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Rye Sports History: Ralph Branca on Opening Day for Little League in 1959

Little League Opening Day 1959- Ralph Branca  Walter Signer

(PHOTO: Ralph Branca on Opening Day for Little League in 1959. Special guests included MLB  Commissioner Ford Frick, Brooklyn Dodger Ralph Branca, and Rye resident Wally Signer (who pitched for the Chicago Cubs in the 1940s). Mayor Robert P. Hughes threw the opening pitch in the first game.)

***Be sure to catch tonight's program on Rye Sports History and don't forget to Rye Little League Parade this Saturday starting at 11:30am by the Rye train station.**

Little League in Rye started in 1957, though baseball had been played since the early 1900’s.  By 1959, all the various leagues were united under the official Little League charter and a great Rye tradition was started.

As part of this tradition, an old-fashioned “Opening Day” Parade is held every year (since the first one in 1958). The various teams march proudly through downtown Rye in their uniforms to Disbrow Park where the Little League games are usually played. The players and their families are treated to hot dogs and drinks.

From the beginning, Rye was producing All-Star tournament teams. The 1960 All-Star team included Dino Garr, better known for his football coaching prowess. Former Rye players have gone on to play on the United States National Team and been drafted in to the Major Leagues.

In 1975, one of the original teams, the Pioneers went 14-0 to become only the second team in Rye Little League history to go undefeated. Of course, they were helped by having Rich and BJ Surhoff on their team. Rich Surhoff went on to pitch for the Texas Rangers and the Philadelphia Phillies. BJ Surhoff went onto play at University of North Carolina and the 1984 US Olympic team which won the Gold Medal. In 1985, he was the #1 overall draft pick for Major League Baseball when he was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers. He went on to play for the Baltimore Orioles and played in the 1999 Baseball All-Star Game.

More recently, Eric Junge pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies and Sean McNally played for the Cleveland Indians organization, and is currently the coach of Duke University Baseball, where he played and was an Academic All-American.


  1. Almost always you hear stories of locals who went on to become sports professionals and how they give back to their communities and never forgot where they came from.

    Why don’t you do a story on what these local Rye heros did to give back and what they did for all the Rye kids?

    BTW – Rich Surhoff was a career Minor Leaguer, B.J. also played for the Atlanta Braves.

    Do you know how many L.L.Parades B.J. or Rich marched in as “professionals”?

  2. To Mudville Nine,

    I believe the jersey reads “Bullets” which was one of the original Rye Little League Teams.

    Come visit the exhibit at the Square House and look at what else we have.

  3. To Above Avg. Citizen,

    The Rye Historical Society Exhibit on “The History of Sports in Rye” will run until September 30. We will continue to roll out stories of sports in Rye. Come visit the exhibit (in the Square House) and help fill in the blanks in our story.

  4. Sheri,

    My deepest apologies if you are in any way offended by my comments, not meant towards you.

    My comments were a direct knock on how these athletes have never given back!!

    I will stop by to see your display.

  5. To Above Avg. Citizen,

    I wasn’t offended but thank you for your thoughtfulness. I am hoping you will get a chance to stop by our exhibit because one of the questions we pose (and try to answer) is “what is it about Rye (a rather small city without a large pool of potential athletes)that has produced so many strong teams and stellar individual athletes?”

    I’ll be interested to get some feedback on this question. I don’t presume to have the answers, but I find it fascinating.

  6. @Sheri Jordan

    “what is it about Rye (a rather small city without a large pool of potential athletes)that has produced so many strong teams and stellar individual athletes?”

    I’ll take a shot at it.

    How about DNA, random chance and race discrimination.

    Branca broke into the Majors when only white people were allowed to play. That would give RYE a better chance of having a player in MLB than say a predominately black or hispanic area back in 1944. I also think it’s a random chance. It’s pure chance that a MLB player comes from your home town. Then there are genes/DNA. The Surhoff’s prove that point. They just had the the right genes and happened to live in Rye.

  7. @Sheri Jordan

    I forgot environmental factors. The Surhoff’s didn’t have to worry about getting shot at or drug dealers hanging out at the corner every day. They also probably had a supportive family and a father who didn’t abandon them which forced them to quit school to support their family. I’m sure there are many potential professional athletes who never made it because of the environment they grew up in.


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