The photos of brothers Rich and Sammy Alday are symbolic images of them together in life on the baseball field with them now together again in spirit after their recent deaths about a week apart.
Their backs are turned to the camera looking to the field from the dugout from when Rich was Pima’s coach and Sammy was a hefty third baseman for the Aztecs.
Rich wore No. 26 holding the scorebook contemplating the next coaching move.
Sammy wore No. 25 sitting at the end of the dugout, awaiting his turn to go to the plate.
The photos were posted on the Facebook page of Brian Alday, Sammy’s son, drawing an emotional response from many of Brian’s family and friends.
Rich, who became a legendary baseball coach at Pima and New Mexico and with the Ironwood Ridge softball program, passed away Jan. 6 at age 71 following complications from surgery on his prostate.
Sammy died Jan. 14 following a long bout with kidney and heart issues. He was on dialysis for the last two years and underwent triple-bypass surgery three years ago. He was 63.
“My dad was a wonderful husband, an awesome father, a phenomenal teacher, a great coach, an unbelievable DJ with the ability to make every event a great one,” Brian said. “But most of all, he was the greatest person and my best friend.”
Brian has coached youth baseball locally, including as the head coach at Pueblo High School. He is an active member of the U.S. Air National Guard, an educator like his father and a public-address announcer at Pima College and University of Arizona athletic events.
Rich and Sammy are Tucson High alums known for their athletic exploits in football and baseball with the Badgers in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
“Sammy was my compadre — he and his wife Melinda baptized my second daughter,” said Tucson High softball coach Bert Otero. “Rich and Sammy grew up across the street from us. Rich was like our older brother and Sammy our little brother.
“What can you say? Losing anyone is difficult but losing two like that back-to-back within a week, holy cow. It’s tough.”
Otero describes his relationship with the Aldays and others from his neighborhood as the “19th Street Gang.” Until recently, before COVID-19, they would reunite at Otero’s home in the Arroyo Chico neighborhood and talk about the good old days.
Sammy taught for more than 30 years in the Sunnyside Unified School District and coached the Blue Devils’ softball program from 1989 to 1993.
He was known as “Mr. Apollo” when he taught shop at Apollo Middle School (then known as Apollo Junior High) for many of those 30 years. He also taught technology and vocational education classes in the district.
“Since we were both elective teachers, we shared the same lunch and became friends,” mentioned Carl McCurry, a longtime band music teacher in the Sunnyside Unified School District.
“Just a really nice, funny guy. Kids loved him.”
It was at Apollo Middle School that Sammy strengthened his bond with Otero as coaches.
“He was the head softball coach at Apollo and I helped him,” Otero said. “When I became the head coach at Desert View (when the school opened in 1985-86), I told him, ‘Let’s turn it around and you help me coach.’ He coached the junior varsity team at Desert View up until 1988, when he became Sunnyside’s coach.
“He was such a lighthearted guy but he always carried himself in a way that the kids respected him. Starting from the ground up at Desert View, having somebody like Sam by my side meant a lot. He was a student of the game. He was a heck of a third baseman at Tucson high and then at Pima.”
Otero went on to have a career at Desert View worthy of being selected to the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame.
After Sammy’s coaching career, he turned to his favorite hobby — disc-jockeying — in addition to his teaching. He became well-known in the city for his craft, often working big events, including receptions and Tucson High reunions at the El Casino Ballroom.
“He truly enjoyed making events memorable and he had such a gift of getting people out on the dance floor with the music he played,” Brian said.
On a personal note, Sammy was the DJ for our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary in 2005 and my mother’s 80th birthday celebration in 2015.
“He’s up there with Rich and his mom and dad right now with another brother who passed away at a younger age due to leukemia,” Otero said. “They’re all up there. I told Brian, ‘Your dad is up there scratching right now on a turntable.'”
Otero paused and said of Sammy, “He is what you would call a dark horse. The guy would always come through for you.”
The Alday brothers are preceded in death by their parents Albert Sr. and Elena, brother Larry and Rich’s son Ambrose. They are survived by their brother Albert Jr. and sister Patsy in the immediate family.
Sammy is survived by his wife Melinda and children Brian, Larry and Lee Ann and seven grandchildren.
Rich is survived by his wife of 51 years, Norma.
The Aldays of Tucson have a legion of family members and friends.
Funeral arrangements are pending for both.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.