Maryland State Crabfest manager Sean O’Connor was very aware of the history of the AAABA long before the tournament reached its 75th anniversary.
His uncle, Lou “Poochie” Negri, was the first player signed by legendary Washington, D.C., manager Joe Branzell – a AAABA Hall of Famer who managed in the tournament from 1948 to 1962, winning four championships.
In 1985, Negri was inducted into the Greater Washington Fastpitch Softball Hall of Fame.
Another relative, Frank Campana, pitched for Washington in the 1958 AAABA tournament. Campana worked 17 innings with a 1-1 record and 3.11 ERA. That same year, Brooklyn’s Joe Torre, the former big-league player and manager, was the batting champion of the tournament – 11 for 17 (.647) with seven RBIs.
Campana helped Washington reach the 1958 final and eliminate the Johnstown Lower Cambria Local 2644 team in the process. Washington’s Federal Storage took down Johnstown, 8-4. In addition to his mound work in the tournament, Campana was 1-for-1 with an RBI at the plate against Johnstown. Washington lost the championship game to Milford, 5-1.
After a win Monday at Fichtner Field, O’Connor noted that Maryland State franchises have been competing in the AAABA Tournament for at least 55 years – without ever winning the title.
Maryland State’s best-known tournament alum is Al Kaline, who played in the AAABA in 1952 on the way to a Hall of Fame career with the Detroit Tigers.
“In my opinion, this is the best tournament in the country,” O’Connor said. “Even last year, when we went 0-3, it was a fantastic experience for the kids.
“We’ve never won it. Second was the best finish we’ve had. We made it to the quarterfinals two years ago and lost to Martella’s at the stadium.”
Checking in: Brooklyn-1 SAYO Grays manager Darrel Tiebout said the first thing he planned to do after his Monday game against Maryland State was to contact former player Shawon Dunston and tell him that it’s AAABA week in Johnstown.
Dunston was part of the 1981 Brooklyn franchise that went 2-2 in the tournament.
He went on to an 18-year professional career, mostly as a strong-armed shortstop with the Chicago Cubs. Dunston had a .269 career batting average with 150 home runs.
Dunston’s best season was in 1995, when he batted .296 with 14 homers and 69 RBIs with the Cubs. Dunston also played with the Pirates, Indians, Mets, Cardinals and Giants.
“He remembers his time here fondly,” Tiebout said. “I’m going to text him and tell him I’m in Johnstown for the AAABA and just talked to a reporter.”
Tiebout said he hopes Dunston, now a special assistant with San Francisco, gets consideration some day for the AAABA Hall of Fame.