'Connected to the game': AAABA Tournament a family affair for veteran scorekeeper

·4 min read

Aug. 5—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Passed down from his father, who got it from his own father, the love of baseball is in Ken Custer's blood.

Every year, he takes that fascination with the nation's pastime and uses it to work as an official scorekeeper for the annual All American Amateur Baseball Association Tournament.

"This is just a great way to stay connected to the game," he said.

For the past 41 years, Custer has sat for a week at the Roxbury Park diamond and kept tallies of the games.

And his love of the tournament has been passed down to the next generation. Custer's daughter Hannah is a former AAABA ambassador. Her sisters, 20-year-olds Naomi and Lydia, are serving as ambassadors this year.

Custer first took on his scorekeeping duties at age 15, when he was given the responsibility of keeping score at Point Stadium in downtown Johnstown, now Sargent's Stadium at the Point.

The 1983 Greater Johnstown graduate has also kept the book at the Franklin ballfield, the former Johnstown Vo-Tech, Seward and many other locations during the past decades of the tournament.

"I've been all over," Custer said.

His job consists of arriving to the field at least an hour before each game, setting up his station and getting the lineups from the teams' managers or the umpires.

For years, the 57-year-old has kept track of the games on a traditional score sheet, but a few years ago he switched to using the GameChanger app on an iPad, which allows him to record the contests electronically and makes the job a little easier.

Prior to implementation of the electronic system, Custer said it would take him at least 15 minutes after each game to tabulate the statistics. The app does that for him, updating continually as he logs information during play.

'When we won ...'

The Johnstown native said he has seen history unfold before his eyes within the press box, from witnessing future major leaguers play to unforgettable wins and losses.

Custer recalled watching future professional baseball pitcher Jim Abbott throw in a home opener, the demolition of the original Point Stadium and the construction of the new facility, the switch to aluminum bats and the return to wood, and in 2018 — after 74 years — a Johnstown team, Martella's Pharmacy, winning it all.

The Martella's victory is his favorite memory of the past 41 years, and he still has the score sheet.

"When we won, I was there at the Point Stadium box," Custer said. "We're just looking out and we couldn't believe it."

Custer now lives in Coal Center, Washington County, with his wife and three daughters. He's a pastor at Grace United Methodist Church.

His work took him away from Johnstown almost 30 years ago, but every year he takes a week off for the tournament and returns home to do his duty for the community.

What's kept him coming back has been the love of the game, Custer said — watching a team of individuals work together and have fun.

He's been involved with baseball in some form or another since he was a child.

Custer's father, Alvin, played in the 1957 AAABA tournament and coached his sons' Little League team at St. Therese's Church in the West End. Then, Alvin Custer coached the Richland Mall tournament team for a few years and made Ken Custer the batboy.

That was followed by time spent as the ballboy at the old Point, collecting fouls that rolled up the fence behind home plate before the next pitch.

It was former tournament head scorekeeper Terry Slick who offered Custer the tallying job when he was a teenager, and he eagerly took it.

He said he still remembers the first year he stepped into the Point Stadium press box, which he recalled being level with the field behind home, and former Tribune-Democrat sports reporter John James welcoming him graciously.

In the past four decades, his family has been supportive of his love of the game, and Custer has passed that on to his three daughters. Not only did he bring them to the games all week since they were born, but also each of them have proudly played softball and served as tournament ambassadors.

Seeing their father in his element means a lot to them, and they're impressed by his dedication to the AAABA.

"Baseball is his calming thing," Naomi Custer said.

The twins decided to become ambassadors this year because they realized how important the AAABA is for their family.

"Seeing his reaction opening night made it all worth it," Lydia Custer said.

Her sister added that she's wanted to be a AAABA ambassador since she was a child.

"I honestly can't help but smile while I'm dancing on the dugout because I've wanted to do that for so long," Naomi Custer said.

Returning to Johnstown each year is just as enjoyable for them as it is for their father.

Looking forward, Ken Custer said that as long as he can, he's going to keep attending the annual baseball outings and keeping score. After that, he'll still come to town to "hang out and enjoy a ball game."