I lived every teenage boy's dream.
Thanks to my friend, B.J. Maack, I was privileged to spend three summers working in the clubhouse and as batboy for the Arkansas Travelers, then the AA-affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Imagine shagging balls in the outfield everyday during BP. Imagine wearing a professional baseball uniform everyday, all summer. Imagine sleepovers in the clubhouse on Friday nights. Imagine riding the bus with the team to places like Tulsa, Shreveport and Jackson. Imagine sitting in the bullpen during road games. For you Arkansans, imagine hitting a ball over the screen onto I-630 before batting practice (which B.J. and I did one day...I sure hope Bill Valentine doesn't read this!).
It was a thrill; a memory that to this day makes me wonder, at times, why I didn't follow my initial occupational dream of becoming an Athletic Trainer (which my friend B.J. did, serving in the Cardinals' chain for six years).
Anyway, among the many highlights of working for the Travs and the relationships forged was an association with Jim Riggleman. Riggs managed the Travs for the entirety of the time I worked in the clubhouse. It was Riggs who, on one road trip, nicknamed me "Barney" because my skinny frame from the 1987 team picture reminded him of Barney Fife. It was Riggs who, while presiding over Kangaroo Court on a bus ride back to Little Rock from a road trip in Tulsa, pronounced me guilty of eating concession food in the bullpen and forced me to pay up in the Kangaroo Court coffers.
When Riggs became manager of the Chicago Cubs in 1995 while Mandy and I were living in West Virginia, I called the Cubs clubhouse on a lark and asked for Riggs. He answered and when I said, "Hey Skip, It's Barney," he immediately laughed. Anyway, the Cubs were preparing for a trip to Pittsburgh and Riggs set us up with complimentary front row seats and an on-field tour during the Cubs' BP. One of my favorite pictures to this day is a framed picture of me and Riggs on the field at the old Three Rivers Stadium prior to the game.
In 1993-94, I was a fan of the Padres because of Riggs, his first managing gig. From 1995-99, it was the Cubs. In 2000, it was Cleveland (3rd base coach). From 2001-04, it was the Dodgers (bench coach). From 2005 to 2007, Riggs returned to his roots, serving as Field Coordinator for the Cardinals Minor League system. This year, Riggs has served as bench coach in Seattle.
Yesterday, Jim Riggleman was named the new manager of the Seattle Mariners. Yeah, I know, the Mariners are the worst team in baseball and their future is worse than cloudy, but I am grateful today that a really good, genuine guy has gotten another chance at leading a Major League team. Riggs deserves the opportunity and, for the rest of the summer of 2008, you can bet that I'll be cheering my heart out for the Seattle Mariners, except when they play my beloved Rangers, of course!
Good luck, Riggs. Here's hoping my schedule will allow us to run into you on a Mariners' trip into Oakland or Anaheim later this summer.