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Padres honor Johnny Ritchey with sculpture at PETCO Park
03/30/2005 7:57 PM ET
SAN DIEGO -- Part of an ongoing effort to celebrate the 70-year history of Padres baseball in San Diego, the team today unveiled a bust of the late Johnny Ritchey, the first African American to play in the Pacific Coast League as a member of the PCL Padres.

The bust, unveiled prior to the team's exhibition game against San Diego State University, is located in the Pacific Coast League Bar & Grill at PETCO Park. It is the first of several planned events this season to honor the history of the Padres franchise.

"Johnny Ritchey is not only a Padres legend, he is an important part of the history of San Diego," said Dick Freeman, Padres President & CEO. "As a member of the Padres, he paved the way for African Americans in the Pacific Coast League. We're proud to honor him with this special tribute."

Ritchey became "the Jackie Robinson of the West Coast" by breaking the color barrier in the Pacific Coast League in 1948 while playing for the Padres. His debut came just one year after Jackie Robinson broke the major league color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. A catcher, he played for the Padres in both 1948 and 1949. He posted a .323 average in his rookie year with the team.

A native San Diegan, he attended San Diego State College (now San Diego State University) in 1942 and 1946. His college years were interrupted when he served three years with distinction in the United States Army during World War II.

"John Ritchey is a proud figure for the Pacific Coast League and for baseball in general," said Branch B. Rickey, President of the Pacific Coast League. "He led the way in our league and was a pioneer for others to follow in a highly visible role which he carried out with dignity and ability. The standard he established is a worthy target for the youth of today whether in baseball or any other field and is one for which we are eternally grateful."

After playing professional baseball, Johnny and his wife Lydia made San Diego their permanent home, where they raised their family and where Johnny worked for 20 years with Continental Baking Company. He passed away in 2003.

The sculpture has been made possible in large part due to the efforts of the Johnny Ritchey Commemorative Task Force, including Jon Richetti, who sculpted the bust, Carlos Battle, Ed Fletcher, Chuck Primeau, Bill Swank and the Reverend George Walker Smith. The task force has been instrumental in raising public awareness about Ritchey's accomplishments, as well as efforts to raise the funds for the memorial.

Also attending and speaking at the unveiling was Jim Gleason, Ritchey's former teammate with both the Padres and San Diego State College.

"We are incredibly honored that he will forever have a place in Padres history, and San Diego history," said Johnaa Battle, Johnny's daughter. "My family appreciates the efforts of everyone who worked to make this tribute a reality."

The sculpture of Ritchey is part of an ongoing effort by the Padres to use PETCO Park as a showcase for team's 70-year history in San Diego, 33 years as members of the Pacific Coast League. The June 24-26 series against the Seattle Mariners is "Pacific Coast League Heritage" weekend. The team will formally unveil the 34 members of the Padres Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame, including Ritchey, through a special tribute at the PCL Bar & Grill.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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