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Martella’s Pharmacy players Boston Bradley, left, and Ryan Shawley watch an ambassador go by during opening ceremonies of the 74th Annual AAABA Tournament at Sargent's Stadium at the Point in Johnstown, PA., Monday, Aug. 6, 2018.

It’s time to celebrate!

This year’s AAABA Tournament will commemorate its 75th anniversary with a bevy of special events and promotions taking place prior to and during the annual competition.

AAABA promotions director Brian Vuletich said the Johnstown Oldtimers Baseball Association, along with several community partners, have really hit the ball out of the park with these special events. 

“The 75th anniversary, this is something we’ve been working hard on for a very long time,” Vuletich said. “We’re looking forward to celebrating a milestone for both our city and for the AAABA.

“It’s going to be a memorable AAABA, and I think a lot of people in the community and our organization have worked hard to put on a memorable tournament.”

Nicole Waligora, sports tourism program coordinator for the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention & Visitors Bureau, agrees with Vuletich. Waligora and the CVB staff have been working diligently with other community partners to make this year’s AAABA tournament a success. 

“We’ve been working with a number of groups to try to make the 75th anniversary special,” Waligora said. “It’s been great. There’s so many people that are enthusiastic and just want this year to be special.

“I think that people are excited about Johnstown winning for the first time last year, and I think that momentum is carrying over into this year, too.”

Festivities will kick off Saturday with the annual Hall of Fame banquet scheduled to take place at the Frank J. Pasquerilla Conference Center. The dinner will feature Roberto Clemente Jr. as the guest speaker.

“That’s an event that is special every year, and it’s going to kick it up a notch with having Roberto Clemente Jr. there,” Waligora said. “With his father’s legacy, it’s the closest thing that you can touch to Roberto Clemente, so I think that’s going to be a really unique experience for people.”

In addition to having Clemente as the guest speaker, several other notable baseball players and figures will be on hand for the banquet.

According to Johnstown Oldtimers President George Arcurio III, former Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles pitching coach Roger McDowell, and former MLB players Kurt Ainsworth and Nelson Figueroa will all be honored during the event.

The late Ron Fiochetta, who put Altoona’s L.S. Fiore’s entry on the national AAABA map during his time as the franchise’s manager, will also be honored in this year’s induction class.

“This is one of the best lineups we have ever had in the history of the Hall of Fame and the AAABA tournament,” Arcurio said. “We’re looking for this event to pretty much sell out.”

Several events will be offered Aug. 4, beginning with a Kid’s Clinic from 1 to 3 p.m., and an Alumni Softball Game from 4 to 6 p.m. Both functions will be held at Sargent’s Stadium at the Point.    

“The Kid’s Clinic has happened for the last several years, and it seems like there’s always a really nice turnout,” Waligora said.

“It’s nice to see some of the coaches from other franchises and local coaches get out there and work with the kids.

“It’s a special opportunity for the kids to play on the field, and it’s just really a neat experience for them.”

The alumni game, which follows the Kid’s Clinic at Sargent’s Stadium, will feature past AAABA players and ambassadors.

“It’s just going to be a fun game for people to get back out and play together a little bit,” Waligora said. “It’s going to be a softball game, so it should be something fun for everybody to watch.”

Events for Aug. 4 will culminate with a Bonkers for Baseball Family Movie Night at Central Park in downtown Johnstown. The family film event, which is sponsored by The Learning Lamp and Discover Downtown Johnstown Partnership, will feature “The Bad News Bears” beginning at 8:30 pm.

“There’s going to be free drinks and popcorn provided. And ticket giveaways for amusement parks and AAABA opening night,” Waligora said.

Discover Downtown Johnstown Partnership president Melissa Radovanic said teaming up with other community partners for this year’s AAABA tournament was a “no-brainer.”

“AAABA now for 75 years has been an important part of our town,” Radovanic said. “And after the big win from Martella’s last year we were able to throw together their victory parade after their outstanding win.

“Anything that happens good in downtown and brings people to downtown – Discover wants to be a part of,” she said.

Tournament play will begin on Aug 5, with opening night ceremonies and a players’ and ambassadors’ parade set for the evening in downtown Johnstown.

“Opening night is always its own event in itself,” said Waligora. “We didn’t feel like we needed to do much with this because that’s already such a fantastic evening.”

Coney Island T-shirt night will be held Aug. 6 at Sargent’s Stadium, and the first 500 fans through the main gate that evening will receive T-shirts.

“This is the first time that we’ve had an opportunity to work on a T-shirt giveaway night with Coney Island,” Vuletich said. “The fact that Coney Island came back into business to rejuvenate downtown Johnstown is going to be a highlight in itself. 

“So we’re very appreciative of working with all of our sponsors. They’ve been very tremendous this year and we can’t thank the Convention and Visitors Bureau enough for all they’ve done.”

Festivities will continue on Aug. 7 with a Little League Night and Parade held prior to the evening’s game.

Details are still being worked out, but Waligora is encouraging boys and girls from all local Little Leagues to come out and participate. Each Little League participant will receive a free ticket for entry to the night’s game.  

Special events for the tournament will conclude with a Backpack Night, sponsored by the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention & Visitors Bureau, on Aug. 8. The first 500 fans through the main gate will receive a free drawstring backpack bearing the tournament’s 75th anniversary logo.

“There are a few events that are able to continue for 75 years, and the fact that this is still going on is a reason to celebrate,” Waligora said.

For more information, contact the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention & Visitors Bureau at 814-536-7993.

Ronald Fisher is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @FisherSince_82.

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