on bettering a different kind of swing, a golf swing.

Grubb and his wife spend a lot of time with their grandchildren and the rest of their time at the Meadowbrook Country Club. But as the baseball season soon begins, Grubb plans to help out with the Meadowbrook baseball program this season and in the summer will work with Coach Byron Ballard, coaching the players of American Legion Post 187.

In the meantime, Grubb eases the time away from baseball by giving hitting lessons, telling old baseball stories, helping him to relive his days on the diamond – a sacred ground to him.

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