By Leva levitra
Wednesday May 22, 2013 | May 2013 Issue
Although I have spent the majority of my years living in Northern Virginia, I did grow up in Prince Georges County, Maryland, right across the river from Old Town, Alexandria. Back in those days, the 1960’s, the Washington Senators were our baseball team, and a lot of dads would take their sons to watch the Senators play. The team had some good players… infielder Eddie Brinkman, outfielder Frank “Hondo” Howard, pitcher Dick Bosman…however they never were a really good team. In the late 50’s to the mid 60’s the Senators boasted of having four of the best sluggers in baseball: Roy Sievers, Bob Allison, Harmon Killabrew and Jim Lemon. Even with these power hitters the Senators usually ended the season under .500, and in 1971, owner Bob Short, moved his team to Minnesota. The Washington, D.C. area had lost its’ baseball team.
In 2005 baseball returned to the Nation’s Capital in the form of the Montreal Expos whose name was changed to the Washington Nationals. As the Senators of old, their record has been pretty dismal, however this year might be different. With the off-season addition of new talent, the Nationals will take the field Opening Day, April5th, and at the helm will be Jim Riggleman. Like myself, Riggleman grew up watching the Washington Senators understanding their potential, yet enduring their losses. At the recent Nats Fest at Nationals Park on January 31, I had an opportunity to talk with the Nationals new skipper.
Jim Riggleman is an unassuming guy except for his intense concentration and contact with piercing blue eyes. Tanned and in great shape, Riggleman portrays a man on a mission. The only smile we could get out of him was the shot for the cover… this man is all business.
Riggleman grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland. He attended Broome Junior High and then went on to Richard Montgomery High School. “I was one of the smaller kids, so baseball and basketball became my interests in sports.” He tells me. “I was lucky,” he says, “I had really good coaching in junior and senior high, and that makes all of the difference in the world.” “Back in those days the P.E. teacher did double duty as the coach of baseball, basketball and football.” “Today coaching is a little more specialized.”
With one older brother and two younger, Riggleman always had competition in both growing up and sports. There was always camaraderie as well as competition. His older brother was also a ball player and obviously set the path for younger brother Jim. Upon graduation in 1970, Riggleman’s play at Richard Montgomery was good enough to land a scholarship at Jamestown College in North Dakota. “It is a very good school, although small, and had a great baseball program and tradition,” he says. Even Jim’s brother preceded him to Jamestown.
After his freshman year, Riggleman transferred back to this area to attend Frostburg State College and be closer to family and friends. Here Riggleman concentrated on both baseball and basketball. In basketball he earned two letters in two seasons and was considered an outstanding ball-handling guard. But it was in baseball that he excelled. In three seasons he earned three letters and became the record holder in home runs, extra bases, and total bases. He led the team in home runs, RBI’s, and games played all 3 years and was elected to the Frostburg State College Hall of Fame in 1979. “I really had no gauge to determine how good I may have been back then,” he says, “however, when we played against some of the best players in the Cape Cod summer league, my numbers were the same.” My guess would be that it wasn’t that the competition at home was not up to snuff, just that Riggleman was better than he gave himself credit. In 1974, after his graduation, the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted Riggleman. “I signed professionally, but never made it to the big leagues,” he says. Thus, Riggleman began his Bull Durham days.
“In the minor leagues I made about what a school teacher made,” he tells me. “Travel was endless… we split 162 games a year… away and home.” “On the east coast the travel was shorter because the cities were closer together, and yes we did play the Durham Bulls in North Carolina.” Travel in the Texas League sometimes involved bus rides of 20 hours to get to our destination.” Riggleman tells me that these playing days were the most enjoyable times…the friendships made and the sheer adventure. It is also because he clearly loved to play the game. His career peaked at the triple-A level in 1977 and 1979. His playing career ended after the 1981 season at the age of 28. In order to remain close to the game he loved, Riggleman turned to coaching.
In 1983, Riggleman began his coaching career with the St. Petersburg Cardinals, a class-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. He managed at the double-A level in the Cardinals organization…including the Arkansas Travelers, the team where he spent most of his playing career. He coached at the triple-A level in the San Diego Padre’s organization. Riggleman made his major league managerial debut with the Padres late in the 1992 season and was retained through the 1994 season. In 1995 he became manager of the Chicago Cubs. In 1998, Riggleman’s Cubs earned a wild card post-season appearance that ultimately resulted in a loss to the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series. It was also in 1998 that Riggleman was coaching when Sammy Sosa broke Roger Maris’s single-season home run record. Riggleman would continue to manage the Cubs through the 1999 season. From 2001 to 2004 he was the bench coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers under manager Jim Tracy.
Riggleman began the 2008 season as the bench coach for the Seattle Mariners under manager John McLaren. He was then promoted to interim manager upon McLaren’s dismissal on June 19, 2008. He was not awarded the managerial position at Seattle and was subsequently hired by Manny Acta as the bench coach of the Washington Nationals for the 2009 season. Riggleman was promoted to interim manager upon Acta’s mid-season dismissal. Jim Riggleman finally shook off the interim label when he became the manager of the Nationals for the 2010 season.
A man on a mission? Yeah, I think so. He has played and coached for and with the best of them. He even has his Bull Durham clichés down…”We’ve got nowhere to go but up; we’ve got our work cut out for us; you know, it’s a tough division.” He also understands what is at stake and how to approach it. When I asked him how he thought the season might turn out, he responded, “I don’t look at the whole season.” It is one game at a time, and when the umpire says batter up…I am only concerned about THAT game and I want my players to play like this is the only game!”
“I don’t know how it will play out in the standings, but I think we are going to be a better ball club,” says Riggleman. In the off-season General Manager Mike Rizzo has strengthened the roster and Riggleman realizes that. “It’s going to be up to us.” “I feel that Mike Rizzo, Stan Kasten and the Lerners have done their job…it is up to us to run with it!”
Baseball is alive and well in Washington, D.C., the Nation’s Capital! We can’t ask for a better situation than to have a local boy lead the charge on to the field and hopefully into the playoffs. It can be done…and we can all be a part of it. See you at the ball game!!
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