Herb Alban, one of Ashland’s celebrated centenarians and a dedicated fan of Ashland Tomcat sports for seven decades, died on Friday at his home.
He was 102 years old and lived a rich life with family and friends.
Alban moved to Ashland in 1954 at the age of 36 and immediately fell in love with Tomcat sports. He was married to wife Alene for more than 75 years and they had two sons, John and Dave, and a daughter, Ann. His wife and daughter preceded him in death.
He lived on Joel Street, in the shadows of Putnam Stadium, most of his life and loved watching Tomcat football. No doubt this year’s undefeated state champions would have been one of his all-time favorites. But he was around to watch the undefeated team in 1958, and the state finalists and championship years in 1967, 1972, 1975 and 1990.
His son Dave played on the 1962 (8-1-1) and 1963 (8-2-1) Tomcat teams.
Even though he never donned the maroon and white as a player, Alban was highly thought of in Tomcat circles, enough so that he was given the Distinguished Tomcat Award, reserved for those who made big impacts on the sports program, at the 2014 Ashland Invitational Tournament.
So how big a fan was Herb Alban?
He once drove from Chicago to Louisville because the Tomcats were playing for a state football championship against Elizabethtown. That was in ’67 when Ashland defeated Elizabethtown 19-14 for the state title.
He watched with wonder the 1961 Ashland Tomcats dazzling state championship team, but never wondered if it was the greatest basketball team he ever witnessed.
That designation belonged to the Waterloo Wonders. He was 17 at the time when the Wonders won their second consecutive Ohio state title in the Class B division. “They could have won any division. I saw them play several times. Best I ever saw. I watched the 1961 Tomcats and they were good, real good. But I don’t know anybody who could give them (Waterloo) a game. They were that good.”
The last Tomcat games he watched was in 2018 when longtime neighbor and family friend Barry Newsome took him to Putnam Stadium like he had for years. When Barry moved into the neighborhood on Ranch Road, where Alban lived, the first people to come over and greet Barry and his family were Herb and Alene. They became extremely good friends over the years.
As a young man, Alban was a three-sport athlete at Columbus West High School, competing in football, baseball and wrestling. He called himself “an average quarterback on an average team” in football.
There was nothing average about his high school baseball team where he played catcher and there was nothing average about his abilities behind the plate either as he eventually broke into the professional ranks.
Columbus West reached the Ohio state championship game in baseball his senior year and lost in an excruciating way.
“I was at-bat, the score was tied, and they picked our shortstop off third base. Then I got a hit. The game would have been over. We’d have won.”
Instead, Cincinnati Withrow scored a run in the next inning to end the 1936 state championship game.
But that wasn’t the end of Alban’s baseball career. He went on to play in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, reaching high A ball. His roommate one year was Walter Alston, who went on to become the great Los Angeles Dodger manager.
“You talk about a nice guy, that was him,” Alban said. “We called him ‘Smoke.’ Our manager was new and he didn’t know any of us so he roomed us alphabetically.”
It was during that season that Alston was promoted to player-manager of that same team.
“Then he got a room by himself,” Alban said.
However, when World War II started, Alban joined the Navy and served in the Pacific for 33 months from 1942 to 1945 when the war was waging. He said he was glad to return home alive.
While in Ashland, Alban’s baseball skills paid off when he was a member of the Ben Williamson fast-pitch state champions for two years in the early 1960s. He was a 40-something third baseman.
“My knees were shot from all those years of playing catcher,” he said.
He recalled one season when Ben Williamson lost the opening game of the double-elimination state tournament, but came back to win the championship. It didn’t hurt having pitchers Bill Selbee and Ed Ratliff.
Alban came to Ashland in 1954 to work for the C&O Railroad, but spent most of his career at GATX, a tank car company. He left Ashland for a brief time, living in Chicago and in Pennsylvania, but eventually settled down here.
Son Dave played football and ran track for the Tomcats while John was a standout basketball player in the Chicago and Pennsylvania areas. He broke the school scoring record at his high school in Pennsylvania. “He was a shooting fool,” his father said.
Alban, who was born in 1918, had a sharp mind all his life. His stories were delightful and his attitude was that of a much, much younger man. He actively served on the Elks Sports Day Committee and sat at the welcome table at the event for years and years. Mayor Steve Gilmore presented him with a key to the city in 2017.