Maurice Berry played a waiting game after he joined the powerhouse Pepsi-Cola franchise during its incredible 1990 baseball season in the Johnstown Junior League.
The right-handed pitcher had been among the top players in the Johnstown City Colt League with Roxbury Tire or as a pick-up on the Rizzo’s team that nearly advanced to that level’s World Series. Berry was accustomed to being a go-to guy.
Pepsi-Cola, circa 1990, featured two future major leaguers in Mike Holtz and Keith Williams. Manager Dee Dee Osborne’s team had future pro players and NCAA Division I recruits such as Mike Sube, Mike Moore and Eric Dinyar on a deep roster.
“It was strange at first. Coming up to the league, with those players I had to sit on the bench after I had always been used to playing,” Berry said during a telephone interview from his Lancaster home on Saturday. “I remember I pitched just the five games against Seward VFW. They started me out slow. I had to wait my turn.”
Berry’s time eventually arrived. He performed in four consecutive AAABA Tournaments from 1990 through 1993.
Back then, such a feat was rare, especially in Johnstown, where eventual AL Cy Young Award winner Pete Vuckovich had achieved the feat two decades earlier (1969-72).
The AAABA Hall of Fame announced Berry will be in the Class of 2018 with former Brooklyn Youth Service League standouts Julio Lugo and Ruddy Lugo.
Berry played in the tournament for Pepsi (1990-91), the Knickerbockers (1992) and as a pick-up player with Coca-Cola (1993).
The Lugo brothers each advanced to the major leagues.
Julio Lugo earned the 1994 AAABA Tournament MVP honors after Youth Service beat Altoona for the title.
The shortstop and second baseman played 12 seasons in the majors with seven teams and was part of the Boston Red Sox’s 2007 World Series run.
Ruddy Lugo had a big role in eliminating Johnstown’s Principle Development team in the 1996 tournament. He played two seasons in the majors with Tampa Bay and Oakland.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” said Berry, 45, of the Aug. 4 induction banquet at the Pasquerilla Conference Center two days before the 74th AAABA Tournament begins. “I was honored to be mentioned in this group and to be a part of this tradition.”
His early days in the Johnstown Junior League made it possible.
Pepsi won its first 27 games and finished the 1990 regular season at 32-2. The Fizz Kids went 2-2 in the AAABA Tournament after Sube and Holtz each had dominant outings in the first two nights.
That first tournament Berry threw only two innings, allowing no earned runs and posting two strikeouts.
The Johnstown Vo-Tech graduate was a baseball sponge, soaking up knowledge from manager Osborne, veteran coach Forrest Mazey and players such as Holtz and Williams.
“Coming up, not knowing everything about that level of play, Sube, Mike Holtz, Eric Dinyar, Corey Reffner, watching how they did things was a great learning experience,” Berry said. “It was great to watch them perform and see how they warmed up and prepared. As I stayed there after they left, it was my turn.”
Berry was part of another Pepsi championship season in 1991 and won with the Knicks in 1992. When Coke took the local league title in 1993, the 20-year-old was a pick-up player.
Overall, Berry threw 182/3 innings in four AAABA Tournaments, posting a 3.86 ERA while striking out 15 batters. Johnstown went 7-8 in that span, with the ‘92 Knicks going 3-2.
“He averaged six or seven strikeouts a game. He was a mid-80s pitcher, 85 or 86 miles an hour,” Osborne said. “He could throw hard. His fastball was live. He had a curveball and he used to bend batters out of the box.”
Osborne still recalls Berry’s first season in the Junior League.
“Keith Williams, Mike Moore and Mike Sube took him under their wings,” Osborne said. “He always wanted to learn. He always asked questions.”
Berry spent one year at Westmoreland County Community College before pursuing a career at ITT Engineered Valves, a position he holds today.
The AAABA Tournament is a memorable part of Berry’s past. The AAABA Hall of Fame is in his future.
“The tournament was always great to play in, a great atmosphere, a good time,” Berry said. “We never won it, but we would come close and it was always Brooklyn or New Orleans or Baltimore playing for the title.”
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.