by J. Paul Lombardo
May 1, 2016
The Legend Behind Our Local Legends
McCusker and Roselle have been remembered in past Voice from the Bullpen narratives. Today, the VFTB remembers, honors, and thanks Jim Riggs for his amazing and much-appreciated career here in Jamestown.
Being a coach in this community, I had numerous contacts with Jim, especially in the ’80s and ’90s when I’d call in high school baseball game summaries, ones which included line scores and a brief synopsis. Our phone conversations often drifted to other topics regarding local teams, players, and our favorite professional teams as well. Jim related stories of him running home after school to catch the last two/three innings of World Series games involving his Pittsburgh Pirates. I couldn’t say too much as my favorite team, the Cleveland Indians, were never in the Fall Classic during my youth, but I’d share remembering my bringing a transistor radio to school to listen to the World Series games until I could get home for the late innings of the games. Jim always had a special tone in his stories because at that time he was a passionate fan of the Bucs. At a Pirates game a few years ago, it was Commemorative Mug Night where the Bucs gave fans a mug with a team photo and information on the 1960 World Series Championship team. Sally and I each received one and I knew I’d be bringing one of them to Jim.
I found it unusual that being such a huge Pirates fan, Jim wasn’t a fan of Pittsburgh’s NFL entry, the Steelers. Being a lifetime Browns’ fan, I wasn’t disappointed, but then I found out that Jim’s favorite NFL team was the Houston Oilers, another division rival of the Orange and Brown. I can still picture Jim often wearing that powder blue, shiny, Oilers jacket as he sat in the stands of all the sports he covered when I was in attendance as well.
The two final seasons of the Jamestown Jammers, Jim offered me an opportunity to share duties with him as an official scorer, which was so enjoyable to do. I could never thank him enough for asking me to do that.
During my years as the high school baseball coach in Panama, Jamestown, and Cassadaga Valley, Jim was the ultimate supporter of area youth. He found ways to credit players for their accomplishments on the fields and courts, even if the teams may have lost that day. For Jim, it was about the kids’ performance, win or lose.
As a youth league and travel baseball coach, when I communicated with Jim often, he always made room on the sports page to relate information to the public about the accomplishments of the players and the schedules of the teams. In the late ’90s and early ’00s, I took three different teams to Cooperstown to play at the Dreams Park, an experience that required recruiting and much fundraising, and Jim was always there to listen to the details and print them, helping us put together those teams and raise much of the money needed to participate. When our players were no longer of age to play at the Dreams Park, we stayed together and played a travel team schedule trekking to numerous tournaments for the next four years, so I got back on the phone to Jim and Scott and we got the same support which helped us make those tournaments realities. And of course, when I called or sent in press releases about how we did, or who accomplished what, Jim and Scott had it in print the day after I submitted the information.
When I became the president of the Browns Backers of Jamestown, and we made it our mission to raise money and donate it to different charities, all but one of them area charities, and we took a picture of one of our officers presenting the donation, I would send it to Jim and Scott, and the picture was printed the next day.
When I began working on the Baseball Showcase exclusively in the ’90s (I was part of the committee when it began in the ’80s), it was important to get the information out to the public, so I sent a press release to multi-media across the county. The P-J pre-event coverage was great, which helped our attendance, thus adding to our profits, and allowing us to make donations to JCC Baseball, a baseball video collection donated to the Prendergast Library, Frewsburg, Falconer, Chautauqua Lake, and Cassadaga Valley High School Baseball, and the Chautauqua County Baseball Umpires’ Association’s Baseball Scholarship program over past years. During the baseball weekend, either Jim or one of his staff were there covering the event and reporting outcomes, highlights, and taking accompanying pictures.
Not hard to see that Jim’s involvement in my sports activities was hugely impactful. It was all about the kids, giving them opportunities, and recognizing their efforts. I called on Jim many times, and he always answered the call.
I know Jim had the same attitude and involvement with other coaches and sports throughout the county. On fall Fridays and Saturdays, you’d see Jim sitting in a press box somewhere in the county covering high school football in any and all temperatures making sure a kid who may have played the game of his life, maybe it being the only one he’d ever have, got the recognition he earned and deserved. And Jim was hugely one of the reasons JCC Basketball was put on the map in our area and beyond.
An avid golfer, Jim loved the National Junior College Golf Championships hosted by JCC numerous times over the past 20 years. He covered that event with the professionalism and passion of a reporter covering the PGA’s Masters Classic.
And Jim was a passionate family man. I don’t remember too many stories where wife Sharon, or son Jim, weren’t mentioned somewhere. Jim was excited to talk about trips to Tennessee to visit son Jim, being only about 35 minutes from Nashville, home of the Tennessee Titans, the NFL’s relocated team which was previously Jim Sr.’s beloved Houston Oilers.
I’ve always tried to honor people with certain well-deserved titles based on their impact on our community. Jim McCusker is my Mr. Football and Mr. Host. Jim Roselle is my Mr. Jamestown. Russ Diethrick is my Mr. Baseball, and Jim Riggs is my Mr. Sports. And now he’s sitting at the bar at McCusker’s Heavenly Pub, sharing interview stories with Roselle, and still being part of sports in Chautauqua County through the Riggs instilled passionate hearts, minds, and pens of Scott Kindberg, Terry Heslink, Todd Peterson, Craig Harvey, and everyone else Jim Riggs mentored through the years. He was the legend that stood behind our local sports legends and will definitely be sorely missed.
Thanks for everything, Jim! Rest in peace, my friend!