The All American Amateur Baseball Association Tournament will hold its 69th event this August at Point Stadium and outlying baseball fields throughout the region.
The AAABA Hall of Fame will celebrate its 20th anniversary two days prior to the first pitch.
George Arcurio Jr., the driving force in both the tournament’s longevity and the hall of fame’s creation, died on Thursday after a lengthy illness. The man better known as “Junior” was 83.
“We lost a good man. I think he was the tournament to be quite honest with you,” said former New Orleans franchise manager Joe Scheuermann, whose family has made the trek to Johnstown each August since the 1950s.
“Without his influence and his political influence, the tournament probably would be gone. He saved the national organization on numerous occasions. He saved the Johnstown Oldtimers on numerous occasions. He was the lifeline to the AAABA, no doubt.”
Arcurio was president of the Johnstown Oldtimers for 28 years through 2008. He served as president of the national AAABA Board in 1994 and 1995.
Under his leadership, Johnstown was established as the permanent home of the AAABA Tournament in 1993.
The tournament has been held in Johnstown all but two years since 1945. But for decades, the city annually had to put in a bid to host the August event.
“Instead of us going every year to the national convention and putting in a bid to ask the AAABA to bring the tournament to Johnstown, Junior got the tournament to permanently name Johnstown as the host city,” George Arcurio III said of his father. “He was very proud of that fact and that the tournament was promoting the city of Johnstown and all of Cambria County.”
At about the same time, Arcurio Jr. saw another one of his longtime dreams reach fruition with the creation of the AAABA Hall of Fame. He was a member of the inaugural class.
Eventually, the hall of fame found a home inside a brick building behind the right field wall at the Point.
Annually, hundreds of baseball fans pack the Pasquerilla Conference Center to honor the inductees and listen to featured speakers such as Steve Blass, Al Oliver, Kent Tekulve, Grant Jackson, Vernon Law, Dick Groat, Manny Sanguillen, Bob Robertson and Elroy Face, among others. This year former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Bill Virdon is the speaker.
“He wanted the hall of fame to be something special,” Arcurio III said. “It started very small. For the past 20 years it’s grown into an event where we have 500 people a year and we bring big-name Major League Baseball players in as speakers.
“The hall of fame was his goal and he accomplished that with the help of many city leaders. It’s something the people look forward to seeing every year at the annual AAABA Tournament.”
In 1981, Arcurio Jr. became president of the Johnstown Oldtimers and teamed with longtime treasurer Dennis Grenell to lead the event through some of its “glory days.”
One newspaper editor once called Grenell the Bill Veeck of Johnstown, referring to the former Chicago White Sox owner known for colorful promotions.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the San Diego Chicken, Golden Knights U.S. Army Parachute Team and the Pirates Parrot were among the attractions at Point Stadium. Opening night fireworks displays lit up the sky.
The tournament needed the local business community to survive, and the Oldtimers worked hard at raising money.
“Junior had a good mix of business and friendship,” Scheuermann said. “He knew when to be your friend. He knew when he had to be tough. He had a nice way of saying no. Even when he told you no, you felt like he was in your corner.
“We had some disagreements,” said Scheuermann, who like Arcurio is a AAABA Hall of Famer. “His philosophical beliefs and my philosophical beliefs didn’t always match. We had a way of working it out. Sometimes he changed my mind and sometimes I changed his. He knew what was right for everybody.”
Tekulve was a featured speaker during the 2009 AAABA Hall of Fame banquet. He also participated in a ceremony in which a plaque honoring Arcurio Jr. was held at Point Stadium.
Even while contending with poor health, Junior made an impression.
“What I remember about George is the reasons why that plaque was put up,” said Tekulve, a Pirates TV analyst and former star relief pitcher with the Bucs. “For so many years, he put so much dedication into the AAABA program and baseball in general in the Johnstown area.
“For somebody that has spent their whole life reaping the benefits of the game of baseball, you have to appreciate the people like George, not getting paid and doing it for the love of baseball.
“I don’t know if you even can count over the years how many kids George allowed to play the game of baseball.”
“He did a lot for a lot of kids,” added former Baltimore manager Dean Albany. “It’s really something what Junior accomplished.”
Johnstown High baseball coach Dee Dee Osborne managed in four AAABA Tournaments in the 1980s and 1990s.
“I once said Junior was the past, the present and future of the AAABA,” Osborne said. “He was responsible for people from all the teams in our tournament and gave them a chance to make it to the big leagues. A lot of kids owe their future in baseball to him.”
“Junior was like a father to me, and I owe him a lot,” he added. “He’ll still be the future no matter what. Junior was the man. Nobody can replace him. I lost a great friend but more so somebody who I thought of as family.”
Bob Wolfe serves on the national committee and is a veteran AAABA Tournament chairman who worked closely with Arcurio Jr. for many years.
“We’ve already started to see how much we’re missing him because the last couple years his health kept him inactive,” Wolfe said. “Last year when I leaned over to talk to him, he just smiled and was so happy to be there on the field. That’s the bond that we had.
“If I’d get out of line, he’d straighten me out,” Wolfe said. “But that was George. He would straighten anybody out. The AAABA has lost a great person. To say that he can be replaced, I don’t think so. George III has really followed in his footsteps very well. George Junior was special.”
Last year Arcurio Jr. was recognized during the pregame ceremony on opening night. He was near home plate in his wheelchair with son George III by his side and members of the national committee and Oldtimers nearby.
Junior was right at home.
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