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Jeff Brucculeri’s Tribute To Jim Riggs

I was a 13-year old batboy for the Jamestown Expos when I first met Jim Riggs, in 1978. He was the beat writer for The Post-Journal, and working as the official scorer. With his quick wit and my quirky sense of humor we hit it off real fast and quickly became friends.

Jim was more than just a really good friend, he was a mentor and an encourager; he was a big part of the reason I became a member of the media.

To me, Jim was a professional in a profession in which I wanted to be a part. I was so impressed that he had the honor and distinction of covering the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid in 1980. Jim was there when the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviet Union, in one of the greatest upsets ever in sports history, and he covered the gold medal game against Finland. I thought it was so cool that Jim was there, and witnessed this first hand.

He had the great job of covering sports for a living. What could be better than that?

“I want to do that someday,” I would say. He would reply, “Well, you can.”

That seemed to be Jim’s answer to everything. He was always positive in the way he would encourage me.

I was a lousy golfer, actually and more accurately, I was nothing more than a duffer just starting to play the game in my teens, but he invited me to play with him many times at Chautauqua Golf Club. I had no right to be on that course, except for the fact that my friend Jim, a long-time member, invited me to be there. The only time I might see Jim get a bit irritated with me, was when I was slowing down our pace of play. He liked to play fast and didn’t want to waste too much time looking for errant golf balls. He introduced me to those bright orange golf balls that became popular in the 1980s. He figured if I could see where the ball went, we could play a lot faster. He was right.

Jim was a big fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and once invited me to go along with him to a game in Pittsburgh when the Pens played the Flyers. For me, at that time, going to an NHL game was like taking a trip to Disney World. I wasn’t a fan of either team, but couldn’t believe I was there. That’s a huge cross-state rivalry and I found myself booing just as loud as the next guy at the Flyers goalie, Ron Hextall.

When my mother died in 1980, Jim visited the funeral home, and when my wife and I got married, Jim and his wife Sharon, attended our wedding. He was always there for me.

I remember when I first created and performed as the mascot “Yippee!” for the Jamestown Expos, Jim thought it was silly at first, but soon he would be telling me about how he sat in the press box laughing at my impersonation of the visiting managers, or he would compliment me on my dancing performance on top of the dugout.

When the NCAA Basketball Tournament rolled around, Jim would call me and invite me over to his house to sit, eat pizza, and watch the games all day. It made me feel special, that Jim would let me into his home and share a pizza with me, while watching sports on television. After all, I looked up to him. He didn’t have to be nice to this young kid who just wanted to be like him, but he was.

After I graduated from college, Jim and I became cohorts in the Jamestown media. I was working at WJTN, broadcasting many of the same sports events that Jim covered. I continued to work for the Expos in the summers and he continued to cover the team. We continued to play golf together up until the day I moved to Tulsa in November 1988. I grew up under the mentorship of Jim Riggs and will forever be grateful. I will truly miss him and he leaves a huge hole in my heart.

Jeff Brucculeri is a sports columnist at the Tulsa Beacon and a play-by-play broadcaster for the Tulsa Oilers hockey team.

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