For the first time ever, Johnstown’s representative in the All American Amateur Baseball Association Tournament took the field during an opening night game as the defending national champions on Monday.
Martella’s Pharmacy captured the title in 2018, snapping a long streak of 73 years without winning the event that the city annually hosts.
The club began the defense of its crown by facing Youngstown at Sargent’s Stadium at the Point in downtown Johnstown.
Before the game, a traditional opening ceremony occurred, complete with award presentations, parade of ambassadors being driven by the Flood City Corvette Club, explosions from the Bomb Squad on the hillside, speeches and players from participating teams entering the stadium. But, even with the familiarity, the spectacle took on a special feel thanks to Martella’s championship and this being the milestone 75th tournament.
“It was pretty amazing they won it last year,” said Jon Kiser, a Flood City Corvette Club member. “And just to have this tournament for 75 years is a pretty amazing thing, too. It’s something we have here in Johnstown that no one else can say they have.”
The pre-game ceremony also included the Johnstown Symphony Chorus singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“For us to come out and support the community at the AAABA 75th is a great way for us to give back to the community just as when we appreciate the community when they come out and support us singing with the symphony at the Pasquerilla (Performing Arts Center) during our season,” said Beverly Feldman, president of the Johnstown Symphony Auxiliary. “It’s just a great honor to participate with our community.”
Thousands attended opening night, including Johnstown resident and longtime fan Richard Pletcher, who brought his grandson, Matthew Shroyer, from Harrisburg, to his first AAABA game.
“I think the AAABA is excellent for the city of Johnstown because we don’t have many activities that come in like this that draw literally tens of thousands of people that we need for our economy here in Johnstown,” Pletcher said. “It’s great for the community.”
Johnstown has hosted the AAABA National Tournament for 73 of its 75 years, dating back to the inaugural event in 1945.
Cambria County Commissioner William “B.J.” Smith said the longevity has been possible because “there is cooperation among all the different aspects that have to come together to form this and all the great volunteers that we have in the city.”
“What it means to the community is that it shows that we’re still here,” Johnstown Oldtimers President George Arcurio III said. “We’re strong. We have great baseball. And we’re an economic boost to the whole area. That’s the way I look at it.”
Tony Crisafulli, a member of the national tournament committee, said the event remains special because of how players are treated when they come to town. “It’s an incredible tournament in that it’s one of the last – if not the last – tournament in the country where the kids can come in, relax, play baseball, and not worry about having to pay for anything, where their room and board is still covered by the Oldtimers and the money that they raise,” Crisafulli said.