Ohio Valley Unsung Hero: McNabb can be found at a field near you

GLEN DALE – Ray McNabb is always on the move on a baseball field.

Not bad for a man nearing his 76th birthday.

As the head of the Base-A-Ball 19U team competing in this weekend’s Edgar Martin Beast of the East Classic, McNabb sees no reason to slow down.

In fact, he thinks baseball has prolonged his stay on this Earth, and, too, the green, lush diamonds which he prefers to spend most of his time.

”Maybe it’s helped me live this long,” he said smiling, while taking a break under a tree between games at John Marshall High School’s Monarch Field.

McNabb certainly deserved a bit of a break, for, moments earlier, during his team’s game against Moundsville Post 3, McNabb didn’t really spend any time out of the sun in the dugout. He was either in the coaching box at first base or, while his defense was in the field, fixated near the backstop directing the team and analyzing the happenings.

All in day’s work for McNabb, who’s spent nearly five decades playing and teaching the game.

”There’s not too many that can say they’re this involved at this age, I don’t think,” he said.

It’s true.

McNabb is a baseball lifer. And, he’s touched the sport at almost all points of the Ohio Valley, up and down the river.

He grew up in Wheeling, a 1956 graduate of Wheeling High School.

Another member of that graduating class is the reason he got involved with the Beast – B.A. Crawford, the tournament’s co-founder and co-director.

”We went to high school together, we graduated together, we played ball together when we were young,” McNabb explained.

The two played in the Wheeling Midget League, which was formed about 1950.

”I played for South Wheeling and he played for Center Wheeling,” McNabb remembered. ”We played all the way through.”

When the pair got to Wheeling High and started playing for the Wildcats, they played for future OVAC Hall of Famer Everett Brinkman.

”I played shortstop as a sophomore,” McNabb said.

Following high school, McNabb kept his baseball career going by playing in almost every league going in the Ohio Valley. Along the way, he married his wife, Jean Ann, in 1959 and started a family.

”I played a lot of utility,” McNabb recalled. ”If they called me, I played.”

He played for the Elm Grove Civics, the Coal Miner’s League (now the Ohio Valley Baseball League) and the Intelligencer League, just to name a few.

Soon, he got a job at the Ohio Edison Power Plant in Dilles Bottom and moved his family to Bellaire.

Once in the All-American Town, he became a fixture there, especially when his son, Michael, became of age to play.

”I coached him all the way through the Bellaire Junior Sports system,” McNabb said.

As his son became more involved with baseball, McNabb curtailed his own playing time. He became less of a player and more of a teacher. And that suited him just fine.

”The older he got, the more involved I got with him,” he said.

But when Michael graduated from Bellaire High School and moved on to college at Ohio University, McNabb’s love for teaching baseball didn’t stop.

”I stayed involved for the love of the game,” he said. ”Whether it would be Bellaire Junior Sports or whomever would ask me.

”I’d work with kids from Martins Ferry, Barnesville, Shadyside … kids in West Virginia. Just being involved in baseball. It became a big part of my life.

”This will be my 47th year coaching baseball in various places, but mostly in Bellaire. I’m gonna do it until the guy upstairs says it’s time to go.”

Back in the 1990s, McNabb and the late Ben Taylor, another Bellaire legend, formed the Eastern Ohio Fall Baseball League, which still exists.

”It’s been up to as high as 11 teams,” McNabb said. ”We’d have teams up and down the river from Morgantown to Fairmont to Steubenville and Brooke.”

This year marks McNabb’s 25th year of having a team in the Beast. It’s a family reunion of sorts for the McNabb family as Michael and his son, Jacob, come in from Marysville. Jacob, who just graduated from Marysville High School and plays on an American Legion team in that area, is playing third base for his grandfather this weekend.

”Four days of baseball? That’s right up my alley,” McNabb said.

As is, too, spring training baseball. After his wife passed away in 2011, Michael and his dad started traveling to Florida each spring to visit Crawford, who lives in Naples, and check out out some spring training games, especially McNabb’s beloved Boston Red Sox.

But being being in Bellaire and the Ohio Valley teaching baseball is the place where McNabb loves to be more than anyplace.

”I think the guy upstairs may have a place for me,” he said. ”I think that’s where I wanna play.”

Thorp can be reached at rthorp@timesleaderonline.com