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Jim Riggleman on Coming Home to D.C.

(AP Photo)

New Nats bench coach Jim Riggleman, grew up in the D.C. suburbs, graduated from Richard Montgomery in '70 and went to Frostburg State, where he's a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. A few D.C. questions and answers with Riggleman, long an MLB manager and currently beginning his 35th Spring Training.

Does it still feel, I don't know what's the word, refreshing when you come down [to Spring Training]?

Yeah it does. Especially this year, it's a new experience for me. I grew up in the Washington area as a Senators fan, so this is kind of unique for me at this point in my career to be with the Washington ballclub. I'm really lucky for that.

Are you well publicized as an old-time Washington Senators fan?

It's funny, back then not that many guys played professional baseball out of the area. I mean, Major Leaguers, you could count them on one hand. Before me, there was Gordy Coleman. I didn't play in the big leagues, but just to play professionally. Gordy's nephew Dougie Coleman played in the minor leagues with the Pirates. Surrounding areas, Milt Thompson had a nice career in the big leagues, is still coaching with the Phillies, he grew up in the area.

But for so few guys to come out of there, it was never made any mention of--I guess because it's such a big metropolitan area, so much else going on. But it was never much of an issue that guys were playing, there just really wasn't much made of it. So as I moved on and played in the minor leagues all over the country and then I managed in the big leagues, I don't think the Washington papers ever really even acknowledged it, that I was from there.

Do you have allegiance to any D.C. teams or anything?

Well, not any more, no. I grew up a Senators fan and a Redskins fan, and then somewhere along the line, my favorite player was Brooks Robinson even though I was a Senators fan. So somewhere along the line I kind of became an Orioles fan after growing up, getting into college and all that. And somehow also that went over to the Colts, I was a big Unitas fan and all that, so I kind of follow Indianapolis moreso than the Ravens. I follow the Redskins a little bit because my brothers and everybody I have in Maryland are still Redskins fans.

Did you feel a loss when the Senators took off?

Yeah, I think we all did, but we also knew that hey, this was what we deserved. We didn't support the team. We were showing up at the rate of five or six thousand a night, and we lost the team. Many years later I would go back in the area and see all these thousands of softball leagues and I thought, 'You know what, there seems to be more interest in the game now than there used to be, maybe it would work if they got a team back.' I just didn't know if they would. And it seems to be working. I don't know how the attendance has been exactly, but it seems to be ok.

Did you feel any pride at all when you got the team back?

I just always felt like it's our nation's capitol, it's America and baseball and apple pie, you know, how do you not have a baseball team in Washington? So I felt good for the game, period, and good for the country, not so much anything personal. I just felt like, you know what, it's Washington, they should have a team.

So this one, with going back for you, it doesn't resonate geographically I guess any more?

Not so much. It's just more family; my brothers and my mother are up there. They're in Mount Airy and Damascus and Frederick. I went to Frostburg, and a lot of people from Frostburg live in Montgomery County, Prince George's County. So I've got a lot of friends up there.

How many Senators games would you go to as a kid?

Not many. I was at the mercy of my father driving me down there, and you know, we lived far enough away and it wasn't like we could afford to go to many games. So we went to a couple. I went to Griffith Stadium before RFK, I went to Griffith Stadium for my first game, that was probably in '57 or '8 or '9, somewhere in there.

Did you have any favorite Senators players growing up?

Yeah. For whatever reason, I guess I fancied myself as a little kid as an infielder, so there was a shortstop named Danny O'Connell. Eddie Brinkman., who's still scouting. You know, Frank Howard was the star, but I wasn't that type of player. Don Lock, Dale Long, these guys were power hitters, I kind of latched onto them a little. I remember all the names, Tom Cheney, Jim Duckworth, Willie Tasby. Chuck Hinton. They were a long time ago.

Do you own anything Washington Senators related?

Don't think so. Somebody gave me a program from a Senators game, I've got that tucked away somewhere. It was like 25 cents for the program, there wasn't much to the program, but it's interesting reading some of the names.

What did Spring Training used to be?

Very few fields. The facilities were very antiquated. No batting cages to speak of. Your Major League club, of course, would have all priority over the whole complex, and so the minor leaguers got in a little batting practice, would use one of the extra fields every now and then. But these communities--you know, Jupiter, St. Lucie, here--got these beautiful minor league complexes, so there's plenty of room for everybody to get their work in. And you just look around here, I mean, there's a room for everything. There's a room for computer stuff, there's a room separate for the coaches, the managers, equipment guy, training room, trainers have their own offices.

Do you remember the first facility you went to?

Well, my first Spring Training was in Vero Beach with the Dodgers. And the thing is, I really am glad I experienced this, because it was the last year that the Dodgers used the Barracks. Vero Beach, that area where Dodgertown is, originally was an Air Force base, so there were barracks there. So initially everybody stayed in the Barracks. As they built the complex up and they modernized it, they built hotel-type structures in there for the players to stay at, but it wasn't enough for everybody.

So when I went there, we were first-year Spring Training guys, we stayed in the Barracks instead of the hotel situation. So the Barracks were probably built in the '20s or something, just a wooden structure just like you'd see in the movies, Stalag 17 or something. It was pretty unique. In the morning the guy would come through the hallways hitting a horn to wake everybody up, get on his cart outside with the horn. Players were throwing grapefruits at him and stuff.

But Dodgertown was one of the first complexes, a lot of fields, cafeteria on site, fed you and everything. It was nice. We were somewhat spoiled as minor leaguers go in those days because of the facilities, but I remember, we kind of liked it as minor league players. If the team had a home game, we had to get our work done by like 11 in the morning because they used two or three of the fields for parking. So we'd have an early day and then go to the Major League game and watch the game. Loved it. You're creating friendships and relationships. We had a great time.

By Dan Steinberg  |  February 17, 2009; 6:25 PM ET
Categories:  Nats  
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Great piece. Thanks for all the ST posts! You may want to break it to him gently that Brinkman died last fall, however.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | February 17, 2009 6:37 PM | Report abuse

great work steinz. it's good to see a piece on riggle and him showing his enthusiasm about coming back to dc.

Posted by: featurepresentation | February 17, 2009 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Richard Montgomery Rockets representing to the fullest, y'all!

Posted by: Lindemann777 | February 18, 2009 8:47 AM | Report abuse

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