With the world at war, life and death were very real commodities back in 1944 and we could hardly be taken to task if, forgive us, baseball was not among our priorities.

But baseball was always a priority for the late Glen L. Martin, and never more so than when he gathered representatives of amateur baseball from six eastern U.S. cities. His goal was an organization devoted entirely to amateur baseball and the product of that first meeting was the All American Amateur Baseball Association.

Martin backed his concept with his cash, financially supporting the organization in its early years and, upon his death in December 1955 provided a substantial bequest “to perpetuate" his favorite organization.

The story of how the AAABA was founded is brief but it is only half the story. How the tournament thrived and built a half-century relationship with a sports-loving city in southwestern Pennsylvania is the other story.

The birth of the AAABA tournament corresponded with the rebirth of a local organization in 1946. The match was destined to be a sport. marriage that has endured. In the mid-30s, a group of former athletes formed the Johnstown Oldtimers Baseball Association The goal was to further baseball but the Oldtimers at that point was a social group, a way for former athletes to stay in touch with each other.

In 1946 however, the AAABA had already come — and gone — as far as Johnstown was concerned. Not at all the event it is today, the tournament had moved to Washington, D.C. That year, during a reorganization meeting of the Oldtimers, an idea was proposed that would effect Johnstown every August for the next 47 years.

Walter W. Krebs, editor of The Tribune-Democrat, and George S. Cooper. sports editor of The Tribune, attended the Oldtimers’ reorganization. More than anybody, It was these two men who are responsible for the long association between the AAABA and Johnstown. Cooper made the suggestion to lure the AAABA back to Johnstown and promote it properly. His idea might well have been considered impractical and untimely by some. The city was ill-prepared for the event. Wartime restrictions still prevailed and local fields were not suitable for a 16-team baseball tournament

But Cooper’s suggestion was met warmly by the Oldtimers, Krebs offered not only to send Cooper on a mission to lure the tournament back but the newspaper editor also offered to underwrite its expenses. From that point on, the AAABA had a home in Johnstown,

Martin’s initial concept for a national amateur tournament involved two divisions of play — a junior, or limited division, for teen-agers, and an open amateur, or unlimited division. As the tournament grew in those early years. Martin’s interest in furthering amateur competition matched up much better with the younger level of play. So, since 1945, the AAABA has been a limited baseball tournament.

Under the sponsorship of the Oldtimers, the AAABA thrived in the postwar economy and each year a representative of the City of Johnstown “invited” the national tournament back to the city in August. The AAABA’s national board rubber-stamped each request and it was obvious by the mid-1950s that, barring a catastrophe, the tournament would be a fixture In Johnstown.

That catastrophe came in 1977 when Johnstown’s third major flood prevented the tournament from being played here. Although Johnstown was the official site and the Oldtimers once again the official sponsor, the actual tournament games were played in Altoona.

In 1993 the AAABA board of directors voted to make Johnstown the tournament's permanent home.

The AAABA has survived In Johnstown because of the efforts of the Oldtimers and because fan support for the tournament has turned into a local tradition.. People who never see a sandlot game all summer buy a ticket in August and trek to the Point
Stadium on opening night. They go because their parents took them. And now, they take their children.

The tournament has grown in other respects. If Walter Krebs were alive today, he might hesitate before reaching for a blank check to underwrite the AAABA, The tournament literally has grown 10 times in the energy and cost it takes to put 16 teams on the field for one week in August.

If Glen Martin is responsible for the existence of the AAABA, and if Walter Krebs and George Cooper are the reasons the tournament is in Johnstown, then it is the Oldtimers who can claim a full share of the credit for the long life of this amateur classic.

The job of the Oldtimers is to find the dollars and cents necessary to house, feed and transport players and coaches. The group must provide balls, umpires, playable fields, programs. tickets and support personnel. A long with those chores is the selection, supervision and coordination necessary to present the AAABA Ambassadors throughout tournament week. In 1950s serious planning for a typical tournament might start a month — or two before the games began. Today, the tournament requires 51 weeks of work for one week of baseball.

In 1981, the tournament became more than baseball under the guidance of Oldtimers president George Arcurio Jr. and the groups secretary Dennis Grenell, the man who began “marketing” the AAABA as an event unto itself.

Arcurio is the first local official to be elected to a post on the AAABA national committee. Grenell soon became Johnstown's version of baseball entrepreneur Bill Veeck when he brought sky-divers, hot air balloons, fireworks, Frisbee-chasing dogs and major league team mascots to the Point Stadium.

It didn't take long for local business to realize that the AAABA tournament meant a major boost in the local economy. As Johnstown’s industrial base began disappearing, events such as the AAABA took on an added importance to small and large businesses who looked forward each August to an increase in revenue. Out-of-teams bring fans and fans spend money.

The AAABA In 1994 stands as one of the community's most important events, not only from an athletic standpoint but as a economic boost, as well.

Roger Tremaine. president of the AAABA, said in 1993:

“After 36 years in amateur baseball and involvement with many different amateur baseball programs, I feel that outside of the College World Series. this is the most outstanding amateur baseball tournament I have ever seen.”

Ironically, a Johnstown entry has never won the tournament that it works so hard to produce every year. In the wake of each AAABA event, a controversy arises and then subsides over how the city chooses it's tournament entry.

So attractive did the AAABA tournament become over the years that many franchises played in leagues that existed solely for the purpose of sending a team to Johnstown in August.

Powerhouse entries emerged. Baltimore leads the list, followed by the Big Four’s other members Detroit, Washington and New Orleans. The introduction of a two-division bracket did little to give the tournament parity.

But although a local entry has never won a AAABA title, there has been a victory every year in Johnstown, where the hospitality and friendliness of local residents does more for the city's image than a shiny trophy.

As players come and go, and as arguments rage over win or lose, the Johnstown baseball fans can join the Martins, Krebs, Coopers and Oldtimers as one of the reasons that the city can claim one of sandlot baseball's finest events

Larry Hudson
Managing Editor
The Tribune-Democrat
Johnstown PA

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