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Put more than 50 years of Major League Baseball experience in the same room with a microphone and the result is always going to be the same: Good laughs and great memories. Diamond when former players Al Oliver, Johnnie LeMaster and Drew Hall joined MLB umpire Greg Gibson and Boston Red Sox scout Tim Martin. The Ashland baseball program, which LeMaster coaches, and the University of Louisville Alumni Club’s Big Sandy Chapter partnered up to host a special dinner event.

More than 100 guests filled the room as each speaker fielded questions about their time in the game and how local talent has the same chance of making it to the show as players from other places. Each shared funny moments they immediately recalled when asked to reflect on their careers.

Great start to career

September 2, 1975, was a day to remember for LeMaster. As a member of the San Francisco Giants, LeMaster dug in against Don Sutton, a future Hall of Fame pitcher of the Dodgers. In his first Major League at bat, LeMaster struck a ball into the gap that found its way to the wall in center field, allowing him to streak around the bases for an inside the park home run.

His feat occurred for only the second time in MLB history.

“I still pinch myself to see whether it’s true or not,” LeMaster laughed.

But the quick start was short lived for the 12 year veteran who spent 10 seasons in the Bay Area. By the turn of a new decade, fans seemed to like LeMaster less and less, which led the jokester to one up the often heckling fans.

“I was laying in bed one night and my wife (Debbie) sat up and said, ‘You should just change your name to ‘Boo!'” LeMaster said. “I didn’t think much of it at first, but a couple days later I asked our equipment manager to make up a jersey for me with ‘Boo’ on the back.”

It took LeMaster nearly two weeks to gain the nerve to wear it in a game and its appearance lasted for only three outs.

“I snuck into the clubhouse before anyone else got there and put it on,” LeMaster said. “Rob Andrews was the only one who knew I was wearing it. I kept my jacket on during introductions so no one would see it until we took the field. Our manager, Joe Amalfitano, couldn’t see real well and he thought it said Bob on the back.

“The general manager, Spec Richardson, spotted it immediately and called down to fire our equipment manager.

LeMaster said he still returns to Giants’ events where the fans now greet him with a subtle array of boos.

Let’s play ball

The most uttered words in baseball that are heard at the beginning of every game,
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“play ball,” are ones that Boyd County native and 19 year MLB umpire Greg Gibson was eager to deliver in arguably the biggest game of his career Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS in St. Louis.

After the National Anthem, Dodgers outfielder Scott Van Slyke and Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly stood outside their respective dugouts refusing to flinch. Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina had delivered the throw down to second base and it was time to start. However, Van Slyke and Kelly would not budge, putting Gibson in a position no training could ready him for.

“Molina turned to me and said ‘Gibby, let’s go,” and I said ‘I want to go, too,'” Gibson said. “It took me two innings to calm down because it’s the biggest game of my life and I’ve got something that I’ve never seen and I’ve seen a lot of stuff in baseball but I’d never seen that so I just looked at them and said ‘let’s go,'” Gibson said while making the gesture he made with his arms on the field that night.

Van Slyke won the standoff as Kelly flinched first, sending the Dodgers’ dugout into a celebration.

Thorn in his side

Ask Gibson who the one manager is that loves to push his buttons and the name comes instantly.”We’ve loathed each other for years,” Gibson said. “I threw him out every other year for six or seven years.”

Gibson and LaRussa’s heated exchanges intensified in 2011 after Gibson said Albert Pujols pulled his foot at first base. After Pujols and Gibson started to argue, LaRussa started barking from the dugout only to get the thumb.

“Tony had been screaming at the plate umpire all night and I mean screaming,” Gibson said. “He (the plate umpire) was a Triple A kid and he wouldn’t do anything about it and I’m hot. Long story short, I threw LaRussa out and I probably shouldn’t have gotten him. I just went ahead and got him because, well, I did.”

The Cardinals’ skipper put a bulls eye on Gibson with some directed comments the following morning in the newspaper that drew the attention of Gibson’s crew chief.

“He (crew chief) called me and said, ‘Gibby, you might want to read the paper. The union is getting involved,'” Gibson said. “For the union to get involved I knew it was bad.”

The duo steered clear of each other until later that season in the World Series when a meeting between managers, umpires and MLB brass brought them into the same room with Gibson ready to deliver a personal message.
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