Michael Ryan still remembers a towering home run he smacked over the center field wall at Point Stadium more than 20 years ago.
In fact, had it existed back then, Ryan might have won the Point Stadium Play of the Year Award for that game-winning shot that caromed off Johns Street and onto the porch at the former Jerry’s Lounge during a AAABA League game involving his Moxham Bank team.
“My first year down there I hit a very long home run to center field that actually ended up walking off (the game-winning run),” said Ryan, the Altoona Curve manager and former major league player. “I was told it one-hopped to the bar across the street. It went through the tree behind center field. It was one of the better balls I’ve hit in my life.”
Ryan will return on Saturday as the featured speaker during the annual Point Stadium Award banquet at the Pasquerilla Conference Center, a few blocks away from where that home run ball landed in 1995.
The 6 p.m. banquet will honor nine monthly nominees for the overall Point Stadium Award/scholarship as well as nine individuals nominated for the Point Stadium Play of the Year.
“Once you hear about the Point Stadium Award you go back to memories and things that happened in your career in that place, in that league and in Johnstown,” said Ryan, who led the Curve to its second straight division title in the Eastern League in 2018.
In his first season with Altoona in 2017, Ryan led the Curve to the Class AA Eastern League championship.
In 2016, the Indiana County native’s Bradenton Marauders won the championship in the advanced Class A Florida State League. Ryan is a proven winner as a manager in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league organization.
“We’ve built a pretty good thing in Altoona,” said Ryan, 41, a former Minnesota Twins outfielder. “We’ve put a great product on the field the last two years. I’ve become close with the front office. I’ve given my heart and soul to that organization. It’s close to my heart and close to home.”
The Curve has served as a solid foundation for managers who eventually moved on to coach at the big league level – Joey Cora, Tom Prince, Dale Sveum, Tim Leiper and former Curve pitching coach Ray Searage.
“Just like when you’re a player, the ultimate goal is to reach the major leagues,” Ryan said.
“Though I’ve learned you have to just try to be where your feet are. The main goal for me is to get our players to the big leagues. The more players we get up there and hopefully help the Pirates win the World Series, the better.”
Ryan said his former AAABA League manager Dee Dee Osborne will be among the topics during the Point Stadium Award banquet.
Ryan was named the Johnstown league’s top rookie position player while starring on Osborne’s regular-season champion Moxham Bank team in 1995. The next year, Ryan was tearing up the local league with Osborne’s Principle Development team when the Minnesota Twins drafted him in the fifth round, and he signed a pro contract.
“I wouldn’t be where I’m at without Dee Dee,” Ryan said.
“He’s the reason why I came to Johnstown. Without Dee Dee, those memories wouldn’t have happened and I wouldn’t have had this opportunity to speak at this great event.”
Ironically, Ryan never had a chance to play in the annual AAABA Tournament.
The former Sani-Dairy franchise won the playoff championship and represented the city in the 1995 tournament. Even though Ryan was among the league’s most dangerous hitters and won the top rookie award, he was not selected as one of Johnstown’s four pick-up players in the tournament.
Sani-Dairy eventually advanced to the championship round, but finished runner-up to perennial power New Orleans.
Ryan said the snub motivated him during a career that included parts of five years in the majors and 15 professional seasons as a player.
“There was a defining moment that happened in that league that pushed me and made me have a tremendous effort and drive,” Ryan said.
“We had a great rivalry with Sani-Dairy when I was with Moxham Bank. Back and forth games. Bad blood. There even was a nasty brawl at the field in Revloc. Sani-Dairy ended up winning the league. That was a time when you could pick up players from teams that didn’t make it.”
Ryan never received a call.
“A coach was quoted as saying Michael Ryan couldn’t hit college pitching,” Ryan said. “I didn’t have to hit college pitching. I went straight to hitting professional pitching.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @masty81.