STAMFORD, Conn. – Brooklyn Dodger legend Ralph Branca led ballplayers young and old in helping to usher a new season in Stamford American Little League Sunday at Caporizzo Field.
Branca, 86, tossed out a ceremonial first pitch to Nico Laveris, a player on Instant Replay in Stamford American’s Major Division. Jake Laveris, who plays Beldotti Bakery in the AAA Division, assisted Branca. Both boys are the great grandnephews of Branca, who played in the Major Leagues from 1944-56. Branca pitched in three All-Star Games and is most famous for throwing the pitch that Bobby Thomson hit for a homerun to give the New York Giants the National League pennant in 1951.
“It’s fun, it’s good,’’ Branca said about throwing out the first pitch to his great grandnephews. “I’m glad they’re into baseball.”
Nico Laveris, who played on the Stamford American All-Stars last summer, knew of Branco’s baseball background. “It was neat that he was able to be a part of it today,” he said. “I was kind of nervous. I had a good scoop when he threw it.”
Branca, who now lives in Rye, N.Y., visited Stamford American for opening ceremonies of the league, which has been one of the most enduring and successful in the state. A Stamford American team won the 1951 Little League World Series.
Branca is the father-in-law of Stamford native Bobby Valentine, the current manager of the Boston Red Sox. He encouraged the young ballplayers to play for the love of the game and not focus on results at a young age. “I wish we wouldn’t put so much emphasis on winning – just learn the game, just play for the love of the game,” Branca said.
That was the theme of the ceremony, as ballplayers in a kaleidoscope of colors marched in with their teams and stood on the field. Beforehand, players took individual and team pictures and enjoyed activities provided by Stamford American board members, such as bouncy houses and police equipment. The players also enjoyed food provided by California Pizza Kitchen.
The star, however, was Branca, who compiled an 88-68 record and pitched in two World Series. He also led the players and parents in a rendition of “God Bless America.”
“I’m glad he came and he was a part of it,’’ Nico Laveris said. “It was good to have him here.”