John Grindrod: Tom Usher, another that Lima was fortunate to have

I wonder if we in the Lima area have appreciated the many media members who’ve so enriched our lives. Some, like Michael Reghi and Scott Clark, who both once upon a time worked at WLIO, went on to lager markets and achieved great success, the former as a play-by-play broadcaster both in college and the pros, and the latter as sports director and anchor at WABC in New York City.

And then there are others who started their careers in media here in Lima on TV, on radio or in our hometown newspaper who decided there was just something about the Lima area that was worth a more permanent commitment. These are the individuals such as WLIO anchor Jeff Fitzgerald, WIMA play-by-play man Mike Mullen and this publication’s Jim Naveau. Then of course there was Naveau’s long-time sports-writing colleague, Tom Usher, who made his final transition on a mid-January weekend, when the dirt on the infield at Simmons Field that Tom so loved was frozen and devoid of any infield chatter.

The Cincinnati native’s time in Lima spanned some 37 years. And during that time — both before his retirement six years ago and after — he wrote about our young people’s athletic endeavors as passionately as if they’d played centerfield before a packed house in Yankee Stadium.

I first met Tom when I took over the public-address duties at LCC football and basketball games in the 1990s, duties I continued through the school’s first state title in boys basketball in 2010. During that time I got to know Tom pretty well when he was there covering games. He was a frequent visitor to the scoring table to double check the accuracy of the numbers he’d kept. For reporters like Tom, the numbers of sports were sacrosanct and deserved to be verified. Over time, he called me by the moniker that those who know me best do, Grinder. And to me, he was Tommy.

By the early 2000s, I was beginning some writing for the newspaper. And when I needed to drop something off either for a newspaper story or something for a feature for Our Generation’s Magazine, I’d always stop at Tom’s desk to chew a bit of the sports fat. Despite the fact that often he was probably up against a deadline and could have done without the intrusion, he always stopped his keyboarding to render a positive comment or two about something I’d recently written. There was also some occasional advice, perhaps how I could write a better lead or explore a better angle on a topic to help me in making the transition from the academic writing I taught in the classroom to newspaper writing.

Years later, during my time working with my lifelong friend, Mike Schepp, doing a Saturday morning sports-talk show, Tom was a frequent guest, especially when the topic was his wheelhouse, baseball. I even asked him to help me host the show when Mr. Schepp had to attend an out-of-town engagement, and — my — what fun we had, dedicating most of the show, of course, to baseball. According to the higher ups at Maverick Media, we may have had a bit too much fun that day, since we ran over the show’s allotted time and stole the first seven minutes from Vince Koza, whose show followed.

As for Tom’s time here in Lima, his work was so consistently top shelf that he was inducted into the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 2014 was best known to many because of his involvement with the Lima Locos. He began as the keeper of the scorebook and beat writer when Lima’s charter entry in the Great Lakes Collegiate League began as the Lima Blues in 1987.

Game after game — starting at the Ohio State-Lima’s diamond and on to Shawnee High School’s diamond and on again to the team’s current home of Simmons Field — Tom was there to chart the pitches and gather the details and write the narratives destined to be read by local baseball enthusiasts the next day. To Tom, the Locos beat wasn’t just another assignment. It became his passion.

For me, on those occasions I headed out to Simmons to catch our boys of summer, no game experience was complete without my ascending the press box steps and confabulating a bit between innings with Tom, who was always perched in his familiar seat in the far corner.

As for someone who saw Tom work many Loco games, that would former team general manager Tim Clark, who so fondly recalls Tom’s Loco love.

“Tommy was a true baseball man, and his recall of the players who’ve come through here each summer was remarkable. I will miss his enthusiasm and that loud voice of his that would tend to bleed onto the occasional Todd Walker radio broadcasts. Really, Tommy held court in that press box, and his presence and especially his passion will be missed so very much.”

Yes indeed, there are some in our local media we’ve been so very fortunate to have had for so very long. And for one recently lost to a higher realm, here’s hoping there’s a need for a good reporter at the Celestial Gazette, someone willing to cover with skill and zeal yet another band of young angels in the outfield.

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].