Smyrna resident John Neely “Johnny, The Lime” Ross loved touring Major League ballparks.
“To say that Johnny Ross merely loved baseball would be under-stating it,” confirmed a lifelong friend.
How much did Mr. Ross love the game?
So much, he died Monday night, Aug. 12 after attending a Chicago Cubs’ game at historic Wrigley Field. Young travelling friend, Thomas Bucher, found his friend dead in bed the next morning.
“Johnny died doing what he loved, touring baseball parks,” noted Bucher of Smyrna. “At the Cubs game, before going to the hotel, Johnny and I had also watched Smyrna native Sonny Gray pitch against the Kansas City Royals on our I-phones. We were scheduled to be in Atlanta this past Saturday night when Sonny was to pitch against the Braves, Johnny’s favorite team.
“Plus, we were scheduled Tuesday, the next day after the Cubs’ game, to tour U.S. Cellular Field stadium that houses the Chicago White Sox,” confirmed lifelong friend Bucher, who travelled with Mr. Ross, touring more than 50 ballparks throughout America. “Although I was late due to making transport arrangements of Johnny back to Tennessee, I kept the White Sox appointment, for they had gone to a lot of effort to roll out the red carpet for Johnny and me. Johnny would have wanted me to keep the appointment. I can’t say enough about the special condolences and treatment given in Johnny’s memory by White Sox employee Maria Villanuva and other stadium workers.”
There was “one more ballpark” Johnny and Bucher had failed to visit.
“Houston is the only Major League ball park we had not toured together, and Houston was our next big planned trip, when I found Johnny had passed away Monday night in his sleep,” Bucher noted
Was it irony a few weeks ago that heart disease victim Mr. Ross, at age 69, and Bucher, a professional undertaker with Woodfin Funeral Home, did a pre-funeral planning session as they watched Sonny Gray pitch on TV at the Ross home in Smyrna?
“As Johnny spoke, I wrote down his funeral instructions while Smyrna native son Sonny Gray was pitching on the West Coast,” Bucher recalled. “Although it was sad listing my friend’s funeral plans, we were glad that night when Sonny Gray won his game.”
Mr. Ross began touring baseball stadiums earlier in life with his now deceased wife, Gayle Kinnard Ross. After her death, it would be a few years before the avid baseball fan could resume visiting ballparks.
Bucher shared their shared devotion to “America’s Past Time.”
“I’ve known Johnny all my life, since some of our relatives are married to each other,” Bucher shared. “After Gayle died, which I did her funeral, too, Johnny became very lonely.
“And two or three times a week, I’d go watch games on TV with him, to help my friend with his loneliness,” Bucher noted. “A few weeks ago, that’s when Johnny, who had a pace-maker, outlined what he wanted done at his funeral, which was held last Saturday at Old Jefferson Church of Christ in Smyrna, with his longtime friend, Brother Ron Caldwell, officiating. That’s the way Johnny wanted his funeral held.”
More about that nickname, “Johnny, The Lime.”
“Johnny called me ‘Little Buddy” after the Gilligan’s Island TV character,” Bucher noted. “I gave Johnny multiple nicknames because he loved colorful shirts. For example, Monday, he wore his peach-colored shirt to the Cubs game. That day, he was ‘Johnny, The Peach.’ His favorite shirt is lime colored, so most of the time, his nickname was ‘Johnny, The Lime.’”
After requesting “The Lime’s” favorite shirt from family, Bucher said he took that shirt home where he has an old baseball stadium seat: “I placed “The Lime” shirt on that seat in my cherished room of baseball memorabilia … I think Johnny would like that.”
When they traveled, Mr. Ross liked staying in memorable places, such as The Palmer House, which goes back more than a century in downtown Chicago.
“That hotel goes back more than 130 years, a landmark,” Bucher accounted.
Longtime Smyrna friends Bill and Trish Nash were among those who attended Mr. Ross’ funeral.
“We wanted to say farewell to friend Johnny, who, when not watching a baseball game, could perform a great imitation performance of the late great Grand Ole Opry star Hank Snow,” noted Trish.
Johnny Ross was a longtime member of the Rutherford County Old Timer’s Baseball Association and Hall of Fame.
“Johnny came every year to our annual banquet when we installed new Hall of Fame members,” confirmed WGNS Radio Talk Show host Truman Jones, a member of Old Timer’s Baseball Association. “He knew baseball and how it should be played.”