The Altoona AAABA Regional will return after a two-year hiatus on Thursday.
The four-team event is both a source of pride and elevated stress levels for Altoona franchise representative John Austin, the national president of the All American Amateur Baseball Association.
“There is a lot of work, but it is an exciting experience to host regionals,” Austin said during a telephone interview as the registration process unfolded despite a lengthy delay due to one franchise’s transportation problems on Wednesday night.
“Some of the things you can’t control.
“A guy’s car engine blows up, that’s something out of your control. You’ve got to roll with the punches and make it work.
“We’ve got to have teams ready for Johnstown before (national) registration on Sunday morning.”
The Altoona Regional will open with a pair of doubleheaders at two sites. The games will begin at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Friday at the Juniata Field and Veterans Memorial Field.
Altoona Johnston Realty is the regional host and will face Maryland State Crab University at 10 a.m. on Thursday at the Juniata Field.
The Boston BASE Astros battle Buffalo Leib’s at Veterans Memorial Field in the day’s other 10 a.m. game.
Manager George Goodling’s squad won the Altoona AAABA League playoff title series against Wise Trailer Sales, the team that represented the Blair County city in the previous two AAABA Tournaments in Johnstown.
Boston will make its second trip into AAABA competition after advancing directly to Johnstown and finishing as national runner-up to the New Orleans Boosters in 2015.
Last year the Altoona Regional was canceled when Schenectady’s team disbanded due to “financial issues.”
Rather than have teams from New Jersey and New York travel five or more hours to Altoona to compete for the remaining 2015 berth in Johnstown, New York City and New Brunswick played a best-of-3 series in New Jersey. New Brunswick advanced to Johnstown.
“Actually it was two years off,” Austin said of the regional. “Two years ago was the 70th anniversary of the AAABA Tournament, and everybody went right to Johnstown.”
Franchises reporting directly to Johnstown for the 72nd annual AAABA Tournament, which begins on Aug. 1, include: Johnstown Martella’s Pharmacy; Johnstown Paul Carpenter Capital Advisors; Baltimore; Brooklyn; Chicago Metro; Cleveland; Columbus; Livonia; New Brunswick; New Orleans; New York City; Philadelphia; Youngstown; and Zanesville.
Altoona will receive an automatic berth to the national tournament as a regional host. The regional winner also advances. Should Altoona win the regional title, then the runner-up also goes to Johnstown.
Maryland State will try to earn its first trip to Johnstown since 2013.
“We’re a young group moving up. Last weekend, the team lost in the NABF 18-year-old senior national championship,” Maryland State manager Sean O’Connor said during a telephone interview. “We were up 4-0 in the seventh inning and lost the game 5-4. We were 6-1 in the tournament. We’re all rising freshmen into college except for two players.
“These are kids going into college – Wake Forest. High Point. Virginia. Maryland. Villanova. Virginia Tech,” O’Connor added.
“This is some good young talent. This is going to be a challenge playing against 22-and-under kids.”
Maryland State’s run of bad luck continued on Wednesday.
Both Austin and O’Connor said a vehicle transporting the players had engine problems en route to Altoona, delaying the team for the official registration.
The engine problems didn’t discourage O’Connor, whose team plays in the Eddie Brooks League.
“This is our first year back in the league. Charlie Blackburn asked us to represent Maryland State,” he said of the long-time franchise representative. “We’re really honored to be there. My uncle, Poochie Negri, was the first guy to be signed by Joe Branzell.”
Branzell is a AAABA Hall of Famer who managed the Washington, D.C., franchise to tournament titles and consistently brought quality teams to Johnstown from 1948 to 1962.
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @masty81.