Ross Kott planned to travel home to Johnstown this summer, perhaps in August to participate in the celebration for the 75th anniversary of the AAABA Tournament.

Instead, he came home in early June – to bury his father.

Thomas Kott, 64, died suddenly on June 1. He was a longtime union business development agent for AmeriServ Financial who also coached Kott and many of his friends in baseball.

Ross Kott, now living in New Orleans, leaned on his baseball family after getting the news about his father’s passing.

Kott and his family stayed with Chris DelSignore – the former manager of the successful Johnstown Delweld franchise – at DelSignore’s family’s Westmont residence.

Tom Walter, a Johnstown native now coaching at Wake Forest in North Carolina, immediately drove to Johnstown to be with his friend.

“Baseball is so big, but it’s really such a small, tight-knit community,” Kott said in a telephone interview from New Orleans. “I’ve been fortunate enough to make a lifetime of relationships.”

DelSignore said: “When you go through something like that, you lean on family. My family and his family have always been close.”

‘Be there for me’ 

Ross Kott grew up playing ball on fields across the Johnstown area – often coached by his dad.

He was a standout at Greater Johnstown High School and in the Johnstown Junior League – which sent its champion to the AAABA Tournament – for three storied franchises, the Knickerbockers, Coca-Cola and Sani-Dairy.

Kott and Sani-Dairy reached the finals of the 1995 national tournament. The Johnstown league championship trophy was at his parents’ home, then went to the Johnstown Flood Museum as part of a AAABA 75th anniversary display.

Kott moved south to play baseball at Delgado Community College in New Orleans for coach Joe Scheuermann, a AAABA Hall of Famer with more than 1,000 career collegiate wins.

After playing at Delgado, Kott settled in Louisiana.

He and his family visited his parents in Johnstown for Easter in April. Less than two months later, they were back – for his father’s funeral.

“I remember getting the call on June 1 – I was making my kids breakfast and my mom called me,” Ross said. “I immediately jumped on the computer and got a flight home. Then I started calling people.”

The first person he connected with was DelSignore – a longtime friend and baseball rival and teammate. Ross asked if DelSignore could meet him at the airport.

“That was a tough call to make, but I knew I could count on Chris to come out and get me and be there for me,” Kott said.

Then he reached out to Walter in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “He said, ‘When do you need me in Johnstown?’ He drove up from Wake Forest,” Kott said.

Walter, DelSignore and Kott are all in the AAABA Hall of Fame.

Kott and his wife, Lisa, have two boys – Callan, 6, and Ari, 4. DelSignore is godfather to Callan.

DelSignore has two sons – Anthony, 5, and Dominic, 3.  Anthony is Kott’s godson.

Kott and DelSignore coached together on the Delweld staff after competing against each other as players in the local league – DelSignore with East Hills Recreation. They connected on the Delweld staff under General Manager Dee Dee Osborne in 1999.

“We go back a long time, and it’s directly as a result of AAABA,” DelSignore said.

Kott said they talk two or three times a week and text almost every day.

“He’s like the brother I never had.”

DelSignore echoed that sentiment: “It’s just an example of how the AAABA and baseball bring people together. I always say my best friends in my life are the people I met through, and who are associated with, baseball. The game has enriched my life, and my friendship with Ross is one of the most important things that baseball has given me.” 

‘How to play baseball’

Thom Kott’s passing brought a reminder to Ross of his dad’s impact on the Johnstown baseball community.

Chris Pfeil, general manager of the defending AAABA champion Martella’s Pharmacy team, said he grew up in the Moxham neighborhood with Ross.

“His dad taught a lot of guys in Johnstown how to play baseball,” Pfeil said.

Kott said he heard that sentiment frequently after word got out that his dad had died.

“There were guys I haven’t heard from in years who reached out to me,” Kott said. “They said things like, ‘Your dad taught me the right way to play. Your dad was a big influence on my life when I was a kid.’ That’s special to hear.”

Kott said many of the most important lessons his father shared were not about hitting, pitching or fielding – rather about sportsmanship and professionalism.

“You respected other teams,” Kott said. “He got me in the habit of going up to the umpires after a game to say, ‘Thanks. Good game.’ He certainly was a big influence on how I played from the time I started until I quit playing.

“The first thing people told me was how respected he was. The most important thing was the respect he showed to others.”

Thom Kott mentored his son in youth levels. But the instruction didn’t stop when Ross moved up.

“From Little League to the Colt League, he coached me,” Ross said. “One good thing about my dad, when I was in the Junior League, he would sit up on the hill by the concession stand at Roxbury ... and he never yelled at me when I was on the field. He would wait until we were in the car and he would say, ‘That wasn’t the play to make there.’ Or, ‘Why did you shoot the umpire a dirty look after that call?’ “

DelSignore said he remembers Thom Kott sitting in the left-field bleachers at Point Stadium when Ross was competing.

“He was not one to say much,” DelSignore said. “He was just watching the game. But you could tell he really enjoyed watching Ross play.”

‘His proudest moment’ 

His father’s passing was the second major gut-check Ross and his family have experienced.

Callan Kott was diagnosed with leukemia just before Christmas 2015.

Kott said his son endured intense treatments right up to this past March, when doctors told the Kotts that Callan was cancer-free.

Callan Kott then rang the victory bell as he was leaving the clinic in New Orleans.

“I’m so glad my dad was able to see Callan beat that,” Ross said. “It was tough on my wife and me, because we saw it every day. 

“But for my parents, being so far away, it had to take a toll on them to know Callan was going through his treatments and not be there to see him every day.”

DelSigore said Thom Kott was “a great guy and had a dry sense of humor. But you could really see his softer side when Ross had his boys here. Thom loved those little guys.

“I know it’s bittersweet for Ross, with him being so happy seeing Callan come through three long years of treatment for leukemia, then six weeks later having another tragedy happen with losing his dad.”

Ross and Lisa emailed or texted pictures of their boys to his parents. Sandra Kott, Ross’s mother, said his father kept and cherished those photographs.

“Every picture I would send them, he would print it out at work and take it home,” Ross said. “When we were up there cleaning out some things, my mother showed me. There had to be at least five boxes of pictures of the kids.

“My sons meant everything to my dad. I was glad he got to see Callan beat cancer. My dad has seen me do things. 

“But I think his proudest moment was seeing his grandson be able to beat cancer.” 

Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat and TribDem.com, and CNHI regional editor for Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio. He can be reached at 814-532-5091. Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip.