Beginning in the summer of 1979, I began attending Jamestown Expos games at the former College Stadium with my new wife, her mom and some other good friends of ours.
All of us were huge baseball fans and we spent the next two years or so cheering the team from our favorite seats on the lower left side of the grandstand almost every night they were at home.
Through all of 1981, I'd been listening to the antics and the obvious inexperience of the team's public address announcer (he was likely about 17 or so) and, having a couple of years of radio broadcasting work under my belt (along with the goading of my wife and friends), I made a crazy decision in early 1982 that would have a huge impact on my life.
For nearly two decades this trio manned the press box for games of the Jamestown Expos and Jammers of the New York-Penn League. From left in this 1988 photo are Todd Peterson, public address announcer; Jim Riggs, official scorer; and the late Bob Payne, scoreboard operator.
One spring afternoon, I marched myself down to the Expos business office, which at that time was located under the stadium, and introduced myself to a very tall, thin, polite young man, who I later learned was just starting a career in sports after coming out of Point Park College in Pittsburgh.
As it turned out, that nice young man was Scott Kindberg, The Post-Journal's current assistant sports editor and my good friend for almost three decades.
I swallowed hard, wiped beads of sweat from my brow, and proceeded to tell him that I had been attending Expo games for a couple of years and while being careful not to insult the kid who I'd been listening to the year before, I told him I thought I could do a better job as the team's public address announcer.
There was dead silence and look of complete surprise from Mr. Kindberg, who was just days into his new position with the Expos. Still, he smiled, wrote down some basic information and said he would speak to the general manager, Dan Lunetta, about my interest in the job.
Happily, I received word that I was hired just a few days later, which started a journey that lasted 18 seasons.
From that point on, I spent the summer months in the press box with a microphone in my hand, doing all the things required of a ballpark PA person - announcing lucky number winners between each inning, acting as a sort-of verbal ringmaster for numerous on-field events, some great and not-so-great promotions, dodging foul balls that flew with intensity through the open windows and, oh yes, announcing the names of each player that came to the plate.
I also played tapes and later CDs with music between innings and about eight years into the job, I "borrowed" my daughter's compact Yamaha keyboard and after a little practice - as I tried to remember those piano lessons I took when I was 6 - I was able to pound out most of those familiar baseball favorites everyone knows, mostly to pump up the crowd when the home team was up to bat.
The announcing part was easy. I wrote my own add copy prior to the season, so I was comfortable with what needed to be said. However, those six-night homestands, especially after putting in a full day at my regular job, were a test of anyone's endurance.
One weekend, there was a doubleheader that started at 6 p.m. The first game, normally a seven-inning affair in a twin bill, went into extra innings and after the 11th, the Expos won. After a 20-minute break, game two began. It was a slugfest. Both teams were scoring multiple runs and, as a result, each inning went on for an eternity.
By the time we reached the seventh inning, the game was tied again. I played the proverbial "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" over the PA, but by then, it was around 11:15 p.m. and there were about 20 people left in the stands. To top it off, the temperature had dropped to about 42 degrees and we headed to extra innings again!
Well, at 12:35 a.m., the final out was recorded (I can't recall who won!), and I headed home to my bed. I had already worked seven hours before I got to the park, so what's another seven hours on top of that?
The following season, one of the new hires for the front office was a somewhat annoying, egotistical 21-year old serving as a promotional rep for the team.
He was your classic nerd, very short with thick glasses, but he came with an attitude. By this time, I was fairly well-seasoned at carrying out the duties of my position and the last thing I needed was this "child" to deal with every night.
Mr. Nerd had a thing for the "Macarena," which for those of you under 20, was a monster dance hit. We used to assemble the staff, mostly young, attractive girls, on top of the dugout in the fifth inning, to lead the crowd in the various moves required in the song. We played it almost every night in the fifth inning and while it was cute for the first week or so, it soon began to wear on everyone.
We were squeezed for time and space between innings one night and I made the decision that I wouldn't have time to play his favorite tune. I sent word downstairs about the change and thought that would be the end of it.
Up the stairs came my little friend about two innings into the game. He was not pleased. I told him straight up we didn't have time in the schedule to play his song. He then proceeded to inform me of the importance of his "position" with the team and that I was just an employee and, basically, was required to do his bidding.
Having heard all this, Jim Riggs, my partner in the booth along with the late Bob Payne, turned around with a look of near-terror, knowing what was coming.
Within seconds, I must have turned at least five shades of purple as I told my "buddy" I'd give him two choices: either leave the booth now through conventional means or I would be glad to assist him with an exit through the front window and a not-so-soft landing behind home plate on top of the umpire!
To further prove my point, I took about two steps in his direction and he rapidly left the press box and we all just dissolved into laughter.
From that day on, whenever I encountered him, he was the epitome of charm and after just one season, he magically disappeared.
With my luck, he's probably a senior aide with a major league team!
I saw a lot of players come and go in nearly two decades with a chosen few making their way to the majors (Randy Johnson, Marquis Grissom, Andres Gallaraga, etc.), but there were far too many who didn't have the goods to advance past Class A ball and returned to their local hardware store or lumber yard after the season ended.
My only contact with Johnson occurred in my first year. I was sent into the Expos clubhouse to collect the lineup for the game one night and as I started out the door, I was suddenly staring at a belly button! Being only 5-foot-7, I immediately looked up to see the "Big Unit" staring down at me from his lofty 6-10 perch. I said a simple "excuse me" as I trotted out the door, thinking to myself that I'd likely never encounter any man or beast that tall again in my life.
I did meet one nice fellow during the 1982 season when I went to the opposing dugout to collect the lineup information. We struck up a conversation and he told me he really enjoyed the music I had playing on the PA. He also was wrestling with a choice to continue playing baseball for the Yankees organization or make a switch to his other favorite sport - football.
I wished him the best in making his final decision and headed back to the press box.
As it turned out, I learned later I had been talking to John Elway, future NFL Hall-of-Famer and legendary quarterback who was drafted by the Baltimore Colts originally, but ended up with the Denver Broncos and the rest, of course, is history.
The stories go on and on.
Over those 18 years, I was subjected to being rolled around the infield strapped inside a large steel ball while holding a microphone (all after eating three hot dogs (trust me, it wasn't any fun!); singing the Star-Spangled Banner live on the field on an opening night in front of 2,000 people when the cassette tape recording broke upstairs (I did get a standing ovation for that fine performance); enduring countless fireworks displays every July 4 and on other special occasions while playing a CD of "John Tesh At River Rocks" in the background as the ash settled into the press box; and being overwhelmed by a dozen hot-air balloons floating inside the stadium during yearly Sky Jam celebrations.
It was a lot of fun, but by1999, things started to change in life and were steadily taking a toll. I was tired. In addition, my dad passed away from a brief illness just before the Jammers season began and after that, I just couldn't muster enough enthusiasm to face another long summer, so I knew it was time to step away.
Surprisingly, I've only been to a handful of games since then, and even though it's been almost 14 years since I retired, I still have people who come up to me in the grocery store or on the street, telling me they miss the sound of my voice and ask me if I would ever consider a return.
As I usually tell them, you just can't go back. I had a blast while it lasted and I've been fortunate to have made many good friends and collected treasured memories of those 18 hot summer seasons overlooking the diamond.