On the Road: Peg Johnston knows the score

Opinionated retired teacher a fixture at ballparks throughout Ohio

Peg Johnston attends about 80 pro baseball games each summer. (Ben Hill/MiLB.com)

By Benjamin Hill / MiLB.com | June 18, 2018 12:45 PM

Peg Johnston does things her way, and her way is the highway. 

From early April into September, Johnston travels throughout central and northeast Ohio attending baseball games in the Cleveland Indians' system. She has 20-game plans with the Indians, Double-A Akron and Class A Lake County in addition to 10-game plans with Triple-A Columbus and Class A Short-Season Mahoning Valley. Johnston proudly travels alone on these frequent ballpark excursions -- her license plate reads TRAVEL1 -- and always keeps score. 

Johnston, a resident of Berea, Ohio, worked as a middle school geology teacher until retiring in 1991. She said that the end of her professional career provided her with both a problem and an opportunity: "I had to find something to do." That "something," has, to a large extent, been Cleveland-area professional sports. And during the spring and summer months, her life is occupied by baseball.  

This writer met Johston at Thursday night's Lake County Captains game and, intrigued by a brief conversation, caught up with her again the following night at the Mahoning Valley Scrappers' home opener. In conversation Johnston is unsentimental, honest, self-deprecating and wholly unapologetic about the way she does things. Just make sure to talk to her before the game -- she's often the first through the gates -- because during it she'll be recording the action in her scorebook while listening to the radio broadcast (on an actual radio).

Johnston estimates that she learned to keep score 60 years ago, probably as a result of playing (and then coaching) softball.

2018 Road Trip

"I'll tell you, the sponsor of my team when I was maybe 12 years old was Solomon's Corset Shop," she said. "So everyone on the team, no matter how hot it was, we all had sweaters on. We wouldn't let anybody read the name on the back of that thing!"

But despite her decades-long familiarity, Johnston didn't begin to keep score regularly until retirement. At that point she was a self-described "bum" in search of ways to utilize her free time, and once she became a ballpark regular she found herself dealing with men who were amazed that a woman would willingly commit to such an endeavor. 

"They usually touch me on the shoulder and make a comment like, 'Oh, a woman? Keeping score?' And that really rubs me the wrong way," she said. "I said I feel like kicking them in the shin or whatever.

"As a teacher, if I brought my kids [to the ballpark] on one of the school days or whatever, my kids would all know how to score a game," she continued. "Because the other kids don't really pay attention. It's just a day off for them when they come to the ballpark. I hate to say it, but my kids would be keeping score."  

For Johnston, keeping score is simply a way to stay engaged with the action on the field. She has no use for a stockpile of souvenirs. 

"I have people come up [to me] and say 'What do you do with all your scorebooks?' I say 'I put 'em in my garage for about five years and then I throw 'em away.'"  

Tweet from @bensbiz: Peg Johnston has been keeping score at baseball games for 60 years. She has no patience for men who are surprised by this fact. pic.twitter.com/MG6xRv6a2h

Johnston, a native of Cleveland's Shaker Heights neighborhood, grew up in a sports family. Or, more specifically, a sport family. Her father was David Ogilvie, Jr., a professional golfer. Her grandfather, David Sr., emigrated from Scotland at age 18 and went on to design the Augusta Municipal golf course. 

"All you heard at the dinner table was 'I sliced this' and 'I hooked this,'" said Johnston. "You know, I tried it in high school and I was very good because I could hit it really far but then I'd have no patience. I'd be on the green in one and then it'd be 12 putts or something like that."

But Johnston excelled in other sports, namely track and basketball. She said that academics took a backseat to athletics, and that she graduated with a GPA of approximately 2.3. 

"When I was in high school I couldn't care less about my academics or my textbooks or whatever," she said. "That's why I didn't get into any decent colleges....Of course I applied to, like, William and Mary where you have to be a straight-A student. I mean, who knew that in those days? And I didn't get into any of the schools. And all of a sudden it was getting pretty late. And so my Dad knew the president of Baldwin-Wallace College, which is in Berea, and we think that they let me in because they wanted him to work with the golf team. But he never did."

Johnston still in lives in Berea, which is located just west of Cleveland. It's a location that allows her to partake in the city's sports scene, and over the years she has been a season-ticket holder for the Browns, Cavaliers, Cleveland State basketball and the now-defunct Cleveland Crunch and Cleveland Force indoor soccer teams. 

"People have tried to get me into hockey," she said. "If somebody gives me a free ticket and I have nothing to do, I'll go to a hockey game. But I never can find the hockey puck, you know?...I can't find the hockey puck except when they're fighting and their fights are so phony."

Johnston takes a far more charitable view toward baseball, of course, and says that Cleveland fans are spoiled when it comes to the proximity of the Indians' Minor League affiliates. She says that, prior to the season, she sits down in front of a desk calendar and plots out the 80-plus Major and Minor League games she plans to attend during the season. 

"I keep my Tuesdays for Columbus because of the good ribs and then go on to the others," she said, of the Clippers' venerated barbecue offering. "They're famous. They're right in the ballpark. And on Tuesday nights they're six ribs for six bucks and you can't beat it."

As a result of being such a ballpark stalwart, Johnston says that she is often recognized by other fans. These include, of course, a healthy amount of clueless men.

"You sit with a bunch of old men and they start talking baseball and they say 'Where were you all those years ago when I needed a wife?'" she said. "You know, if somebody comes along with $10 million in the bank then maybe I'd consider it....I was married once for like six months back in college and I didn't like any part of it. The nice thing was, he did all the cooking because his mother was a school chef and I never cooked in my life."

Barring the unlikely appearance of a multimillionaire suitor with culinary skills, Peg Johnston will keep adhering to a way of life that suits her just fine.  

"I'm doing what I want to do, when I want to do it, how I want to do it," she said. "And if you want to do it with me you do it my way."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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