John Grindrod: Some final musings on celebrity sightings

Several years ago before the great basketball player John Havlicek’s passing in 2019, I had the good fortune to spend some time with John and his wife Beth. They were in Lima to take part in a golf outing to benefit cancer research and to see Gary Gearhart and his wife Kay. Gearhart was a teammate of Havlicek’s on Ohio State’s only NCAA championship squad back in 1960.

At a post-golf mixer, I had the great privilege of spending time with the Havliceks, thanks to Gary, who I’ve come to know well through my sister Joanie and brother-in-law, John. By that point in my life, in my 50s, I was well beyond pestering him for an autograph and settled for some conversation and a photo I snapped, thinking the photo may come in handy as artwork for something I’d write for my hometown newspaper.

In 2006, my friend Jim Martz arranged a special day for me at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. The day included time with then-Reds general manager Wayne Krisvsky, who Jim had known for years. Jim also knew then-Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen, whose team was in town to play the Reds that night. Jim spent time scouting Rolen during his days as an Indiana schoolboy with can’t-miss talent. I spent time with both Krivsky in his office and later in his suite to watch the game and also with Rolen during batting practice because Jim had secured on-field passes.

Finally, no recollection of my celebrity encounters could be complete without telling you about a certain Saturday night in Cincinnati in 1988 when I was there with pals Greg and Ric Stolly and Jim Puma. The first of two celebrity meetings are compliments of Jim.

At the time, the Reds closer was fellow Brooklynite Johnny Franco, and Jim got to know the Franco family during summer breaks from college working as a park director in the city’s rec department. Jim was asked to help work a youth baseball camp to which Franco had a connection and asked Ric to work the camp. He also asked Greg and me if we’d like to meet Franco and the other camp workers after the Reds afternoon game at a party on an anchored yacht on the Newport side of the Ohio River.

It was quite the party with the camp workers and some guests. After grabbing a beer out of a cooler and pulling up a chair on the top deck where the Reds reliever Franco was the obvious alpha dog and holding court, I started noshing on some cold shrimp off a platter with a bowl of cocktail sauce in the center. One led to another and another, and apparently one or more too many when, as Ric Stolly still ribs me to this very day, John Franco’s older brother Jimmy suddenly was heard to say, “Hey, does anyone know who that guy is over there that’s eating all the shrimp?” I was more than just a little bit embarrassed.

Later, we were all in a patio area of one of the bars that dot the banks of the river when I turned around and noticed at the very next table none other than Kelsey Grammer, at the time a member of that terrific ensemble cast of my favorite sitcom, Cheers. He was seated beside and also quite interested in a very attractive blonde. On the show, he was married to actress Bebe Neuworth’s character Lilith Sternin, like Grammer’s character Frasier, also a psychiatrist.

So emboldened again after having sufficiently recovered from the shrimp incident, I leaned over to Grammer, tapped him on the shoulder, jerked my head in the direction of the comely blonde and, feigning disapproval, said, “Does Lilith know about this?”

Fortunately, that drew a hearty laugh from the acclaimed actor, who, he said, was in town doing some summer stock during a Cheers hiatus. In this case, I actually did ask for an autograph, pulling a dollar bill out of my pocket and borrowing a pen from a server. He wrote, “John, don’t spend it all in one place” before signing his name, using, I later noticed, a larger cursive version of a lower-case g to start his last name. The dollar bill is displayed down in my man cave taped to a mirror behind the bar.

Those chance encounters with celebs are memorable for those of us who live our lives flying way under the radar. While I’ve nothing against under-the-radar folks, it’s always nice to rub a more renowned elbow or two.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].