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Donald P. Pray, 84, grocery store owner, pro ballplayer

May 4, 1935 – Sept. 9, 2019

Donald P. Pray was a hot baseball prospect in 1954.

A standout first baseman and pitcher with Kick’s Athletics in the Buffalo MUNY League, the St. Louis Cardinals signed him to a contract for the maximum bonus after scouts saw him play in the 1954 All-American Amateur Baseball Association national championship tournament in Johnstown, Pa., where the Kick’s team made it to the semifinals.

“He hit .385 and won two games as a pitcher,” his son, Donald W., said. “Eight teams wanted him.”

At spring training in 1955, he posed for promotional photographs with Cardinals great Stan Musial, then was assigned to the Sanford Greyhounds in the Class D Florida State League.

St. Louis Cardinals players pose for a publicity photo with Stan Musial, standing left, during spring training in 1955. Don Pray is seated right. (Pray family collection)

Later that season he played for Tifton, Ga., Blue Sox in the Florida-Georgia League and the Dothan, Ala., Cardinals in the Alabama-Florida League. He went to the Albany, Ga., Cardinals in the Florida-Georgia League in 1956.

Traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 1957, he was sent to the Bradford Beagles/Hornell Redlegs in the New York-Penn League, where he met Carole Smith, who became his wife.

“He was driving his convertible down the streets of Hornell and there were these cheerleaders on the corner,” his son said. They were married at the end of the season.

“The Reds wanted to ship him out to California,” his son said, “and my dad said that was enough. He didn’t want to go.”

He died Sept. 9 under hospice care in McAuley Residence, Town of Tonawanda, of leukemia. He was 84.

Born in Ridgeway, Pa., an only child, he came to the Town of Tonawanda with his family in 1948, when his father got a job with the General Motors Tonawanda engine plant.

He was a 1953 graduate of Kenmore High School, where he was quarterback for the football team, guard on the basketball team and a pitcher and first baseman for the baseball team. He briefly attended Hobart College, playing on the basketball team as a freshman, but left to play baseball.

When he returned from Hornell, his son said, “he and my parents were looking for something to work as a family together – they were very close. Dad had a little bit of money from baseball and his father had money he saved from World War II, so they decided to pool it and open up the grocery store together.”

They established Pray’s Your Way Market at Niagara Falls Boulevard and Longmeadow Road in Amherst in 1958 and operated it until 1976. As the name implied, the Prays specialized in customer service. Mr. Pray extended credit to his patrons and made deliveries to the elderly after hours.

“Whatever you wanted, they made it to order,” his son said. “It was open on Sundays and on Christmas. A lot of graduate students at UB would come in with no money and he used to give them the end pieces of cold cuts.”

When his parents decided to branch out into another business, he helped them operate Pray’s Here’s Harvey’s, a restaurant on Main Street in Clarence.

After the store closed, Mr. Pray worked for 13 years for Ellicott Drug Co. in Cheektowaga as an inventory control manager, processing returns from drugstores.

From 1989 to 2009, he was custodian at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School in Kenmore. Known for riding his bicycle to the school from his home on the eastern edge of the Town of Tonawanda, even in the worst snowstorms, he never missed a day of work.

As a coach of youth sports in the Town of Tonawanda, his teams – the Tonawanda All-Stars hockey travel team and the Tonawanda Rangers and Mushroom Transportation baseball teams – won numerous league championships.

His wife, a longtime day care worker and bowling coach at Tonawanda Bowling Center, died in October 2018.

Survivors include three sons, Billy, Kyle and Donald W.; and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, in Lombardo Funeral Home, 885 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst.

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