Julio Lugo

Atlanta Braves' Julio Lugo, right, slides into home plate safely to score the game-winning run as Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Michael McKenry tries to make the tag during the 19th inning of a baseball game, early Wednesday, July 27, 2011. in Atlanta. The Braves won 3-2.

Julio Lugo still recalls the presentation of the AAABA Tournament Most Valuable Player award at Point Stadium after his Brooklyn Youth Service League team won the 1994 championship with a victory over Altoona’s L.S. Fiore.

“That’s one of my most memorable trophies, the one I appreciated the most,” said Lugo, who played 12 major league seasons with seven teams and won a World Series title with the 2007 Boston Red Sox. “That definitely was one of those special ones.”

Lugo will be inducted into the AAABA Hall of Fame on Aug. 4 at the Pasquerilla Conference Center. The ceremony, which also will induct his brother Ruddy Lugo and Johnstown’s four-time tournament pitcher Maurice Berry, will take place two days before the opening day of the 74th annual tournament.

“It was great exposure in that tournament,” said Lugo in a telephone interview from his home in the Dominican Republic. “We had a lot of kids drafted from our team. It was a great moment for all of us, not only to be there in Johnstown, but to win the tournament.”

Manager Mel Zitter’s Youth Service team was led by Lugo and another future major leaguer, pitcher Nelson Figueroa, now a TV analyst in the New York Mets organization. Tournament RBI leader John Rodriguez was another standout who knocked in 12 runs.

Lugo played second base and shortstop. He went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and one run scored in Brooklyn’s 12-2 victory over Altoona in the title game.

Overall, Lugo batted .464 (13-for-28) with one homer, a triple and four doubles. He drove in nine runs in the 1994 tournament.

“The competition was stiff in Johnstown,” Lugo said. “I remember playing Altoona three times. They beat us the first game. We came back and beat them. That was a rivalry.”

His AAABA Tournament experience was only the beginning for Lugo, who was selected by the Houston Astros in the 43rd round of the 1994 major league draft. 

He spent six seasons in the minor leagues before advancing to the majors with the Astros in 2000.

“The AAABA for me was a starting point,” Lugo said. 

“There was competition there. It was different for me. 

“I came from the Dominican Republic and I went to college (Connors State College in Oklahoma). The AAABA opened the door for me.”

Lugo played four major league seasons with the Astros, four with Tampa Bay, three with Boston and one year apiece with Atlanta, St. Louis, Baltimore and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

His career batting average was .269 with 80 home runs and 475 RBIs. Lugo had a career .964 fielding percentage.

The pinnacle of his success came in 2007 when Lugo was part of the Red Sox World Series championship.

“That was pretty special,” Lugo said. “In the back of your house when you’re a kid, you say, ‘Julio Lugo batting third, playing shortstop.’ You hit a (imaginary) grand slam. All the hard work and sacrifices and suffering pays off when you accomplish that goal.”

Fans at Highland Park on opening day of the 1994 AAABA Tournament weren’t imagining things when they saw Lugo launch a grand slam home run to highlight an 11-run fourth inning. Youth Service League won 17-3 over Lansing, Michigan.

“I hit the grand slam to right center and it just took off,” Lugo said. 

His play in the AAABA

Tournament actually earned Lugo a mention in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

“One time I went to the real Hall of Fame and I saw my name there,” Lugo said. “They put all the MVP names in from the AAABA Tournament on a plaque at the Hall of Fame. They change it every year. A friend of mine went there and said, ‘Hey, they put your name in there.’ I went and saw it. I took a picture.”

Lugo is excited about entering the AAABA Hall of Fame with his younger brother Ruddy, who played two major league seasons with Oakland and Tampa Bay.

“It’s special,” Julio said. “We’re a very close family.”

Julio Lugo also talked about a play many Pittsburgh Pirates fans painfully recall. He was called safe at the plate in the bottom of the 19th inning as his Braves defeated the Pirates 4-3 in late July 2011.

Umpire Jerry Meals ruled Pittsburgh catcher Michael McKenry failed to tag Atlanta’s Lugo, allowing Lugo to score the winning run. Replays showed McKenry clearly tagging Lugo before Lugo reached the plate.

The loss dropped the Pirates one game back of first place and marked a turning point in a season that eventually ended with a losing 72-90 record.

Major League Baseball and Meals admitted the call was incorrect in the days after the game, but debate still goes on seven years later.

Lugo insists his run was legit.

“Now that they have replay, he missed me,” Lugo said. “I was safe. I was safe.” 

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.