AAABA Tournament pick-up players present managers with an opportunity to strengthen their roster.
Pitching always is a tournament commodity. Add some arms.
Someone hurt? Pick a replacement.
Need a power hitter or a line drive machine? Go get him.
But pick-ups also can create a difficult decision for the same manager who must release a player or players who were part of a championship team throughout the summer. Sometimes, tweaking a lineup or adding the “wrong” guy can disrupt the always important chemistry.
This year, neither Delweld manager Chris DelSignore nor Martella’s Pharmacy manager Chris Pfeil had to make that tough choice to let go a player to make room for a pick-up.
“The hardest thing of being a manager is sometimes you have to get down to 16 to make room for your pick-up players on a roster of 20,” said DelSignore, whose team won the AAABA League playoff title and added four. “The hardest thing for a manager in that situation is telling a couple of guys that they’re going to be inactive for the tournament after they helped you win all summer.
“Due to the injuries that we had and players we lost along the way, that’s not an issue for us. We can all just come together and bring in the pick-up players and not have anybody worry about a spot taken by somebody that was on another team. It’s just one less distraction.”
Delweld added Berkley Hills Renegades Nate Campbell and Nate Spohn, and Laurel Auto Group’s Chris Nolan and Ryan Bills.
Martella’s took only three pick-ups: Renegades Dylin Brooks, Ricky Jones and Zachary Detillio.
“The main reason we went with three guys is when we looked at our team situation, one of our pitchers, Luke Novosel, wasn’t around much of the summer because of a class he had to take to get into grad school,” Pfeil said. “His classes are over and he’s available. It’s almost like having a fouth pick-up player. We just didn’t feel that to take a player off our roster that contributed a ton during our season would be fair. We got three spots, and we think we got three really good ones.”
Adams’ (Altoona) Family: Some of the Altoona Johnston Realty players were at PNC Park on Wednesday night to watch a former teammate in action against the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates.
St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams played for Altoona during three straight AAABA Tournaments from 2006 to 2008. The Philipsburg native batted .389 in 2007.
Last week another Altoona AAABA product played against the Pirates. Cincinnati Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco played for Altoona.
“It’s good for the kids coming into Johnstown to see that,” Altoona Johnston Realty manager Mel Curtis said. “When you walk down to the Holiday Inn for registration and you see the cards of all the guys who played in the major leagues, it’s good. It’s baseball. Nothing is better.
“In addition to Adams and Mesoraco, we’ve had seven players that got drafted,” he added, “guys like Brett Weibley, Adam White. A lot of them played in the minors.”
Tournament ties: Delweld manager Chris DelSignore and 2013 AAABA Hall of Famer Ross Kott have deep baseball roots.
The two local standouts played against each other in the AAABA League during the 1990s. Kott was a two-time local MVP who was the catalyst on the Johnstown Sani-Dairy team that advanced to the championship round of the 1995 AAABA Tournament.
“Ross is my best friend. He’s like a big brother to me,” DelSignore said. “We played on opposing teams for a couple years. He single-handedly kept me out of the tournament when I was 18. We went to a Game 5 against Sani-Dairy in 1995. I was on a fourth-place East Hills TV team that knocked off (first-place) Moxham Bank in the playoffs. In Game 5, he just single-handedly beat us (in the finals). He had something like nine RBI.
“He’s coming up this weekend to get inducted into the hall of fame,” DelSignore added. “He’s staying at my house with his wife and his little baby, who is my godson. We have a very close relationship and I couldn’t be happier for him. He definitely deserves it.”
Kott was Delweld’s first manager and DelSignore was the top assistant coach. In 1999, they took Delweld to a 3-2 record in the AAABA Tournament.
Batting around: Martella’s Pharmacy manager Chris Pfeil’s two young, energetic sons serve as bat boys for the AAABA team.
If a baseball cycle continues, one day brothers Mason and Grady Pfeil might be playing in the tournament while other eager youngsters are picking up bats.
“Hopefully one day one of my players will be managing them in the AAABA Tournament,” Pfeil said. “One of the neat things is that when I played in the AAABA League, our (Martella’s) first baseman Jimmy Stenger was the bat boy on that team. The first AAABA Tournament that we made it to in 2002 as the Johnstown Grays, our (Martella’s) catcher, Pat Gully, was the bat boy on that team because he’s the nephew of (assistant coach) Paul Knupp. Sometimes it’s neat to grow up at the ballpark with the AAABA.”
Pfeil said the impact AAABA Tournament players have on the lives of young baseball players is another important intangible tied to the August tradition.
“There are times when Mason and Grady will argue over which one gets to be Jesse Cooper or Matt McMillen when they’re playing in the yard. They have great role models to look up to,” Pfeil said. “You see these kids down there during tournament week, the little guys running around looking for autographs or a bat or a ball, a hat. The tournament gives the kids hope that maybe one day it will be their chance.”
Trading places: Former Youse’s Maryland Orioles of Baltimore standout L.J. Hoes was part of major league baseball’s trade deadline agenda on Wednesday.
The Houston Astros traded right-handed pitcher Bud Norris to the Baltimore Orioles for outfielder Hoes, left-hander Josh Hader and a 2014 competitive balance round A draft pick.
Hoes was part of Youse’s 2007 AAABA Tournament championship team.
The right fielder made a great catch in a win over Johnstown’s Delweld team in the fifth round at Point Stadium. Hoes had six hits, four runs, five RBIs, five doubles and a triple during the tournament.
The next summer, he was on the Youse’s team but signed a $500,000 pro contract with the AL Orioles in 2008.
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat.
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