'Love of the game': Longtime player, retired coach recounts decades of baseball memories

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Aug. 6—JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — It's been quite a few years since Alvin Custer Jr. stood at the plate for an at-bat or coached a team, but the local man still regularly watches the Pittsburgh Pirates on TV and listens to the All American Amateur Baseball Association Tournament on the radio each year.

He credits his father, Alvin Custer Sr., for passing on to him the interest in sports.

"He put the love of the game in me," Custer said.

Now 83, the Lower Yoder Township resident started playing ball at 8 years old and was coached by his father.

He made his way through the system from his early years in Little League to his final games at the senior league level, and played in the 1957 AAABA tournament for Westmont AC as part of an all left-handed outfield.

"He's been a baseball man all his life," Custer's wife, Donna, said.

The pair have been married for 58 years. When they were in school at Greater Johnstown, she used to go watch her future husband play.

Donna Custer, 82, said when growing up she wasn't interested in baseball and neither was anyone in her family. That changed when she met Alvin.

"I started going to all of his games," Donna Custer said.

She recalled going to the former Joseph Johns field to see her husband play.

At first, Donna Custer was bored by the sport, but she said that was because she didn't know how to watch it. After she learned the ins and outs of baseball, it become much more interesting.

She also remembered hopping a bus from Oakhurst, where she grew up, and riding to Point Stadium, now Sargent's Stadium at the Point, to watch her high school sweetheart compete in the AAABA Tournament.

Alvin Custer's natural position was left field, but he said he played a lot of first base in his career, too.

Batting was his favorite part of the sport, though. The Prospect native said he loved the process of learning to see the different pitches and figuring out when to swing.

His performance got him a tryout for the Detroit Tigers after the '57 tournament. Custer said late baseball coach Kenneth Keiper made the appearance happen for him.

"I learned more about baseball when I was down there for a couple months than I had learned playing ball," Custer said. "They knew their stuff."

But his major league dreams weren't meant to be. Custer said with a laugh that he just wasn't good enough.

That didn't tarnish his love for baseball. He kept playing and soon after competed on a fast-pitch softball team for Leon's Bar, in McKeesport, that took him to Ohio, Florida and elsewhere to play.

Donna Custer said she often took their eldest son, Ken, born in 1966, to her husband's games.

Like many players, Alvin Custer eventually moved into a coaching role. That was around 1973. He said he did that because of his passion for baseball and because it was a way to stay involved with the game.

At that time, he began leading sons Ken and Kevin's Little League team for St. Therese's Church in the West End — eventually to a championship in 1976.

Later he would head the Richland Mall ballplayers in the AAABA tournament for a few years and passed on his love for the sport to his children — giving his eldest the opportunity to be a batboy and ballboy that spawned a 41-year career for Ken Custer as an official scorekeeper for AAABA.

That appreciation for the nation's pastime was passed from Alvin Custer's children to his granddaughters — Ken's children — all three of whom played softball and served as AAABA ambassadors.

Donna Custer said they are a baseball-centered family and added that she and her husband are extremely proud of their children's and grandchildren's interest and accomplishments in the sport.

Her husband agreed.

Alvin Custer said he couldn't quite put into words why he loves baseball, but he thought it was wonderful that he was able to pass it on to his family.