JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – In the last tension-filled innings of the 76th AAABA semifinal Friday night, many fans became serious, while others simply continued enjoying the social event.
With his eyes set on the field, one fan was too intense to share his thoughts as the New Brunswick Matrix (4-1) showed signs they would come away with the victory over Johnstown’s Paul Carpenter Capital Advisors (4-1).
“Magic moments with dad,” his adult daughter said with a laugh. “It’s a beautiful night for the AAABA. It’s a family tradition.”
Fans were braced for a barn-burner. The teams had an intense game Monday on opening night of the tournament, and they expected another tough game.
Behind by five runs with two outs in the ninth inning, a Paul Carpenter runner collided with a New Brunswick second baseman who was making a play on the ball. The runner was called out, ending the game. Fans exited Sargent’s Stadium at the Point analyzing that play and the umpire’s call.
While the AAABA journey this year has ended for Johnstown’s home teams – Martella’s Pharmacy, the other local squad, lost in Thursday’s quarterfinals to Philadelphia – the tournament has been filled with energy and enjoyment, fans said.
“The whole week was amazing,” Craig Bair said. “It’s a shame Paul Carpenter couldn’t make it to the championship, but we’ll be back next year.”
Official attendance Friday night for the semifinal was at 1,534 paying fans – a great turnout, said those who’ve attended tournaments in past years.
Harold Hoffman was at the game with his sons, ages 9 and 6.
“People in Johnstown want to do family-oriented stuff with their children,” he said. “It’s important to come out. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have it, and people would be upset that there’s nothing to do.”
Ralph Crist, of Tire Hill, sat behind the first-base line, in view of the old Bethlehem Steel building in the distance, where he worked for 26 years.
Crist, 85, has been going to AAABA games for all of the AAABA’s 76-year history, except for the three years he served in the U.S. Air Force base in Germany during the Korean War. All week, he’s been attending noon games and night games.
In his youth, Crist played for the league that supplied teams to the AAABA, then called the Johnstown Junior League, he said.
“There are so many memories,” he said. “My favorite memories is going to games with my family – my dad, and uncles, and my kids."
Bryan Shetler was at the game – one of the rare times this week that he was at a game without his 8-year-old grandson, Brett, who had football practice Friday.
Going to AAABA games and sitting in the stands on the third-base side has been a 30-year tradition for Shetler’s family. That’s where he and his grandson met the Disco Turkeys earlier in the week, he said.
The North Carolina Disco Turkeys, a team that made a memorable first appearance at the AAABA Tournament, adopted Shetler’s grandson as their batboy, he said.
“They told him they were his good luck charm,” he said.
For a few innings on Friday, his face lit up as he told stories about the Disco Turkeys and how good they were with kids such as his grandson.
The tournament overall was a monumental victory to Sam Scalia, of Windber. He and his children enjoyed many of the game through the week.
“This is, I think, the best the AAABA has looked in years,” he said.