by Jim Riggs
May 6, 2000
Ready For Another Quarter Century
If you would have told me on my first night of April 28, 1975, that I would still be here 25 years later, I might not have believed you. Or maybe I would have.
I’m one who sticks with what he likes and I guess that’s why I’m still here.
I can still recall seeing former Sports Editor Frank Hyde’s photo on his column before I worked here. I had also seen him at Jamestown Expos games and during visits to the old Post-Journal building on Washington Street and he appeared rather gruff. I was sure I would never want to work for him.
Then when I did work for him I found myself laughing most of the time. I never met a man who enjoyed his work like Hyde and he tried to make it the same for everyone else. That’s why he was here for 35 years until he retired and I became sports editor in December of 1979.
On my first night Hyde came in and introduced me to his short-handed staff of Terry Heslink and Dent Thorpe. Then the phones started ringing and I was on my way. I ended up taking the reports of six baseball games and one golf match that night.
Also on that night, the National Hockey League and World Hockey Association playoffs were in their semifinal rounds while the National Basketball Association playoffs had reached the conference finals. And in baseball the Chicago Cubs were leading the National League East by 2 ½ games!
Yes, it was a different era.
When Hyde was looking for a sports editors job back in 1945, one of his requirements for a city was that it had a minor league baseball team. Now I know why Hyde picked Jamestown.
Covering Jamestown’s New York-Penn League team has been a pleasure. Perhaps the best part is that the NY-P League is an entry level league into professional baseball which means I’m working with players before they get spoiled by big money and fame. I cover the players for usually only one season, but that’s not much different than covering a major league teams now that are filled of free agents.
The best part was meeting many of the players I considered heroes when I was growing up and rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates. By covering the Jamestown Expos and Jammers I had the chance to meet former Pirates Bob Veale, Bill Mazeroski, Dave Cash, Milt May, Ed Ott and the son of Bob Bailey. And I’ve met plenty of former Pirates’ opponents such as Tony Cloninger, Ken Brett, Tony Taylor and Bud Harrelson.
I also had the chance to get to know some of those players better while playing golf. My most memorable round was with Ernie Banks. Another time I played with former Giants pitcher Sal Maglie and Red Sox infielder Sibby Sisti, and a couple other times I set up a foursome that included May and Ott.
It was also fun to associate with Jamestown players who are now in the major leagues, such as Andres Galarraga, Randy Johnson, John Vander Wal, Mark Grudzielanek, Delino DeShields, Antonio Alfonesca, Jeff Weaver, Bubba Tramell Gabe Kapler and Robert Fick.
One advantage I had when I started working for The Post-Journal sports department was that I wasn’t from the area. That meant I hadn’t attended a local high school to influence my coverage. But as I learned under Hyde and now preach to new staff members, local sports coverage, and mainly high schools, is our main responsibility.
One of the first events I ever covered was Southwestern winning a state golf title in 1975. The most memorable state titles were Jamestown’s back-to-back ones in football in the mid 1990s and more amazing was their first trip to the title game, which the Red Raiders lost, in 1993. Three straight trips to the state football championship game may never be repeated.
The one local institution I did attend was Jamestown Community College and when I graduated in 1972 I didn’t know how its sports program would become a major part of my life. The campus is 50 years old and I have had the privilege of covering its sports for half of that span.
There were the memorable four trips to the NJCAA National Men’s Basketball Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., including three straight from 1981-83. And then a return trip to the nationals at the Division II level at Danville, Ill., in 1999.
Speaking of national tournaments, they have become a habit for the JCC women’s volleyball team which has done it five straight times. Covering the last four in Chicago and Toledo has been a thrill.
The Post-Journal is a small-town newspaper, but has afforded me the chance to cover numerous national events, and the best was the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid. The Lake Placid and Saranac Lake newspapers are sister papers of The Post-Journal and both facilities were used to publish The Daily Olympic Digest, the only daily newspaper with only Olympic news that was published during the event. Thanks to Hyde, I was chosen to be on that staff and spent nearly a month living in Saranac Lake while working for The Daily Olympic Digest. To make things even better, I had the free reign to cover whatever I wanted – a reporter’s dream.
However, I was assigned specifically to cover two events – the United States hockey team’s memorable win over the Russians and then its gold medal victory over Finland.
My major love is golf and Hyde took advantage of it by having me cover a local tournament almost every weekend during my first summer here and thereafter. Some of the best were covering Jeff Sluman winning the 1978 New York State Amateur at Moon Brook Country Club and then Dirk Ayers capturing the title when it returned there in 1995.
I also had the chance to do some national coverage and the first was the 1980 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester. It was also my first chance to watch my favorite golfer, Jack Nicklaus, in action.
Oak Hill was made extremely difficult and the field, including Nicklaus, said no one could dominate the tournament. But Nicklaus did when he shot 64 on Saturday and then cruised Sunday to a seven-shot win.
That was also in the days before we had a Sunday edition, so on Saturday I had no work to do and could follow Nicklaus for his entire round.
Covering Curtis Strange’s back-to-back U.S. Open titles in 1988 at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., and 1989 at Oak Hill was a thrill. No one had won back-to-back U.S. Open titles since 1951 and no one has done it since.
Covering the Ryder Cup at Oak Hill in 1995 was also memorable. I’ll never forget taking the perfect camera position beside the steps to the European team’s locker room. I snapped rolls of film of the celebration while avoiding the spray of champagne.
With all the joy in this job, there have also been sad points. The first was covering the basketball game at Falconer in 1979 when official Andy Indelicato died of the heart attack during the game. Just before collapsing, Indelicato had asked his officiating partner, Vince Joy Sr., to call a timeout because he knew something was wrong. But before that, he had called a foul on a player.
His first concern was the game.
I’ll never forget the shock of receiving a telephone call at work at 3 a.m. on June 10, 1997, telling me that Jamestown Jammers manager Dwight Lowry was dead. I said it couldn’t be because I had just been in Lowry’s office at Diethrick Park a few hours earlier obtaining his comments on that night’s game.
But it was true. A heart attack had claimed the 39-year-old manager, which led to about four days of a funk for everyone involved with the Jammers.
Those two events reminded me how unimportant balls, strikes, touchdowns, baskets and scores can be.
Looking back, out of all the big-name sports personalities I’ve had the opportunity to interview, I still think my most memorable session was with a non-sports person – presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin. She had just written a book about her childhood love of the Brooklyn Dodgers and spending nearly 30 minutes at Chautauqua Institution talking with her about the book and baseball in general was memorable.
Like many things with this job, it wasn’t work. It was fun.
Twenty-five years of fun have passed. And 25 more are starting.