The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 24, 2013

MIKE MASTOVICH| Rule waiver soothes concerns

Mike Mastovich

JOHNSTOWN — Dean Albany felt a sense of baseball relief late Wednesday night.

For days, even weeks, the Youse’s Maryland Orioles of Baltimore GM had pondered the possibility of life without the the AAABA Tournament this summer and perhaps beyond.

The uncertainty lifted when Albany received a phone call from AAABA national secretary/Executive Director Bob Wolfe of Zanesville.

Wolfe informed Albany that a new AAABA rule would be waived until 2014, thus allowing Youse’s to bring its regular roster to Johnstown when the 69th AAABA Tournament begins on Aug. 5. Baltimore has won a tournament-record 28 championships and 263 AAABA Tournament games.

“It’s open this year. Next year it will be limited. At least we will know,” said Albany. “We love this tournament. All we talk about all year with our players is Johnstown. We tell them Joe Torre played there. Buck Showalter played there. They want to go to Johnstown.”

The trip was in jeopardy because of a rule change passed during the AAABA national meeting in March.

The rule stated that AAABA team rosters must include a minimum of 10 players from the franchise’s home state.

While the rule has a direct effect on franchises such as Baltimore and Philadelphia that recruit a number of out-of-state players, Albany was more concerned by the fact that the rule took effect immediately. Most AAABA teams are assembled during the fall and winter. At the time of the rule change, Baltimore’s roster was almost entirely set, Albany said.

Albany said manager Tim Norris was faced with the possibility of having to release players who had spent the entire summer with Youse’s Maryland Orioles to comply with the rule.

Furthermore, Albany said if the Orioles couldn’t find enough Maryland players to replace those out-of-state players, Baltimore would either have to drop out of the AAABA Tournament on short notice this year, or come to Johnstown with fewer and younger players.

“We don’t want to cut players and replace them with Maryland players,” Albany said. “We’d have to send kids home who have been with us all summer.”

Wolfe had explored various possibilities in the past few weeks, calling on the executive committee and rules committee for input. “I notified the Baltimore franchise that the rule had been waived and would become effective in 2014,” Wolfe said.

The waiver came too late for Philadelphia manager Mike Gossner, whose team’s homefield actually is in New Jersey and many of his players are from the Garden State.

Gossner submitted his roster for the Altoona Regional on July 20. He released a group of Division I players and will arrive in Altoona today with 15 players – only five in college.

That’s ironic considering this is the first year the age limit has been pushed to 21 in order to align the AAABA with college age leagues.

“I can’t change at this point,” Gossner said Wednesday night. 

“I had a guy from Rider University, two from Seton Hall, one from William & Mary and a  JUCO player who was drafted. That core, they were pitching guys. They were arms. But it’s fine. It’s OK. It is what it is.”

It just doesn’t seem logical though. Don’t we want to see the best players in what’s billed as a national tournament?

Instead, some of them are being sent home.

Multiple people involved with the tournament, both as managers or committee members, said the rule change will help teams that have struggled.

The AAABA Tournament also should be about putting an elite product on the field, something that made the event a haven for major league scouts from the 1950s into the 1990s as future major leaguers such as Al Kaline, Joe Torre, Ron Swoboda, Pete Vuckovich, Gene Pentz, Bob Welch, Orel Hershiser, Chris Sabo and Jim Abbott roamed the Point.

Managers Chris Pfeil and Chris DelSignore, who have busted their tails to build very competitive Johnstown franchises, have told me if they’re going to win a title in their hometown tournament, they want to do so against the best.

Detroit and Washington already are gone, cutting the Big 4 in half. Here’s hoping Baltimore and Philadelphia keep coming back – with Division I caliber players on their rosters.

“I’m going to do my best to keep coming back,” said Albany, a AAABA Hall of Famer. “The City of Johnstown does a great job with that tournament. That whole community embraces the tournament. I love that tournament.”

The rule almost certainly will be discussed during next March’s national meeting.

“It’s one of the things that’s been talked about for a long time,” Wolfe said. “There have been all kinds of different rule proposals over the years that suggest you limit the territory that a team has to select their players from.

“Some teams it will affect because they go out and recruit a lot more than other teams. A team like Zanesville, we never have recruited players from outside the state of Ohio and I don’t think we ever would. We’re a small area and we want to see local players play on the Junior Pioneers and come and play in a great tournament in Johnstown, Pa.”

Gossner has the odds stacked against him in Altoona, but he’s not complaining.

“We made a decision and we’re living with it,” Gossner said. “I’m a huge fan of the AAABA Tournament.”

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Altoona Regional set: The Altoona Regional will consist of five teams and begin Friday at Veterans Field and the Juniata Complex.

The additional team in Altoona is a result of the elimination of the Zaneville (Ohio) Regional this year.

Altoona Johnston Realty will host the regional. Other teams are the Youngstown Ohio Glaciers, Columbus Braves, New York Long Island White Sox, and Philadelphia Bandits.