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Longtime Little League Baseball coach on Far South Side dies at 48

Ralph Peterson with his wife, Cathy. The longtime president of Rosemoor Little League on the city’s far South Side, and the head baseball coach at South Shore International College Prep, died on Monday from heart failure. | Provided photo

A couple of days before Ralph I. Peterson Jr. died, he made a special request.

“He wanted to be cremated and he wanted me to spread his ashes on the baseball diamond at Gately Stadium,” his wife, Cathy Peterson told me.

“I told him I’ll sprinkle some of them, but I’m not about to put them all out there. He loved his baseball,” she said.

Peterson, the longtime president of Rosemoor Little League on the city’s far South Side, and the head baseball coach at South Shore International College Prep, died on Monday from heart failure.

He was 48 years old.

OPINION

The couple met in the Washington Heights neighborhood when they were 12-years-old. They celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary on May 29th.

Over the years, Cathy Peterson shared her husband with hundreds of kids of all ages.

“He tried to teach the kids quality baseball. He devoted his life to it and never turned a kid away,” she said.

Peterson struck a deal with Sports Shed, an organization that helps sports teams with equipment, so the league would not have to pay full price for uniforms.

“If the kids didn’t have cleats, helmets or anything else they needed for baseball, Ralph would have it,” his wife said.

This season, Rosemoor Little League is allowing kids from 3 to 8 to play free, and charged only $25 for kids between the ages of 8 and 16.

“I knew it was going to be coming out of our pockets, but he wanted to make sure he got hats, and belts, uniforms and pants and everything. He just wanted to give back to the community,” she said.

Besides being devoted to little league baseball, Peterson organized food and clothing drives for several women’s shelters. At the beginning of this school year, he donated 100 book bags to a neighborhood school.

In 2014, Mr. Peterson, who was a truck driver, made the news when he pulled a motorist from an SUV that had struck his rig head on.

“I tried to pull the steering wheel and tried to help him out because there was diesel fuel leaking all over, and I just wanted to make sure he got out of the car safely,” Peterson told NBC-Channel 5.

Last year, he became a double-leg amputee and had to retire.

But that did not stop him from coaching.

LaVonte Stewart, founder of Lost Boyz Inc., an organized baseball program in South Shore, credits Peterson for resurrecting little league baseball on the far South Side.

“Ralph opened the doors for Roseland, South Side, Lost Boyz, and Englewood to play Evergreen Park and Lake Shore in Indiana, and that made for something great over the last decade,” Stewart said.

“Without that, a lot of these teams would have folded because they didn’t have enough teams to constitute a league,” he said.

Ralph I. Peterson Jr. was born on June 11, 1970, in Chicago. He attended Roseland Christian elementary school and Chicago Christian High School in Palos Heights, and recently received a Bachelor’s degree from Colorado Tech University.

Other survivors include daughters Jasmine, Kierra, and Alyssia Peterson; son, Ralph Peterson III; a brother, Johnnie Jones III; sister, Debra Randle, and three grandchildren.

“People can’t imagine the amount of money that goes into hosting a team, let alone a league, said Stewart, a longtime friend.

“Earnings that should be for his family, he invested in his community. His wife understood that sacrifice. She totally understood what Ralph was doing,” Stewart said.

A big part of the expenses was the cost of the award trophies handed out at the end of the season.

But Peterson purchased the parts wholesale and invested in an engraving machine. He and his wife would stay up as long as it took to make the trophies.

“One year, we were down to the wire. We had already started the award banquet at South Shore High School and Ralph was still in the garage engraving trophies. He arrived with them right before the time for the distribution of awards, sweating, with boxes and boxes of trophies.

He had been up all night and all morning. That’s how committed he was to the kids and the community,” Stewart said.

Funeral services as follows: Gatlings Chapel, 10133 S. Halsted St., Chicago, Viewing Friday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Visitation Sat., 1 p.m.-1:30 p.m.; Funeral Services, 1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Those affiliated with little league baseball are requested to wear uniforms.

Mary Mitchell and educator Leslie Baldacci are co-hosts of a podcast on race relations called “Zebra Sisters.” Check out the first season on iTunes and Google Play Music — or find individual episodes on the Sun-Times’ Zebra Sisters page. Email Mary and Leslie at zebrasisters@suntimes.com or suggest topics for season two by calling the Zebra Hotline: (312) 321-3000, ext. ZBRA (9272).