Former Sani-Dairy manager Scott Close recalled the intangibles that made Ross Kott such an effective leader.
“He’s one of those special ballplayers that has something that you can’t coach,” said Close, whose 1995 Sani-Dairy team led by two-time MVP Kott advanced to the AAABA Tournament championship round. “It rubbed off on all the players around him.”
Former New Orleans manager Joe Scheuermann coached Kott and coached against him. Scheuermann remembered Kott’s fierce loyalty to his hometown.
“The thing that impressed me the most about the kid is he had a chance to stay and play for us one summer, but he said he wanted to go back home and play for his hometown,” Scheuermann said, referring to New Orleans’ AAABA Tournament-winning 1995 team. “We won the championship that year and he would have fit in, but he felt it was important to play for his hometown.”
Kott, who now resides in New Orleans, will return home next month as part of the AAABA Hall of Fame.
Joining Kott in the Class of 2013 during the Aug. 3 banquet at the Pasquerilla Conference Center are: Johnstown’s Joe Scaletta, who has been part of the AAABA Tournament since 1978 and the local chairman of the annual event since 2000; Chicago Metro’s Len DiForte, a past AAABA national president and veteran national committee member; and South Amboy twins Ed and John O’Brien, who each were part of the 1948 South Amboy AAABA Tournament team prior to careers that took them to the major leagues as players with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1950s.
Bill Virdon, who played on the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates World Series-winning club and later managed the Bucs, will be the featured speaker during the banquet.
“When I got the call, it was kind of surreal because of the people and players from Johnstown who have gone into the Hall of Fame like Gene Pentz, Pete Vuckovich, Tom Walter and Dee Dee Osborne,” Kott said during a Friday telephone interview from New Orleans. “I’ve had the opportunity to sit and listen to these guys tell stories of their past and a lot of them say their biggest accomplishment and proudest moment was to go into the Hall of Fame. I’m proud to be included in that group of people.”
A Greater Johnstown High School graduate, Kott played in three AAABA Tournaments, batting a combined .320. He was a two-time Johnstown AAABA League Most Valuable Player (1994, 1995).
Kott hit .409 on the 1995 national runner-up Sani-Dairy squad. He also played in the 1992 (Knickerbockers) and 1993 (Coke) tournaments.
“The 1995 team had to be the most fun I’ve ever had with a group of guys,” Kott said. “With Scott Close as manager and the coaching staff with Ralph Cecere, Dick Krumenacker and Bob Hay, that was as close as you could get to a family atmosphere.
“To be on the first team since Hahn Packing in 1956 to make it to the championship round, that was special.”
In 1995, Kott had a .436 batting average with 16 homers and 47 RBI during the local regular season and followed up with a .500 average during the AAABA League playoffs. He ignited a postseason comeback that enabled Sani-Dairy to make tournament history.
“We were down 2-games-to-1 to East Hills TV in the city playoffs,” Close said. “Ross took it upon himself and had a monster performance the last two games of the series. He put the team on his back and got us to the tournament.
“He’s one of those guys who has that extra leadership quality and could shine in those key pressure point moments.”
Kott’s ties to Scheuermann resulted from a tournament snub. He wasn’t a pick-up player in 1994 despite being the local league’s MVP.
“We got to Johnstown early and were looking for (practice) games,” Scheuermann said of the 1994 tournament. “I called Dee Dee Osborne and asked about playing a team in Johnstown. Dee Dee made up a team of basically all-stars who didn’t make it to the tournament for Johnstown that year. Ross was one of those players. That’s how he ended up in New Orleans.”
Kott played for Scheuermann at Delgado Community College, earning NJCAA Region XXIII and Mississippi-Louisiana Conference honors. He was eligible to join New Orleans’ 1995 AAABA roster, but decided to return to Johnstown to finish his amateur career.
Later, Kott played on the independent Frontier League Johnstown Steal minor league team in 1997.
He managed the first Delweld AAABA teams (1999-2001) and had a 3-2 AAABA Tournament record in 1999.
Kott also assisted Scheuermann at Delgado (2001-04) and with New Orleans in the AAABA Tournament (2001-04). Kott joined another Johnstown High graduate, Tom Walter, at the University of New Orleans. Walter managed and Kott was an assistant coach on the NCAA Division I squad (2004-06).
“I played for Dee Dee and coached for Dee Dee at Johnstown High School,” said Kott, a former Trojans assistant coach. “I coached with Tom Walter. I played and coached for coach Joe (Scheuermann). And I’m going to be in the Hall of Fame with all of them. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal.”
The rest of the Class of 2013:
n Joe Scaletta, Johnstown. The 1957 Johnstown High graduate had a lengthy career in the City of Johnstown Fire Department. Scaletta began working with the AAABA Tournament 35 years ago and has held numerous jobs such as field worker, ticket sales and field-crew organizer, as well as securing major sponsors for the tournament.
Scaletta has performed tasks ranging from assigning National Anthem singers and ball boys to his role as local chairman of the national AAABA Tournament for the past 13 years. As tournament chairman, he is responsible for many of the day-to-day operations of an event that brings thousands of visitors to downtown Johnstown and the surrounding communities.
Over the past decade, Scaletta helped the Johnstown Oldtimers raise more than $200,000 in sponsorship, Oldtimers President George Arcurio III said.
n Len DiForte, Chicago Metro. A former national AAABA president who served in 2008 and 2009, DiForte spent his adult life coaching, managing and promoting amateur baseball. In addition to his work with the AAABA, DiForte is a past president and founder of the Metropolitan Collegiate Summer Baseball League of Illinois.
In the past four decades, DiForte has been involved as an organizer and officer in Pony Baseball Inc.; Collegiate Summer Baseball Association; Continental Amateur Baseball Association; American Classic Baseball League; Glen Ellyn Boys Baseball; and Western DuPage Colt League.
n John O’Brien and Ed O’Brien, South Amboy, N.J. The O’Brien twins played on the South Amboy AAU championship teams in 1948, 1949 and 1950. The 1948 team advanced to the AAABA Tournament and went 3-2 in Johnstown. Ed O’Brien had a .524 batting average, second in the tournament, and smacked two homers. Jim O’Brien batted .267.
The brothers each attended Seattle University, where they were basketball and baseball standouts in the early 1950s.
The Pittsburgh Pirates signed the O’Briens in 1953. Ed played for the Pirates from 1953 to 1958 with a break to serve in the U.S. Army. John played for the Bucs for 6 ½ years and had a .250 average.
Ed and John were the first twins to play on a major league team and the only twins to each get a pitching win.
Ed coached baseball and won 300 games at Seattle University and was athletic director for 22 years. John is a member of the Seattle University Hall of Fame for baseball and basketball and had his number retired. He worked at Seattle Kingdome for 18 years.